I am a mom-to-be. And after worrying about the health of my baby, the effect on my relationships, the effect on my body, and the effect on my career, I am now confronted with a new anxiety: will I become "an idiot"? These are not my words. These are the words and the sentiment that I have read about on parenting sites and overheard in my own social circles as people discuss "mommy brain," the made-up term to characterize what happens to a woman's mind during pregnancy and early motherhood.
Other unflattering variations include terms like "momnesia" and "mommy brain drain." The truth is, some information is forgotten due to lack of sleep, surging hormones, and a reprioritization of information. When so much new information enters the mind, naturally, less important information may escape.
I am the chief creative officer at a marketing firm in New York and depend on my brain and my creativity every day for my livelihood. As a woman, spouse, sister, daughter, and friend, I also depend on my brain for my humor, my identity, and my own amusement. The idea of losing a piece of my mind is like losing the biggest piece of myself.
It's significantly scarier than stretch marks, a dark line down my belly, saggy breasts, or an extra 35 pounds. It's more stressful than the thought of breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, or having sex weeks after the delivery.
By using the term "mommy brain," we are perpetuating the idea that new moms somehow become flaky or less intelligent as they enter motherhood and set up yet another barrier and anxiety for mothers. And aren't there enough of those in our society already? With inadequate parental leave across the United States, the soaring price of childcare, and the insane pressure on working parents, the decision today to have a child can be a daunting one for American women.
Luckily, we don't create these "terms and conditions" every time an adult enters a new life stage or takes on a new challenge that could split their attention. Can you imagine "bride brain," "marathon brain," or "MBA brain" becoming things?
By using the term "mommy brain," we are perpetuating the idea that new moms somehow become flaky or less intelligent as they enter motherhood.
Fortunately, not everyone is perpetuating motherhood as an intellectual slump. After announcing my pregnancy, one empowering mentor sent me an article outlining the positive effects motherhood and parenting can have on our ability to organize, prioritize, and focus on what's important during our day. There has also been some recent research published in the journal Nature Neuroscience that shows mothers experience a loss of gray matter in the brain that can last as long as two years. But the word "loss" is not necessarily negative.
Evidence points to this loss as being more like a pruning that can make the brain run more efficiently, help mothers experience increased empathy, and interpret the emotions of others more carefully. There was no indication that these changes can result in any loss of cognitive ability.
Although my daughter is not here yet, pregnancy has tickled a new side of my brain, helping me see from a fresh perspective. From installing a car seat to hearing the baby's heart beat for the first time, these new experiences have kept me inspired in new ways these past few months and have provoked fresh ideas of mine for clients. So what if I get a little out of breath when I try to share these thoughts out loud with others?
So let's not add to the list of mounting intimidation against first-time mothers. Instead, let's reframe "mommy brain" as a badge that celebrates our ever-evolving minds and their capacity to adapt, cope, and grow when faced with a complex challenge that feels simultaneously alien and natural, painful and joyful, fleeting and forever.