Momnesia? Pregnancy brain? You're not alone

Moms talk about their experiences with the phenomena known as ‘pregnancy brain’



Marissa Brunelle with son, Logan

Pregnancy brings about many changes to a woman’s body and her life, but perhaps the least expected change can be the haze that seems to take hold of her brain throughout those nine months—and in many cases, linger months afterward.

Seemingly overnight an organized mom-to-be becomes forgetful, a bit scatterbrained, and not at all on task the way she normally is. It’s a bit disconcerting at first, laughable at times and sometimes concerning as it appears to hang around. While expectant moms and new moms might simply attribute it to exhaustion, and joke about having “mommy brain,” there is actually some valid reasoning behind what’s going on.

With far more progesterone and estrogen surging to the brain throughout pregnancy, lack of sleep during pregnancy and newborn months and myriad new responsibilities and concerns to consider, it’s no wonder “momnesia” takes hold.

Elementary teacher Kristina McLaughlin of Merrimack is expecting her first child, a daughter, in September. She had heard many people talk about pregnancy brain, but wasn’t sure if it was real.

“Whenever I forgot something, they would say, ‘Wait until you get older, it gets worse’ or ‘Wait until you get pregnant and have pregnancy brain,’” said McLaughlin. She feels like she has experienced that very syndrome a few times, but said it’s hard to tell.

“As a teacher, I am constantly multitasking so it gets difficult to keep track of everything, even when you aren’t pregnant,” she said. “I always thought I had a good memory until I became a teacher. Having to remember how students are getting home on what day of the week (bus, walker, after school), who needs to make up a test, who gets what level of homework, etc. The list goes on. It takes a lot of focus and it’s even more difficult when you are pregnant.”

Although people have told McLaughlin that the function of the hippocampus—the part of the brain associated with the formation of memory—is altered from hormones during pregnancy, she thinks the fog is borne from exhaustion.

Kira Morehouse and her daughters.

Before becoming the mom of two daughters, Kira Morehouse of Manchester felt good about being a person who covered all her bases and then some. “I always took pride in being the type of person who is conscientious, to the point of being a bit of Type A,” she said. “However, since giving birth to both of my children, who are five years apart, I have learned to adapt and go with the flow out of necessity.”

Morehouse said that pregnancy brain rocked her world when she had her first daughter. “I would even go as far to say that pregnancy brain/mommy brain symptoms may have been the root of what pushed me into a mild bout of postpartum blues until I was able to acknowledge that being a mom was going to mean accepting a new reality.”

A big part of that new reality meant learning to take things in stride, and not be so hard on herself when she realized that she was not in total control of the details of her life as she felt she once had been.

Prior to that initial pregnancy, Morehouse was not familiar with the concept of pregnancy brain, nor did she read anything in the “what to expect” information or hear about it in birthing classes. But, in 2006, it wasn’t really an acknowledged term yet.

When her first daughter, Sophia, was six or seven weeks old, Morehouse first heard the words “pregnancy brain/mommy brain” on a newscast and learned there were some specific symptoms consistently observed in groups of new moms and moms-to-be.

“Subsequently, I researched it a bit more through credible online sources and thankfully, that was the beginning of when it all started to make sense,” said Morehouse. The news not only validated what she had been going through, but offered some relief as well.

Throughout her pregnancy, Morehouse felt as if her thinking process was not as sharp as it once was. “I specifically remember remarking to colleagues that my brain felt ‘fuzzy’ when I relayed to them small incidents that were becoming reoccurring situations in my day-to-day routine,” she said. “It did not help that I was being relatively hard on myself each time these things would happen.”

To combat this, Morehouse became more aware of when she felt that the fuzzy feeling was interfering most and started to come up with strategies specific to each situation.

“Sometimes it was a matter of simply changing my day-to-day processes and making sure I ran through a checklist of overall intentions in any given situation,” she said. “Ultimately, I had to reinforce that it was not the end of the world if I made little errors in my everyday routine after becoming a mommy.”

While she experienced pregnancy brain yet again prior to the birth of her second daughter, Savannah, this time around Morehouse found it far less terrifying and could adapt.

Marissa Brunelle had never heard of pregnancy brain prior to her own experience. The Hooksett mom, who gave birth to son Logan in late January, really didn’t know what to think when the haze overcame her mind periodically throughout her pregnancy – especially as she neared the actual birth time.

Generally a very organized individual, Brunelle said, “I basically just felt like a crazy person. My mind was so scattered and it seemed harder to focus on things at work.”

She recalls having a few good laughs with one of her co-workers after asking what she refers to as “some pretty ridiculous questions” that she normally would have known the answers to.

Because it was her first pregnancy, Brunelle thinks heightened anticipation toward the end added to this state. “I was super excited, tired, emotional and extremely nervous for all of the unknowns that were ahead of me,” she said. “I can only imagine that some of that contributed to my pregnancy brain and feeling a bit crazy.”

While she feels a lot more clearheaded now, she said there are still moments when she has to wonder if pregnancy brain left its mark on her thinking process.

Karissa Lagasse and her daughter, Payton.

New mom Karissa Lagasse gave birth to her daughter Payton in late January. She, too, was not familiar with pregnancy brain, and thought she was just making a lot of stupid mistakes at work, especially in her first trimester. Lagasse also found herself asking questions at work that she normally would have known the answers to.

A co-worker eventually pointed out that she must have pregnancy brain. “The only thing I could think of as to what I could attribute it to was how tired I was during my first trimester,” said Lagasse. “I could have fallen asleep standing up so maybe that made me less attentive and more groggy.” 

As a new mom or mom-to-be grapples with all of the unfamiliar feelings and imminent responsibilities, it’s important for her to be gentle on herself. This is a monumental change in her body and her life, and just the beginning of a whole new normal.

 
Pamme Boutselis is a N.H.-based writer, a content director at Southern New Hampshire University and a serial volunteer. Follow her at www.pammeboutselis.com or on Twitter @pammeb.

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