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Why you shouldn’t be ashamed of having “pregnancy brain”

PREGNANT
Pikselstock - Shutterstock
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We can shift our way of thinking about the changes pregnancy brings and see them as signs of something amazing.

Pregnancy brain is a real thing. I didn’t want to believe it at first. It’s not that pregnancy makes you stupid — not at all. It’s just that between the stress and the sleep deprivation and the little-understood hormonal and physical changes that come along with the pregnancy itself … well, should we be surprised that a body allocating its resources to a whole new person has a little trouble with certain cognitive tasks? 

These effects, which are different for everybody, aren’t the kind of thing you can measure very well, and seem to extend into the postpartum period. How bad is it? Bad enough that you might notice the change, but not significant enough to affect your job or your daily responsibilities. The people around you probably won’t even notice, says Dr. Melissa Hayden, co-author of a meta-analysis of 20 studies on the subject.

So it’s normal, and it’s nothing to panic about, and that’s good to know. Still, there’s a huge part of me that hates that this phenomenon is real. I was thinking about why I’m so resistant to the idea that pregnancy might make your memory worse. I’m pregnant right now, and maybe it’s just one more item to add to a long list of ways that pregnancy seems to make life harder. A part of me is tempted to complain that on top of the fatigue, and skeletal changes, and the hormonal changes, my mind is going to be affected too. It doesn’t seem fair.

But I wonder whether there’s a better way to think about this.

We, as a culture, are making some strides with the way we talk about stretch marks, aren’t we? Slowly but surely, media and advertising isn’t insisting on airbrushing out a woman’s stretch marks. Instagram is full of people celebrating these normal postpartum changes. We are learning to say things like, “My body went through something big. These marks are a reminder of a beautiful time in my life, and so there’s beauty in them.” We’re getting comfortable with the idea that stretch marks are nothing to be ashamed of. They’re not a sign that you did something wrong. They are a sign of the powerful, miraculous, thing that your body did. 

What if we approached all the normal, natural, parts of pregnancy the same way? Stretch marks used to be embarrassing. Could we learn to view even the phenomenon of “pregnancy brain” with an attitude of acceptance?

After all, it’s nothing to be ashamed of — just the opposite. Your whole self, mind and body, is pouring its resources into sustaining and nourishing the incredibly vulnerable life inside of you. When you start with that fact, the whole experience of pregnancy feels different. 

Remembering what my body is really doing is helping me free myself of the sense of shame and resentment that have been creeping into my mind.

The world’s standards of beauty are pretty narrow. That’s why it’s so exciting that women are feeling less and less like their stretch marks are a failure of some kind. Well, the world’s standards of worth and personal value are pretty narrow, too. The world sees value in beauty, in physical power, productivity, and yes, in how mentally “sharp” we are, too. 

And those things are good, but I can think of something else that’s good, too. This new baby, and a body that’s able to nourish this precious new life. 

Pregnancy is hard. Forgetfulness is hard. I hear myself trying to explain to a friend why I never remembered to text her back, and even to myself, I sound like I’m making excuses. That’s a hard experience, but it’s not a failing. It’s just where I am right now. It’s not right or wrong. It’s just my life, and life is messy right now because life is always messy. 

Pregnancy is a great time to let go of our drive to appear perfect, inside and out. I guess it’s nice, in a way, that even “pregnancy brain” can be a part of that journey. 

 

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