There are so many magical, incredible moments in pregnancy and in motherhood that make you feel like Wonder Woman. That make you want to say, “step back world… I am woman, hear me roar!” Your womb literally grows a bundle of cells into a living, breathing, intelligent human being. Even once your cervix has gone from the size of a cheerio to the size of a bagel and you’ve sent this beautiful, living, breathing being into the world, your body still continues to, as if by magic, give off the things your new baby needs -- food, comfort, you name it. It is because of these magical, incredible moments that I feel it is okay to sit here for just a beat and let out some of my frustrations with some of the suckage that also comes from pregnancy and motherhood.
Just a beat… I promise. Who knows, maybe you’ll relate. My lord, I hope you relate.
As I write this, I am sitting in a coffee shop across the lake from my house where my beautiful 10-month-old boy is hanging with his sitter for a few hours. As I write this, my son has slept through the night for the first time in a long time (who knew adding an ounce to the bedtime feeding could be so important). As I write this, I should be radiating in the glow of a night well rested. I should have makeup and real clothes on. The bags under my eyes should have melted away -- I should look like I did when I was 23. I should feel like a brand new woman.
But I don’t.
I don’t because I’m racked with the guilt that I misplaced my wedding ring (again).
(story amendment: we found my wedding ring… 5 months later… in our backyard… the poor thing had literally sat 15 feet from my kitchen window through winter snow and rain before Derek magically found it prepping for our first backyard fire of the year. Miracles, man. Miracles).
The guilt that I’ve even misplaced the $8 Wal-Mart one I bought to make my ring finger feel less naked and alone. The confusion of setting down my son’s pair of socks this morning for a few minutes and then tearing apart his room, looking for them. The frustration of walking up and down our flight of stairs 8 times and still not bringing down that load of laundry I had set out to take to the laundry room. The brain-racked exhaustion of trying to remember exactly what my husband and I had discussed needed to be done today before he left for work. The embarrassment and defeat of finding multiple text messages in my phone from 3 weeks ago that were somehow left unanswered (again).
The truth is, during your pregnancy, everyone jokes about pregnancy brain or baby brain, but no one fully prepares you for who utterly wrecked your brain feels as a mommy brain. I had been sitting in months of self-deprecating criticism, judging myself on my inability to retain simple tasks in my head throughout the day. It was a running joke with my family, a frustration in my marriage. My sitter even bought me a keyring that helps you track lost keys after I lost my only set to my car and we had to pay $1,000 to have someone come to our house and cut two new pairs. In a moment of complete overwhelm I pulled up the trusty Google and started looking into memory loss after birth and was truly shocked by what I found, and also not surprised one bit.
At first, every article I read basically said, “Duh, sleep deprivation”.There is a reason why it is used as a torture device in some countries. It completely messes with your ability to do things like multi-task, plan, organize and process information.
But, did you know hormones (you’re a B, hormones) also play a large part in this thing called “mommy brain”? When your sleep is disrupted, your brain releases cortisol, a chemical that helps your body get up and moving in the morning. That is all well and good when the sun comes up and the world begins to wake, but when you get up multiple times a night with a baby? Yeah, that is several doses of cortisol a night that your body does not need. Set cortisol aside, it turns out there is a slew of other “steroid hormones” like it that we new mommas are just blessed with having an abundance of.
So what happens when you combine prolonged, disrupted sleep with doses of steroid hormones? Guys… this article calls it neurodegeneration. It literally accelerates the aging of our brains. I read this in a public place and all but had to reign myself in from grabbing every woman around me by the shoulders, shaking them and yelling, “Did you know this?! Why did you not warn me!?”
I’m not writing this article to deter anyone from having children or to add another bullet point to your list of endless worries. I’m writing this to add to my ever-growing column of “things moms don’t talk about with other moms” so that we can all, ya know, be real with one another. And hopefully by getting this out there, we can all stop being that sacrificial, super-mom/wife/partner/friend (all the things) for just a minute and realize the seriousness “mommy brain”. The seriousness of making sleep a priority. The seriousness of making ourselves a priority. It is all well and good to joke about, but it is also something to be mindful of and to combat.
Before I digress all over the place, my points I’m trying to hit home on are these; you are not alone, every mom experiences mommy brain, it is okay to not feel okay, it is okay to put your sleep on your priority list, and it is okay to hang up your superhero cape for one night and ask for help.
The line between doing it all and doing it well is a fine one. The road connecting mommy brain and a prematurely aged one is not paved and made permanent unless you make it. Choose to take the exit to Me-time and Z-time and take care of yourself. You are allowed to do that!!
I had another point… but I forgot it (see, I’m still joking!). Just keep swimming (and sleeping) mommies!