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Does baby brain exist?

What is baby brain? Is it a debilitating condition that turns your brain to mush or is it an excuse for when you’re not on par?

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I can’t deny I’ve had my share of baby brain moments. Such as when I put a whole toilet roll in with the washing the week after baby was born and when I dented my brand new car by literally driving into a parked van. There has definitely been a post-baby change to my brain where at times I wonder what has happened to my mental state of mind. I actually hope baby brain is real because it’s nice to have something to blame – I’m not actually going mad, allegedly.

The good news is that as my baby has got a bit older, my moments of baby brain-ness have reduced. This increase in mental strength has got me thinking and I’ve developed a theory on baby brain…

I don’t believe that mums’ brains are being turned to mush. I think that mums’ brains are being filled with so much more information and are being used so much more, we’re actually displacing our old knowledge. A theory I’m calling BBD – baby brain displacement.

Learning how to look after a baby takes a lot of time, concentration and (without realising it) brain capacity. Your senses are heightened and you not only need to look after yourself but need to become automatically atuned to looking after another human being. We’ve all heard of a mother’s instinct. I think that this is something that your brain actually builds and develops. In the same way that your body is tired while you’re pregnant because it’s supporting another life, your brain is bound to become fatigued when it’s learning to do the exact same thing once baby is born.

Think about how much more you do when you’re a mum:

– Even when you’re asleep your mind is on alert for baby. In the early days, even the semi-silent sound of baby wriggling and opening their mouth can be enough to stir you from slumber. If that’s not instinct, what is?

– Your day takes meticulous planning. You have a 10am music class followed by a play date. You’re up at 7am (if you’re lucky) so surely you can get out in three hours? Routine: Up, nappy, bottle, breakfast, wash, dress, nappy, desperately try to help baby fall asleep so they’ve napped and are not therefore grumpy making any outing pointless, get yourself washed, dressed, sterilise bottles, pack changing bag with nappies, spare clothes, bottles, milk, muslins, wipes, clean dummies (once hunted for), toys and books to entertain, lunch (once you’ve figured where you’ll be and will they heat it). Then another bottle, set up the pram, leave the house, return immediately for a dirty nappy requiring a full change of clothes. Leave again – this time needing to run because you’re so late…already thinking about the next feed and nap.
Think we just rolled out of bed and leisurely rocked up drinking tea and eating cake? No, this was a military operation.

– When you’re doing something seemingly simple such as walking down the street, you’re not only concentrating on the task in hand but are on high alert for any hazard and foreseeing any potential danger or accident; there’s a pot hole at five paces, dog poo at eight paces, pebbles to be picked up at 16 paces, steps to mount at 20 paces, is that the sound of a car? Will that patch of gravel trip baby over? Is baby about to make a run for it? Will not crossing the road to pet a doggie make them roll on the floor in a tantrum rage? Do I bash the car that’s parked on the pavement with the wheels of the buggy? Wait, it’s tea time in 10 minutes and we’re 15 minutes away from home! And all this while singing wheels on the bus on a continuous loop.

– Then there are the endless to-do lists which circulate in your head and the panic of when you’ll get stuff done. If baby naps for only 40 minutes, can I wash and sterilise the bottles, clean up after breakfast, boil the kettle for tea, shower, change, make the bed, do the washing, pack the car ready to go out…oh and catch up on precious sleep? Not really. No wonder the tea never gets drunk hot!

– And don’t forget you’re doing all of this while being physically tortured by sleep deprivation. Fuelled by (cold) caffeine and as much cake as you can lay your hands on, you have to perform like a super hero when you’re so tired you could sleep standing up.

So the next time you try to put yourself down by worrying about having baby brain, think about the amazing feats you perform every single day in caring for, nuturing, feeding and entertaining your baby. All this with no experience, training, guidance or sleep. If you do have a “baby brain” moment, it’s not that you’re losing your mind. That piece of information has just been justifiably displaced.

What do you think of this theory? Leave a comment below or say hello on Facebook or Twitter.

