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.

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