Sunday, 15 February 2015

It’s not baby brain – it’s overload

There’s this myth that having a child affects women’s brains, and not just in the short term – the idea that bringing a child into the world makes you more stupid, permanently.

I have had a child. And I can attest that I have not suffered from ‘baby brain’. It is hugely stressful and busy and complicated. And sleep deprivation in the early days means I may not exactly have been firing on all cylinders. But I’m pretty sure it has not affected my brain function in any way.

I realise I'm only a test case of one, but I have lots of friends with children who manage to continue with very demanding jobs. 

Baby brain in pregnancy

I thought that 30 seconds of Googling would yield some research proving that 'baby brain' was a load of rubbish. Annoyingly, I actually found the opposite. But once upon a time I was a journalist, and we never let facts get in the way of a good story. 

Apparently pregnant women’s brains do operate differently. They use the right sides of their brains more, possibly to help prepare them to bond with their child. You can read about it in the Telegraph.

So yeah, OK pregnant women's brains are different (that still doesn't make them stupid).

But it's the insidious use of the phrase ‘baby brain’ way beyond pregnancy has me worried. I have a theory.

The real baby brain

When you have a child the amount of stuff your brain is dealing with is at least doubled. 

Take getting up in the morning. Previously you only had to think about getting yourself up in the morning and showered and dressed and have breakfast. Now you have to do that for a whole extra person, probably without much additional time. And that assumes they are cooperating (they never cooperate).

It’s not that your brain is in anyway impaired by your childbearing, but it is trying juggle a lot more plates and so, inevitably, it’s allowed the occasional slip-up.

Also, when you don’t have a child you might go out the work for the day, then come home and relax with a cup of tea. No more. As soon as I get home I have to go straight into feeding, bathing, and putting my child to bed, then preparing for the next day. There’s not a lot of time for recovery.

As a mother, your brain has not turned to mush. It’s probably working much harder and accomplishing much more than it has ever had to before. Don't insult it.

Blaming it on the baby

There’s nothing wrong with using pregnancy to excuse a bit of minor scattiness. But I regularly hear women who have young children referring to some piece of forgetfulness  as ‘baby brain’ - I've never heard a man say it. 

We can’t afford to go around suggesting that having babies makes us more stupid. The logical conclusion to this would be that mothers shouldn't be allowed to make their own decisions, take charge of a car, vote in an election. 

Maybe I'm being flippant, but equality is hard-won, and feminism still has work to do. By blaming it on the baby we girlishly suggest that power should be handed back to the patriarchy. It's a dangerous excuse.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The beauty of science

Being female and a little bit vain, from time to time I wander into shops selling things that purport to make me look younger, prettier and generally more alluring.

But when I'm browsing the shiny shiny bottles, trying to decide how much cash I can justifiably part with, and wondering if I'm too old for glitter (never), a shop assistant invariably pounces on my indecision.

She's just doing her job - trying to sell stuff - and I'm fine with that. Actually I could do with some help deciding which of these bottles is going to make me most attractive for least money.

But then she (it's always she) tries to blind me with science. And what had been a nice outing to pick up some moisturiser in my lunch hour makes me really wound up.

Here is some sciency sales patter to which I have recently been subjected:

  • 'It has irridescent particles'
  • 'It contains essential oils'
  • 'It's made from stem cells'

Now, I'm no scientist, but I'm pretty sure that what's coming out of her mouth is utter drivel.

I'm not saying that shop assistants aren't capable of understanding science. I'm sure that's not true. As it happens, my grasp of science is appalling. But the sales people are being fed a load of meaningless lines and buzzwords about science and encouraged to come out with them to confuse us into thinking that their product is really great, not just because it smells nice, but because it's got stem cells in it - and that has to be good right?

Now the science bit - stem cell research

Stem cell research is really complicated. I tried to get my head round it for this blog. I failed. (Who'd have thought stem cell science was so hard that a former arts student couldn't master it in an evening?)

According to 'internationally acclaimed plastic surgeon and skincare expert Dr Marko Lens', "stem cells are pluripotent cells with high self-renewal capacity and multi-lineage differentiation ability." So that clears that up then.

In terms of humans and animals I think this sort of means they're the Doctor Who of the cell world. I know what I mean.

However, apparently (I added the word 'apparently' to remind you that I don't know what I'm talking about) the stem cells used in skincare are actually plant stem cells. Which apparently (again) means they are just some cells from the stem of a plant. Different use of the word stem. See what they did there?

So basically they suck a load of stuff out of, say, a dandelion stalk, and then try to make out that it's going to rejuvenate your skin because it's made from stem cells, and we all know that they're amazing. Except it's not those stem cells, it's just a bit of dead plant. Science bit over.

Skincare is a feminist issue

Women are being exploited. We are being blinded and confused with hokey science used to persuade us to spend money on these products.

I'm not saying we shouldn't buy them, but come on rude, nasty girls, we need to stop listening to this crap.

Next time someone tries to sell you a pot of moisturiser on the grounds that it contains 64 essential oils, 12 stem cells and a particle in a pear tree, call them out on it. Ask them, "what exactly do you mean by that?" Ask them what kind of stem cells. The chances are your grasp of science is no worse than theirs.

Confused scientists

In researching this blog I found an article about a proper scientist who tried and failed to understand skincare advertising science. It's really good. You can read it here: 'Baffled by the beauty adverts: so is a Nobel prizewinner'.