Mom Brain is real, and it’s not what you think. You are not crazy. We are not crazy. Trust me, I know how you feel, and so do millions of other women. We need to give our beautiful noggins credit for everything a mom thinks, says, and achieves for her children. Some days we find our growing to-do list overwhelming us, at least I do anyway. How do we accomplish the things on our endless list, be effective at work, stay sane, experience our lives, all while keeping our offspring fed and breathing (and happy, too!) Our brain prepares us during and after pregnancy, so it’s time we learn how, why, and what we can do when life gets rough.
I think we can all agree male and female brains are different outside of pregnancy. But, female brains take on a very unique capability while we carry our babies. In order to prepare us for the battleground known as motherhood, pre-mom brains take advantage of neuroplasticity which is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Amazing to imagine, right? By doing this, we create new pathways for that inseparable maternal attachment to our babies, hawk-like heightened awareness of their needs, and soulful deepening of relationships. In some ways, we feel Mom Brain makes us clueless or forgetful, but studies show our cognitive function doesn’t suffer as much as we believe. Our brains are just more active in other areas for years (yes, years!) after our pregnancy and birth of our baby. Our brains change for justified reasons. Empathy is one emotional area that grows during pregnancy because moms need to be inherently in-tune with how others are feeling, correct?
Picture me, the fiery redhead eight months pregnant with our second son. My father-in-law was painfully sick with terminal cancer, and he never wanted to complain so as not to bother anyone. While in the hospital, I found his care repulsively unacceptable, and as a healthcare provider, I wanted to talk to the supervisor to address the issues peacefully, but effectively. Sitting across from me the nursing supervisor listened intently as I conveyed my concerns. When I finished, she tilted her head patronizingly, patted my hand and said softly,
“You’re just emotional because you’re pregnant. It’s ok sweetheart.”
Not at all what I wanted to hear, so “peacefully” flew right out the window. What ensued was an angry, hurt, sobbing rant criticizing her hospital while comparing it to my own which was hours away and impeccable with care in my mind. My father-in-law was promptly taken care of from that moment on, but that scenario is a running joke in our family now. Looking back, I know I was emotional, but my brain was in protective mode for my unborn child as well as my loved one. Dare I say the nurse was somewhat right? Listen, my mom brain gray matter was rapidly expanding in empathy. She should’ve known better than to patronize Mama Bear. Is anyone with me on this one?
Going through agonizing labor (mine was anyway), delivering our precious package, and for several months after, our mom brain continues to change and produce a complicated cocktail of chemicals which further improves our ability to parent our offspring effectively. However, those cocktails mess with our emotions simply due to the other Mom Brain changes! Oxytocin, the hormone present in labor, delivery, and post-partum helps initiate bonding, acceptance, and family feelings, while at the same time helping us almost forget the pain and struggle of childbirth. Studies show at the same time these chemicals are overproduced, our amygdala, the emotional processing part of our brain, is in overdrive helping us become sensitive to our expanded family’s needs, the baby’s cries, and our new parental responsibilities. Is it any wonder we can’t tie our own shoes without throwing one on the roof (my friend actually did that) then bursting into tears as a new mom?
A few months after I delivered my second son, I went to an early dinner with friends to get out of the house. Our young server, overworked, hungry, and tired was crying as she waited on us. She provided excellent service despite her choking back tears. That gal racked up on the tips! My Mom Brain showed her all the financial love I could afford at that moment! Could I imagine my new son being in that situation someday? Bless her heart…
Can you see now how overwhelming this is to our sleep-deprived, physically-healing minds and bodies? Please reach out if you are struggling because there are options here in the LowCountry. We are blessed with options. You do not even have to physically go through labor to have brain changes such as this. Daddy brain and parents who adopt experience extremely similar brain changes after the arrival of a new one! The research is still developing, but you can give yourself grace now that you know! Seriously. Mom brain is real, and it is legit.
Finding Our Forever Mom Brain
There is a gorgeous cognitive light at the end of the sleepless night tunnel. We know from research all of these brain changes are geared towards making us effective parents forever. Our decisions are more informed, our emotions become targeted, and our bonding improves in all relationships in our lives.
Where do we find help when we struggle, though? Some days, I remember as a new mom crying for hours because I wasn’t sure I could do it. I questioned everything I did. Even today as a mom of two teenage boys, I wonder if I make the best decisions for their futures. Do I spend enough quality time with them? Are they getting what they need from me completely? Is he being decent on social media? Mom Brain never really goes away. There are tips to handle Mom Brain, too. The focus of your thoughts shifts and change. Own your Mom Brain and love it!
Gratefully, we live in an area that has support for moms and dads, new and seasoned (I refuse to say old…but seasoned makes me sound like a rotisserie chicken). In order for us to take the best care of our families, we have to take care of ourselves. With complex and intricate Mom Brain changes that aren’t our fault, we need support for us so we can support others. Let’s look at our Mom Brains for mental fitness. When we do that, and they call our “MOM!” name for the tenth time, we can respond just a shade shy of sane without guilt.