I hate the term "baby brain". Throughout both my pregnancies, any time I would make a mistake or struggle to focus, some smug numpty would patronisingly say, "That’s baby brain for you!"
Now, as a parent of two, my "baby brain" (or "mum brain") is routinely blamed when I lock myself out of the house or can’t make a simple calculation. It’s used to suggest that, because I have reproduced, my ability to perform is compromised.
People even trot out studies to prove to me that my pregnant brain is worse than a non-pregnant person’s brain. But, it is plain unfair to compare my pregnant self to someone who isn’t pregnant and suggest the reason for my lacklustre performance is that my brain is a bit crap.
Don’t compare me to someone who is healthy and not pregnant, compare me to someone who has their energy sucked away by growing a human inside them; who hasn’t been comfortable in months and can’t walk anywhere because of the weight in their lower abdomen; never sleeps through the night but is always exhausted, vomits constantly, has their focus broken by repeated toilet trips; and is attempting to plan both for the impending arrival of a person for whom they will be responsible for the rest of their life.
This person must sweep all of these thoughts and feelings to the side while on a “break” from paid employment and so must also consider the financial hit to the family that will entail. Test my pregnant performance against that guy and tell me my brain doesn’t measure up.
Could it be possible that the symptoms of pregnancy mean I can’t devote all my energy to completing menial tasks that don’t matter? You try remembering a random number sequence when you’ve slept a cumulative 20 hours in the past week.
What drives me round the twist about talk of “baby brain" is the deficit model it takes. We focus on the fact that women start to struggle with useless, meaningless tasks, instead of the fact that our brains are actually priming us for meeting the needs of our infant. The losses of grey matter that happen during pregnancy are largely in the brain regions responsible for social cognition, which is thought to be an adaptive change that helps us to respond, read and bond with our infant more effectively once they’re born.
Even the authors of a meta-analysis of studies on cognitive changes during pregnancy acknowledge we have more important things to worry about than remembering to organise the office milk purchasing roster. Their research also showed that pregnant women immediately regain their ability to focus as soon as it actually matters.
When we talk about "baby brain", we miss all the great things that brain can do! Mums can organise and manage the whole family’s competing schedules, appointments, developmental milestones, Book Week costumes, meals (including ever-changing personal preferences), sleep routines, washing, and the location of that flipping teddy the kid can’t sleep without. Plus we manage to turn up and perform in our paid employment.
Yeah, you’re right. A mum's brain isn’t as good as regular person brain. A mum's brain kicks a regular person brain’s bum.
Since having children, I find it much easier to work out what matters and what doesn’t. I am more organised, decisive, in tune to the emotions and needs of others, and better able to respond to them.
If only we recognised all the skills and aptitudes we gain when we become parents, instead of thinking about the possibility that we might forget things that don’t really matter anyway, maybe so many pregnant women and women on maternity leave wouldn’t find themselves conveniently retrenched.
If we forget something or can’t focus on it when we’re pregnant, it’s because it just doesn’t bloody matter very much! So, quit bothering us. Or find the part of your brain that can understand childbearing women.