Like this blog post? Read these:
Post baby: why I changed
Things parents do they’re not proud of

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The mummy dating game

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I’ve been with my husband for more than a decade. I thought my dating days were behind me – and I hadn’t missed them at all. However, when I emerged from the safe cocoon of my house for the first time with my baby, I realised that I was embarking on a whole new era of dating. The mummy dating game.

I was never that great at dating. If I wasn’t slightly interested, the date would be ready to whisk me off my feet. But, if I actually remotely liked them, they’d run a mile. My problem is that I didn’t like games. If I was keen, I showed it. Seems like there’s something in that treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen mantra.

I wasn’t ready to start ‘dating’ again, but I did need some baby friends. Or at least needed to be sociable at the various mum and baby groups held in the area. So…baby as my wingman, I entered the bar playgroup. It was full of mummies all chattering away and laughing as I, the intruder, quietly assessed where was best to take my seat. But who to sit next to?

The leader: she welcomes you with open arms and a huge smile. You feel immediate relief and are smug at how speedy you’ve attracted a friend. But within two minutes, they’ve dashed off to greet the next mum. Warning, they are liable to usher you to the nearest spare seat, potentially miles away from the mummy bounty you had your eye on. And, as I quickly learned, you have to sit strategically otherwise you’ll be trapped next to your polar opposite and there’s no escape.

The know it all: want to actually speak today? You won’t with her. She’s too busy telling you about her brood of perfect children. You may be tempted to be in awe of her apparent awesomeness in raising multiple babies. But it’s just a front. She was a mess in the early days just like you are but she won’t admit it.

The cliche: akin to the popular gang at school, these guys act like they’ve known each other for years. They’ve done they hair AND makeup (bitches, when did they have time for that!?) and you can’t help but long to be their friends. Don’t bother, they may feign interest for a moment but this is their charitable act of the day. Once playgroup is over, they’ll be off for coffee and you won’t be invited.

The advice giver: From the moment you have a baby, actually, from the moment you announced your pregnancy, the advice giver has been everywhere. Sat across from you in the office, in the queue for your groceries, on the bus…EVERYwhere. Mummyhood is hard work and everyone wants to help with a bit of advice. What they don’t remember is how grit-your-teeth-and-smile-and-nod annoying it is as what worked for their baby will not work for any other baby in the world. Fact. Listening to the advice giver will just leave you feeling you’re doing everything wrong and must be a bad mum if you don’t do things their ‘right’ way. Keep your distance.

The mum who’s on a break: You’re a new mum so no doubt you’ve still got baby clutched in your arms or, at the most, laying a millimetre away from you. This mum, however, is a seasoned playgroup goer. She sits and chats, enjoying her free coffee and seems to let their tot run wild. Spotting your vulnerability, this tot will hone in on you, steal the one toy your baby has actually held in their hand for the first time ever (genius baby) and then kick a block flying to hit baby on the head.

What do you do? Can you tell them off? Can you touch their arm to move them off your baby without looking like you’re manhandling them? Can you reclaim the toy which will send them into despair and leaving you as the evil toy thief who makes children cry? This will be the moment that the mum looks over furiously.

This is unchartered ground. There are no rules here. At first, I tried to ignore it, avoiding confrontation and just tend to my baby. But the more times this has happened, I’ve grown a bit tougher. Nobody messes with my baby. So…take a quick look around, make sure the mum isn’t watching and make eye contact with another sympathetic mum (immediately implicating them as a witness) and get that toy back! Tell them firmly but fairly that kicking bricks at baby is NOT nice!Victory can be yours!

