Tips for New Moms: Get Ready to Regress

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Am I Dumber Than I Used to Be?
Our brains are not exactly razor sharp in the new mommy stage. Recent findings demonstrate that diminished mental acuity and memory are side effects during, and for several years after, pregnancy. Night after night of interrupted sleep, in which we never achieve the recuperative stage of the rapid eye movement or REM sleep, also make us slow-moving. As more and more mothers of young children continue paid work, our mental function may also be discombobulated by needing to have our heads in two places at once. We mostly say "mommy brain" in jest, but the phenomenon is real: we're not our usual sharp-minded selves.

On Patrick's first visit to my native Kansas City when he was nine months old, my high school friend and I decided enough with Baby van Gogh, it was time for the real thing: a trip to the Nelson Art Gallery. The first setback was a security guard's firm reproach of my baby backpack so that I would quickly develop worn-out arms in addition to museum feet.

Then, after seeing three paintings, tops, Patrick made his chow requirements known, and Diane found a lunch table for us in a lovely fountain-filled courtyard. I remember composing a sentence, getting three words in, readjusting my son so he was comfortable, then realizing I was exposing my breast to the entire metropolitan area. I utterly forgot what I'd been trying to say. Conversation, if you can call it that, went on this way for seven or more disjointed thoughts, before Diane and I settled for quiet admiration of the beautiful room and the mixed greens on our plates. I remember thinking I would never make cogent dialogue again.

Over the long run, though, the ways in which motherhood messes with our brains turns out to be good. Artists with bulging tummies or nursing newborns notice ideas come to them more easily, and that inspiration abounds. A few years into parenthood, moms also become more efficient, and their practice at juggling enormous responsibilities pays off in the end.

Exciting new research studies demonstrate that mothers' brains actually grow, because we're exposed to such enormous new challenges and complexities, and acquire many new talents and skills as a result. The studies suggest that the ways in which our mommy brains stretch, grow, and fire new synapses are eventually a windfall for us. We become bolder, braver, and more efficient in the wake of early motherhood.

Before that recovery occurs, however, many moms feel that a tectonic plate has shifted beneath them. The pressures on mothers have never been more intense, the emotional earthquakes among us never stronger or more numerous. As of yet, only a cadre of medical professionals – often women doctors who have experienced the adjustment themselves – acknowledge the increasing numbers of angry and utterly depleted new mommies. Indeed, the medical community is not yet addressing the fact that postpartum depression and anxiety are the biggest complications of modern birth.

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excerpted from:

From What No One Tells the Mom by Marg Stark. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book, visit Amazon or click on the book cover.


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