For awhile, I thought I was becoming mentally deranged. I rarely remember where we’re going as I speed down the highway, looking frantically for the birthday gift that flew off my minivan two miles back. At least I have the wherewithal to tell the kids our final destination before we leave the house as I rummage around for my purse. What was happening to my once-famous photographic memory?
Recently, reading nonsense online while pretending to “work," I came across a name for my affliction: momnesia. A little, gray cloud lifted from my rusty steel trap mind. I am not alone. I have an actual MEDICAL CONDITION. I had to sit down with my head between my knees to take in the news that I am fine.
Before kids, I could remember phone numbers, dentist appointments, and once got an A in a course where I was required to recall entire passages from Shakespeare and then explain the relevance to the overall play. Fat lot of good that skill does me now, when a Meg Cabot novel takes all the mental agility I have to complete.
Apparently, the strain of pregnancy, childbirth and sleep deprivation make our hormones and brain synapses misfire, sending moms into a downward spiral into near catatonia in the beginning, finally leaving us in a permanent fog through which we wander the rest of our days, relying on our day planners to get us where we need to be.
According to neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain, some women's plummeting estrogen levels, which lurch from “incredibly high” in late pregnancy to “virtually non-existent” after delivery, can make it hard to focus. While estrogen plays a key role in fertility, it also acts as a neurotransmitter, sending signals in the brain.
Breast-feeding can prolong the mental haze, Brizendine says, by circulating hormones that help mothers relax and promote a “mellow, mildly unfocused” feeling.
Having breastfed children for a total of about 2 ½ years certainly explains my prolonged mental haze and continued feeling of being mildly unfocused. Mellow, I am not, but that’s another story.
There are times momnesia can come in handy. Sure, I rarely know the day or the month any more, but I can forget that just 5 minutes ago I was so annoyed with my kids I briefly considered seeing if ages 4, 4, and 7 still qualify for the safe haven program at the fire department.
I forgot the horrors of a colicky newborn long enough to get pregnant again – with twins! That Duggar woman on TLC is so addled, she has 19 children and professes a desire for “just one more.” Without momnesia, the whole species would die out.
I have long held the theory that moms lose an IQ point and a vocabulary word each day after giving birth. Now, there’s proof. Is it a bad thing? Does the fact that I’ve carried on conversations with strangers at a playground about the scope and sequence of toilet training make me any less of the former me, who could quote portions of Ulysses verbatim and in context to make an obscure joke?
Lately, I am excited to report, I have noticed a plateau in the draining of my intellect. Just the other day I used the word ethereal while describing my fantasy of being able to play violin like the Celtic Woman. I saw someone eating kim chee and the first thing I thought of was the word rancid. Ethereal! Rancid! What a breakthrough to remember them!
Brazindine concedes that mothers don’t become dumber, we just redirect our smarts to a different area, in this case child-rearing. In her book, she likens mothers to medical school residents who suffer from sleep deprivation and are in a similar fog as new moms, but learn everything they need to know at a rapid pace to adapt to their environment.
I made a brief list of all the new things I have learned since becoming a mom: how to fulfill three simultaneous requests while talking on the phone; how to laugh at projectile vomit and stretch marks; how to love more deeply than I ever thought possible.
I have also learned that nature is rarely wrong. Whatever happens to our minds and bodies through giving birth is for a reason. Momnesia is just a season of life which places us on the same mental plane as our young children, thus helping us endure the hard early years – which would, let’s face it, bore us all to death if we were of our full mental faculties.
I may not ever fully recover. But would I exchange my wondrous, lovely, vibrant children for my old memory? Not on your life.
Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.