This is Your Brain on Parenthood


To say I’m an organized person is a bit of an understatement. Meticulous is more like it. Fanatical is even better. I do not lose things – or rather, if I do, I spend inordinate amounts of time and energy mobilizing a search party. The missing item could be a priceless heirloom, a fleeting thought, or a lousy chap stick. It really doesn’t matter. All I can think about is what could have been. Soft lips? The greatest idea ever had by anyone, anywhere? The not knowing is enough to keep me up at night.

Some people run marathons for sport.

I find lost things.

So when I became pregnant and my mom friends began to regale me with stories of “mom brain” I began to pre-lose my mind. What do you mean this little alien growing inside me takes my body and my mind? What’s left – my winning smile? My complete collection of Sex and the City DVDs, dusty and untouched ever since I discovered what life is really like in your 30s? (Hint: it doesn’t include fruity drinks and $40,000 worth of stilettos. It’s clean clothes and any wine, if you’re lucky.) I shuddered at the thought of sleepless nights.

“I want to tell you it comes back,” lamented my friend Emilie.

“Lie to me,” I demanded.

Midway through my first year of motherhood, I realized I might be side-stepping this whole “mom brain” thing. I hadn’t left the child anywhere. No one had called to report stray pets or belongings. I’d even remembered to pick up the dry cleaning. Then one day, out of nowhere, the marbles began to come loose. And one by one they rolled away, taking my once clear head with them.

The first one rolled down Johnson Street, failing to realize the car in front of me didn’t move when the light turned green. The subsequent love tap turned into an afternoon of phone calls, which culminated in an (unrelated) $25 parking ticket for an expired meter. We returned home, defeated but not broken – yet. My husband decided what I really needed to cheer me up was a little spark. How about a few fireworks in the driveway? Because, husbands. We took our refreshments outside and parked our butts on the warm concrete. Happily, I forgot my cares for a little. I also forgot my husband’s keys out there, which went missing overnight. A few calls and locksmiths later, we had new keys but the ole brain was being to take a beating.

I called to my uncle.

I got his voicemail.

I plodded along, wondering where I went off course. I made the lists and checked the boxes – what was I doing wrong all of a sudden? I wondered halfway to the store when it hit me that I’d left my wallet on my desk. I would return home not once but TWICE before eventually completing my latest errand-gone-awry.

So what changed?

Thankfully, according to science, it’s all in my head. Researchers now believe a number of factors contribute to biological changes in our brains during pregnancy and early child rearing. These factors – things like surging hormones and sleep deprivation – affect our ability to process and store new information. And what novel information it is. The learning curve for first-time parents is steep and gathering loads of new data to ensure the longevity of a new life is tiring.

To combat the inevitable, I’ve upped my to do list game. At any given moment, I have no less than nine floating around. Mostly on paper because nothing makes me feel more alive than the soft screech of a Sharpie® gliding over my latest conquest. Heck, sometimes I even write things down on the list after I’ve finished them, for extra credit. The other thing I do is count. Yes, you read that right. Kids, toys, bottle parts… I count the things I take so I bring the same number home. Am I crazy? Probably. Isn’t that a sign of OCD, you’re wondering? Yes, definitely. But does it work? Yes, definitely. I never have to remember what, just how many. But sadly there is no cure for “mom brain.” Millions of individuals around the world suffer this incurable fate. Hundreds more will be afflicted by the time you’ve finished this paragraph. Maybe thousands. I’m not a statistician.

So what should we do about it?

Brain exercises can help. There’s that herb that people take – what’s it called? You can clear the playing field. But once you have the kid, you can’t give them back. And let’s face it, why would you want to? Who else would melt your heart with her giggles? Or blow your mind with his curiosity and kindness? Or make you feel like the richest woman on the block by presenting you with a hand-painted family portrait? Sure, maybe you could call an old friend to help you out. But who can remember phone numbers these days anyway?

What’s your best “mom brain” story? Tell us in the comments section!


  1. I once forgot my pin number to my debit card after the cashier rang up over 100 dollars worth of groceries. Needless to say I waited a few days before going back to actually shop!


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