Hi, I’m Dr Jen!
Mother of 3, neuroscientist, researcher, author, speaker, The Mother Mentor
and founder of Tough Mothers
My mission is simple: To prepare and support women to thrive as they transition into, and through, motherhood.
Matrescence (the transition a woman goes through when she becomes a mother) is the biggest physical, psychological and emotional transformation a woman experiences in her entire life.
We are literally transformed when we become mothers. Yet, for some reason this isn’t recognised. Unlike adolescence (see the similarity in name?), the changes women experience during matrescence are glossed over. It’s as if we are now the pre-pregnancy us, just with a baby. We are not!
When a baby is born, a mother is born. And during the birth of a mother, and beyond, a phenomenal amount of changes occur. In particular in our brain.
My fascination with the brain started decades ago which is why I pursued a PhD in neuroscience** and a degree in psychotherapy. I have always had an admiration for neuroplasticity: the brain’s ability to modify, change and adapt itself, in both structure and function, during life and as a result of experiences.
What mesmerizes me even more is that we can influence our brain to change itself. This is known as self-directed neuroplasticity. i.e. We are in charge!
While, as a neuroscientist I have been in awe of this phenomenon for a long time, it wasn’t until I had my children that I realised self-directed neuroplasticity is an imperative skill to develop before, and during, motherhood. But I found that out the hard way!
After I had my third baby I had a breakdown (read: stress, anxiety, overwhelm, loss of self, etc…) to the point where I had anxiety so consuming it ruled my life (which lead to pneumonia), and I didn’t sleep more than 20 minutes at a time, for months. It was hard for me to believe that I had spent more than 12 years at university studying the brain, but I had no idea what was going on with it, and me. What had happened?
Matrescence happened (as it does every time a woman has a baby, no matter how many babies she has), and my brain had changed again. Only this time I did not find the changes manageable. So, after months of suffering, feeling duped and willing things to be different, I realised I had to take charge. I had to utilise self-directed neuroplasticity to train my brain to create the changes I desired (starting with: no more debilitating anxiety!).
And so began my journey to contentment in motherhood, by training my brain and changing my life. It sounds far more science-y than it is. It is really just training your brain, like you would a muscle, with exercises, knowledge and discovery. The only difference is, training your brain makes you tough, and it can literally change your life.
I am living proof, and you can be too.
Because we are all Tough Mothers.
*People started calling me “The Mother Mentor”, and I quite like the ring of it. It sums up nicely what I do. However, I am under no illusion that I have motherhood nailed. I still make mistakes. Frequently!
as seen on …
I was born in Munich, Germany and lived there until I was 10 years old.
1987- Mum, my brother and I move to Australia and settle in Byron Bay – tough life!
1995 – Graduate from High School. I was 18 and knew everything. Ha ha ha!
1996 – Work abroad and travel the world. I realise I know nothing.
1997 – Move to Sydney to attend University.
I planned to stay 3 years…
2005 – Meet Marcus. If there is such a thing as love at first sight, this was definitely it.
2009 – Leave University with three degrees including a PhD in Medicine (Neuroscience & Pharmacology) and 1st class honours in the same.
2009 – Marry Marcus. Best decision of my life (except when he doesn’t do the dishes)
2010 – Daniel is born and my life changes forever – The I Wish Someone Had Told Me… journey begins, accidentally.
2012 – Jake joins our family.
IWSHTM… becomes a more serious project as I realise how important its information is.
2014 – Everly, our baby girl, arrives. She challenges me in ways I have never experienced.
IWSHTM now becomes a must.
2016 – After
interviewing 1000 mothers, and hours of research
IWSHTM… is released to rave reviews.
We leave Sydney after 20 years (it was meant to be 3!) and move to Auckland, New Zealand, for new adventures.
2018 – Complete Graduate Diploma in Psychotherapy. This adds so much to my mind-brain-body-life connection knowledge.
2018 – Tough Mothers is born. People start calling me The Mother Mentor. Supporting women during matrescence (pregnancy and motherhood) using neuroscience as a basis is what I live for.
2019 – Join the board of not for profit organisation PTSD Help NZ, as their Neuroscience expert and adviser.
I’d love to hear your story.
**SOME OF MY WORK IN PEER-REVIEWED JOURNALS
Nature Neuroscience Bagley E.E., Hacker J., Chefer, V.I., Malet, C., McNally, G.P., Chieng, B.C.H., Perroud, J., Shippenberg, T.S., Christie, M.J. Drug-induced GABA transporter currents enhance GABA release and produce opioid withdrawal behaviours. Nature Neuroscience (2011) 14: 1548–54
Neuroscience Hacker, J., Pedersen, N.P., Chieng, B.C.H., Keay, K.A., Christie, M.J. Enhanced Fos expression in glutamic acid decarboxylase immunoreactive neurons of the mouse periaqueductal grey during opioid withdrawal. Neuroscience (2006) 137: 1389-96