My sharp memory is now just a memory: The cause and cure of post-natal forgetfulness

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After giving birth, many moms can relate to suffering from 'momnesia' or having 'mommy brain'. One mom shares her experience with it.

I miss the days when my mind could store gigabytes upon gigabytes of memory without any glitch. Believe it or not, I used to attend meetings without taking any notes. I used to do grocery shopping without a checklist and compose an article without a pen and paper or a laptop. I stored every paragraph, every important quote, every grocery item inside my highly dependable human memory.

Nine months of pregnancy and nine months of postnatal experience later, that sharp memory of mine is now nothing but a memory. I forget about almost anything. From forgetting to put my baby’s body wash inside the travel bag to forgetting I already brushed my teeth a few minutes ago, I feel like I am the real-life counterpart of Dory, Pixar’s popular royal blue-tang fish character suffering from short-term memory loss.

While I choose to poke fun at myself and laugh about it along with my colleagues, I must admit that my post-natal forgetfulness or what is often referred to as “mommy brain,” has affected my confidence and productivity. Whenever I forget to bring one of my baby’s essentials, I doubt my capacity to be a responsible mother. Whenever I forget deadlines at work, it makes me feel less efficient.

What causes it?

To find out whether my post-natal “momnesia” is normal or not, I read different articles about it. One of the reading materials I encountered mentioned that in 2016, a paper published in Nature Neuroscience, reveals that pregnancy indeed modifies a woman’s brain, revamping it in ways that continue even after a woman has given birth.

The research team, led by Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona’s Elseline Hoekzema, compared brain scans of women before pregnancy and the brain scans of these same women during pregnancy. Their study’s results showed noteworthy “reductions in the volume of grey matter” (which contains nerve cells) in the brains of the women during pregnancy. In short, there is a physical transformation happening in the brain when a woman gets pregnant.

The “momnesia” phenomenon was also studied a long time ago by researchers at Boston University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their conclusion mentions that post-natal forgetfulness may be attributed to four factors: hormones, pain, priorities, and fatigue. New moms like me need not read the entire research paper to agree. Our experience is enough proof.

Hormones

This favorite suspect of many pregnant and new mothers is blamed for every little change in the body–from cravings to mood swings to dark underarms! Now, we can blame it too for our newfound forgetfulness. We may not like the effects of these signaling molecules, but our Creator surely has his own genius reasons for making hormones exist in our system.

Pain

An article I read recently quoted New Mexico School of Medicine gynecologist Dr. Sharon Phelan as saying “forgetfulness is part of women’s defense mechanism after the pain and rigors of childbirth”. Having read this, I somehow developed gratitude in this new mommy forgetfulness syndrome. True enough, if memories of all mothers remain as sharp as before, some moms would probably not want to go through pregnancy and childbirth again.

Priorities

As a new mom, my priority is to take care of my baby. Nut taking care of baby means changing the diapers, nursing the baby, bathing the baby, cleaning the breast pumps, washing baby’s clothes, preparing the baby bag, buying the baby food, and whole lot more. All these little details are stuck in one unsteady little memory bank inside mommy’s brain, fighting for mommy’s attention. So I guess forgetting where I placed my mobile phone or the date today or the name of the new girl in the office or whether or not I already brushed my tooth is forgivable. These things are simply not priority.

Fatigue

All new moms are tired. Waking up at night to attend to a crying child, washing baby’s clothes, playing with your child, cleaning your house, feeding your family, juggling family life and work, grocery shopping, running errands, and whole lot more will undoubtedly make any new mother physically exhausted. Fatigue can definitely negatively affect anyone’s memory.

How do you manage it?

Since postpartum forgetfulness is inevitable, I choose managing it over mourning it. Here are some of the things I do to overcome my mommy brain which I want to share with my fellow moms:

1. Don’t be too hard on yourself

I’ve eventually learned to let the inconsiderate nasty comments go by. They don’t deserve to control the way we view ourselves. We’re doing a lot of things already as a new mom. We don’t need an unnecessary baggage to carry.

2. Take down notes

Whether in a meeting with a client or in a workshop, I’ve learned to write important matters down. I prefer taking notes using my mobile phone’s note app, but the good old pen and paper duo might work for other moms. The medium doesn’t matter, as long as it serves the purpose of keeping important ideas for you.

3. Create a daily calendar

Download a calendar app on your mobile phone or get a girly planner to get your schedule organized. I prefer having a calendar on my mobile phone, though; with it, I can set an alarm to remind me of my upcoming appointments.

4. Assign important objects a specific place

Misplacing things is common for new moms like me. It took a while before I accepted that, but when I finally did, I devised a way to avoid it. I mentally assign a regular spot for important things. For instance, I trained my mind that whenever I remove my office watch, I need to put inside the front pocket of my office bag. That’s the only place I keep my office watch. I keep the house keys inside the drawer near the TV. There has to be a regular way of keeping things so my mind can easily associate items with where I kept them.

5. Create your own mnemonic

My online search taught me that mnemonic devices can help me remember important things. The ROYGBIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet) acronym surely worked when we were still little children to memorize the colors of the rainbow, so I’m sure it will not hurt to use acronyms and other mnemonic devices again, now that we’re mommies.

6. Take photos

Since our phones nowadays already have a built-in camera, we might as well maximize it. My husband and I always take a photo of the parking lot level where our car is parked whenever we go to the mall. I also take photos of price tags whenever I go to the supermarket to help me remember prices of goods.

7. Ask for help and delegate tasks

Yes, we can multitask, but we also need to accept that our minds and bodies have limits. There is truly nothing wrong with asking some assistance from the people around us, especially at home. We can always ask help from our husbands, our parents, household helpers, or even grown-up children to help in preparing the baby bag, for instance. Delegating the little tasks can help us focus on more important responsibilities.

Post-natal forgetfulness is an expected challenge for every new mother. But with the right mindset, discipline, every strong mom can surely handle it with grace. Soon, this forgetful phase in our life will also be just a memory.

READ: Moms share hilarious stories about the struggle of pregnancy brain

Becoming a Mom Postpartum