Smotherhood: Does ‘Baby Brain’ Ever Really Go Away?

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Competent. It’s a word I would not have hesitated to use to describe myself before I had children. I am organized, punctual to the point of pathology, and a quick study. I enjoy problem solving and can decipher an Ikea manual with the best of them.

Enter children. Exit all of the above.

There’s much talk these days about so-called “baby brain,” a phenomenon that impedes the ability of a pregnant or nursing woman to think as clearly as she did pre-maternity. But the research is inconclusive — astonishingly so. In fact, it’s as though the scientists conducting the studies on the subject are suffering from baby brain.

A sampling of news headlines from the past few years:

“Baby brain gets the official nod” (2008)

“Baby brain is a myth” (2009)

“Baby brain theory debunked” (2010)

“Baby brain is real after all” (2010)

“Baby brain ‘all in the mind’” (2010)

I had my first inkling of “baby brain”’s existence when my ob-gyn, at my first pregnancy checkup, asked me what I did for a living. I edit and write, I told him, and he laughed. Guffawed, actually. Then he slyly advised me to warn my bosses that my work might need an extra once-over.

Outwardly I smiled, but inwardly I cocked an eyebrow and scoffed. What did he know about my brain? So what if he had to study for 16 years to get where he was? I would not be ruled by hormones.

Leaving his office that day, I was so preoccupied with the possibility of baby brain that I stepped onto the wrong bus and ended up having to trudge an extra 10 blocks to get home. It was not an isolated incident.

Where before I had an iron grip on my personal calendar, now I was standing friends up. I would wake up not knowing what day it was. I was permanently distracted and, once articulate, now sometimes struggled to find the right words. Indeed, my work needed an extra once-over.

When my son was finally born, I thought I would bounce back, but the incompetence continued. Breastfeeding was an enormous challenge. I found myself defeated by the mechanical challenges of a three-way stroller. Slings, which I saw other women using as naturally as a fifth limb, were a mystery. I was regularly reduced to tears by my feelings of inadequacy on all fronts.

My standard fallback — self-education — proved virtually useless. Every expert had a different opinion, and every opinion had its detractor. My kids are no longer babies — the younger one is three — and yet I’m still awaiting the return of my full faculties. I’ve learned to better trust my instincts and to accommodate the brain drain by making lists and religiously consulting them. At work, I avail myself of spellcheck. And with no free time, my personal calendar has ceased to exist, which has cut down considerably on the likelihood that I’ll stand someone up.

I live in hope that one blessed day not too far in the future I will return to that elusive state of competence.

Now if I could only figure out where I left that half-full glass of wine….