The unexpected benefit of baby brainMay 29, 2016
Before I got pregnant I’d heard the term ‘baby brain’ and thought, “Nah, not for me thanks. I very much have my mind shiz together, and no tiny human is going to change that”. I didn’t even really think it was… real. It sounds cute though, doesn’t it? As though suddenly a mummy’s head is just full of woollen booties, and chubby cherubs. The reality is somewhat different.
I’ve always prided myself on being organised, having a great memory (I could draw a floorplan of the house we lived in when I was two years old – just saying), and generally being un-flaky. I’m not one of those people who posts weekly on Facebook about losing another mobile phone, or that friend who’s always late (or absent). Until pregnancy, I was pathologically punctual, having to force myself not to be there awkwardly early. That girl. But then…
Aside from gaining 4kg in a fortnight, one tell-tale sign of my surprise pregnancy was a vagueness that descended. Baby brain was strong in me. I would trail off mid-sentence, get words jumbled, forget names, places, appointment times…
I say ‘I would’ – I still do occasionally, and the ‘baby’ is 16 months old. Is toddler brain a thing?
Of course, the most anxiety-inducing situation is bumping into someone. Someone I think I’ve met but am not quite sure – hastily asking for clues, “What’s keeping you busy?” “How’s the family?”, pleading for a unique detail or name. Of course, I might just recognise them from Instagram…
But my biggest fear is this: telling an anecdote to THE PERSON THAT TOLD IT TO ME IN THE FIRST PLACE. Pre-pregnancy I could recall conversations with ease – who was there, where we were, what the people at the next table ate. Now it’s a case of squinting my eyes, flicking through the rusty, broken Rolodex of my brain, trawling for ‘Who said that? Did you say that?’.
Weirdly, it’s only social – at work, I’m myself. Organised, efficient, planned to the smallest detail, notes on my phone, my diary a thing of beauty. But away from my desk? Forget it. Literally.
Not only is it hugely annoying to the mum, whose body is changed beyond all recognition, but it’s pretty irritating for partners too. My poor husband often looks at me as if he doesn’t know me at all, as I fail to recall a conversation we had mere hours ago, practically snapping his fingers in my face as if to break a trance. There is no trance, it’s just how I am now, apparently.
But here’s the good news about baby brain: reports have shown that it makes you a better mum, with Professor Laura Glynn, a psychologist at Chapman University in California saying, “Some of the brain changes during pregnancy may help mothers become more attuned to their infant when it is born. Fetal movements that tickle a woman’s unconscious might prepare her to bond with her infant, for example. Likewise, changes in brain areas associated with emotion and memory could prime women for caregiving.” She continues, “there may be a “cost” — such as the perpetual fuzziness of “pregnancy brain” — but the benefit is a more sensitive, effective mother.”
Our brains actually change. Regions that control empathy, joy and attachment start firing up, helping new mums bond with their baby. When scanned, the brains of new mothers look a lot like those of people in the first flush of love, as do those of new dads, if they’re very involved in caring for the baby.
Apparently our brains shrink up to 7% during pregnancy, but they also become better equipped to deal with stress (hello newborn poonami while driving down a six-lane motorway in rush hour), and judgment (I think we’ll just get home quickly, rather than pulling onto the hard shoulder and changing an exploded nappy in the back of the car).
But why does it happen? Dr Glynn explains, “It’s ‘extremely likely’ that pregnancy permanently alters the human brain. The hormone flood that occurs during pregnancy dwarfs the hormonal changes that occur during other volatile times of life, such as adolescence. Just as teen hormones permanently alter brain structure and function, it’s likely pregnancy hormones do, too.”
So it’s those damn hormones. Again. I’d also like to put forward my own personal theories of sleep deprivation and busyness.
Here’s my question: how long will it last? Because I’m really sick of Googling things like “actor, tall, maybe in Gilmore Girls, married?” and trying to remember who sang I Love You Always Forever (it’s Donna Lewis). And I’d love to do a pub quiz again, without offering to write the answers in lovely handwriting in order to feel useful.
Friends with three year olds say they’re only just coming out of the fogginess, while others have said they never fully recovered.
So where does this leave us mums? Basically, writing lists, taking fish oil supplements, and with our phones always in hand, whether it’s to subtly find out the names of the children of the person you’re speaking to, or to check Google Maps to get you home.
Now where is my phone….?