So, now you know the main characters at playgroup but where do you fit in? Keep an eye out for mums who look equally uncomfortable and quiet as you are. Dish out the stash of new baby questions – age, name, weight, any siblings, how they sleep, how they eat, probably your birth story, can either of you reach the cake tray etc. Now pay attention. You have approximately 10 minutes before one of your babies will cry. In that time, you have to make a snap decision of whether you want to see that mum again. You’ve both made it out of the house by 10am today. The chance of this happening again next week are limited. Do you like them enough to see them again? If so, it’s time for the dreaded question about a second date – maybe even on your own somewhere. Then it’s the awkward suggestion of swapping numbers. Panic over rejection sets in….But relax, most likely they’ll say yes and be relieved. It took me a while but I discovered that most other new mums were actually keen to meet up with other mums.

I mean, it is the opportunity to talk to another adult who’s going through the same experiences as you. And yes, I won’t deny that it does feel pretty awesome walking out of that bar playgroup with a phone number and a date lined up for tomorrow.

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Daddy’s Cool – gender roles in parenting

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I like to think that I don’t conform to stereotypical gender roles. At least excessively anyway. When I bought a cupboard from Ikea, I assembled it by myself. When I decided that our spare bedroom needed painting, I took a day off work and got painting. Okay so the cupboard does have a slight jaunty angle and I didn’t paint behind the wardrobes as they were too heavy for me to move. But still, I tried.

However, a recent trip away to Bluestone (Wales’ version of Center Parcs) with my baby girl and her nana has made me question the different gender roles.

As my mum is in her sixties, if there are any ‘man jobs’ to be done, they become my domain. You know, things like carrying all the bags, packing the car, driving, bringing the car round when it rains and being in charge of possessing important items such as keys, phones and money when we go out. Of course I didn’t mind doing any of these things for my mum but by the end of our holiday, I started to think about all the things daddies do that we take for granted.

The final straw was when I went to collect the car from the car park getting ready to leave; a 15 minute walk up a steep hill in the Welsh torrential rain and gales getting dragged around by my umbrella and soaked through. On arrival, I realised I’d left the keys behind so had to trudge back down and repeat the journey. Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed and I wished that I could be the one in my pjs in the warm lodge doing important ‘mum jobs’ like giving baby breakfast and generally potching around tidying up. My husband certainly wouldn’t have left the keys behind. And he wouldn’t have even moaned about the rain.

Often as the primary carer, us mums do a hard and busy job. I like to call us VBIMs (Very Busy and Important Mums). But I think sometimes we get so caught up being VBIMs that perhaps we’ve become a little bit guilty of not recognising how much daddies do too:

* Dads are not allowed to say they’re tired – I mean how could they possibly be as tired as us!? How dare they even THINK it!?

* After a day at work, we’re waiting for them by the door with a baby poised and ready to be thrust in their face.

* If they dare to be late home, they face the wrath of a sleep-deprived hormonal mum who’s often been counting the very seconds until they’re due through the door. How very DARE they be four minutes late!?

* During childbirth, dads have to pretend everything is going to be fine when they are as terrified as we are – but they don’t get to have any gas and air.

* In the first few weeks, when mums are rendered almost immovable from the sofa due to a combination of constant feeding and childbirth trauma, they suddenly have two babies to care for; baby and mum. Daddies are subjected to being at our constant beck and call. Mine would have to pass me everything which was out of my reach and even lined up a supply of sandwiches, snacks and drinks on the coffee table so I could survive the hours of sofa confinement.

* After only two weeks’ paternity leave, dads are forced to abandon their baby and wife to go back to work. It was hard enough for me after a year. I couldn’t imagine doing this after just two weeks.

* Then dads are constantly judged for how they’re looking after the baby – by their wives. From how they’ve fastened the nappy and the amount of Sudocrem they’ve applied to how they hold a bottle and the ridiculous way that they dress the baby. On reflection, how do we expect them to put tights on a baby girl when (hopefully) they’ve never had to do it before. And how are they supposed to know the ‘right’ way of doing anything when they only get to spend a couple of hours a day with baby?

* And within the space of moments, dads go from being our number one to becoming almost a bystander as a tiny little pink screaming being commands every fibre of our attention.

So I think we all need to take a minute to forget the VBIM role that we’re doing and appreciate our VBIDs. Thanks for putting up with us and our demanding ways and for being great dads.