I have become the queen of Post-its.
Water the plants, call my sister, pick up photos, shave legs, write article. Stuck to surfaces where I won’t miss them, the small, bright papers list tasks that help my overloaded brain remember the things that used to speak to me from my frontal lobe.
I certainly didn’t escape the absentmindedness of pregnancy brain, but since the birth of my daughter, Diana, 9 months ago, the lapses in my thoughts seem to have gotten exponentially bigger. Not only do I forget names and places and chores, but my ability to focus on the task at hand typically fades before I finish.
It’s a troubling trend echoed by new moms everywhere.
“I definitely feel like I’m not focused,” says Cara Sherrard-Blesch, a Chicago mom of 6-month-old Ethan. “It takes me a really long time to complete anything, and I’m not sure if it’s associated with mental function or more about being interrupted by crying and diaper changes and the constant needs of the baby.”
It’s all of those things, says Chicago psychologist Ariadna Cymet Lanski, who reports data suggesting about 80 percent of new moms experience some type of memory loss.
“Your brain is dealing with all the new information that’s necessary for the livelihood of the baby and your own preservation, and it’s a load of information so the less important stuff gets lost. It doesn’t mean your brain has lost its ability to function,” says Cymet Lanski, who has two children and founded the Internet-based support
group New Mom Network.
In fact, in many ways, the brains of new mothers everywhere are working overtime to manage the steep learning curve associated with bearing and caring for a new life, she says. Unfortunately, the massive amounts of new information being sent and received leave little room for the mundane and non-essential.
I have been surviving brain lapses, like misplacing a word I’d like to use in a story or forgetting to call my sister. Harder to deal with is an inability to focus on writing that story or follow the conversation thread during that phone call.
Sherrad-Blesch shares the sentiment: “Every time friends or relatives visit, I find myself at the end of the visit feeling like I wasn’t very good company because my attention was so divided. I’ve become bad at socializing and can’t carry on good conversations because I’m so focused on him. Even if he’s not crying I’m paying so much attention to him that I’m not very adept at conversation.”
That new moms lose their focus is not surprising, Cymet Lanski says.
“Our brains get really preoccupied with the baby and new position of being a mother-we’re preoccupied with so many things that concentrating as we used to is really difficult.”
While raising a new baby with what seems like half a brain has been no cakewalk, more difficult is dealing with an impatient society that expects nothing less than supermom.
“Somehow you’re supposed to be the exact same person you were before having the baby, but the reality is you’re not,” Cymet Lanski says. “I don’t think we appreciate until later on how many levels of things we have to accommodate.”
Until that ‘later on’ date when full control over my faculties returns-typically new moms’ brains regain normalcy in about a year-Cymet Lanski suggests serenity.
“You need to be really prepared and be gentle with yourself when things are happening, accept that your memory will be this way for some time,” she says. “And really forgive yourself for some of those things-don’t be too critical when you have to run back to the grocery store.”
In the meantime, go back to the basics: repeat names, write things down, simplify, give yourself extra time.
“You might need to write more lists than you did before, there might be Post-its everywhere in your house, but that’s OK,” Cymet Lanski says.
That’s a comfort I won’t soon forget and neither should you.