Someone asked me the other day for the names of my children. Embarrassingly, for a moment I couldn’t answer her because i’d actually forgotten what they were. It took me a few moments before my brain switched into gear and I blurted out their names, hoping the person that had asked hadn’t realized the delay. This utter failure in motherhood was just the most recent in a long line of memory loss episodes, that turn up every now and again just to remind me of the sacrifice I made in having children.
Yesterday I struggled to remember the name of a book that I’d been reading for the last month, the name of it completely eluded me. Not quite so bad as not knowing my children’s names but when I’m at my book group this can be highly embarrassing. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve forgotten where I’d parked my car. Sometimes I’ll admit, I find it a real challenge just to put one foot in front of the other, such is the extent of my so called ‘baby brain’.
Considering that my boys are now 2 and 3 and a half it seems that my prospects of returning to ‘normal’ are bleak indeed. And there I was hoping that one day in the not-too-distant future I could return to work – it seems my brain has other ideas and has decided that it will dwell in the quagmire of kid-slime forever.
I cannot be the only one, surely, whose brain has taken an extended sabbatical. So why do I feel like all the other mums, busy in their renewed careers, are just as efficient as ever – working on building their own world dominating enterprises or running their husband’s businesses while balancing 6-month-olds on their left hip? There is one mum, on the PTA even though her child is still in nappies, highly organized, who, once she’s dropped her young ones off at pre-school, heads off to the office, all high heels and business suit to join the ranks of the ‘normal’ intelligent people. None of these sorts of mums, it seems to me, question whether they are on a fast track to dementia. The true extent to which I have descended into this thick fog is only revealed to me when the conversation at the Mother and Toddler group turns to that dreaded phrase ‘back to work’. Nothing panics me more, but then coming face to face with the Times crossword is enough to bring me out in a sweat. These working mothers apparently have the brainpower and organizational skills to work a 40 hour week, organize committee meeting agendas and run the local toddler IQ convention without breaking their stride.
So what was the point of my education when just because I have become a mother I lose all my most important cognitive faculties, you know the ones that allow us to fit seamlessly into the outside world? I can barely hold a conversation that isn’t limited to sleep patterns and inventive ways of getting more veg in a toddler let alone remember how to network or have intelligent things to say at a meeting. All those years with my head in a book, agonizing over essays, cramming for exams, plus all the years in the workplace since then were pointless, it seems, if as soon as I have a baby I lose the capacity to hold all the information and skills I’ve obtained.
So, is the knowledge still there, somewhere in the deep recesses, and more importantly is it possible that it will return to the parts of my brain that will actually make use of it, or it is gone forever?
I suppose one way of explaining why some of us lose grey matter during childrearing is that it’s evolution’s way of focusing our minds purely on the care and wellbeing of our children and not be distracted by other non essential thoughts. But my inner mother knows that my children are well cared for when at preschool or with their father or asleep so when does it dump all the common sense back in? Or do I have to start all over again?
Perhaps it is all just nature’s way of ensuring that we have no choice in the matter – that if we mothers fire on reduced cylinders then we will be sure to re-consider our priorities in life – prompting us to set up businesses as child stylists, baby led weaning specialists and baby yoga practitioners a la Mumsnet.
Every now and again I meet a kindred mum who is also struggling against the tide of socially adept women whose memories do not appear to have been affected by having had children. She is hoping that no one notices the reduced number of brain cells operating at a very basic conversational level. Who, rather than shout about her lack of coherent thoughts, prefers instead to keep her head down, do the Times crossword every day and try to regain an iota of her previous level of intellect and hope that no one notices the shortfall.