Your Mom Brain
How your thoughts change when you have a child
I had big plans for my first maternity leave, the nine blessedly unencumbered months I'd spend away from my teaching job. First, of course, I intended to love, care for, and play with my baby. But no way was I going to become one of those goo-goo-ga-ga new mothers who can't think of anything but their child. While my son napped -- I was counting on long naps -- I'd rent films and watch the news. Most of all, I would read books: glorious novels, gorgeous poetry collections, spellbinding biographies.
Naturally -- you veteran moms are nodding -- it didn't work out that way. Here's how I spent my maternity leave instead:
I took care of my baby, and I slept.
At first, Sam nipped and napped around the clock, never sleeping long enough for me to hit REM myself. Just to survive, I adopted the whole sleep-when-the-baby-sleeps thing as my mantra. In a temporary burst of hopefulness, I did take a stab at Wuthering Heights early on, but after rereading the first four pages of it for the third time, I gave up, so muddled by sleep deprivation that I couldn't tell one character from another, much less figure out what was happening on the dark moors of England.
Things got better. Halfway through my maternity leave, Sam was sleeping through the night and taking a couple of gonzo naps every day, but by then I was no longer remotely interested in 19th-century novels. I was too busy deciding which adorable photos to send to my relatives, and writing blow-by-blow descriptions of Sam's milestones to send along, too. I was poring over What to Expect the First Year, getting a little thrill every time some new trick of his fell into the "He may even be able to" category of possible monthly achievements. Now, I'm not saying that every new mother loses her capacity for abstract thought and her engagement in the non-baby world. My friend Ann, for instance, was named Alabama's Teacher of the Year and spent the semester that was supposed to be her maternity leave giving speeches on education reform at organizations all over the state, while her baby slept in an infant carrier next to the podium. If anything, motherhood actually sharpened Ann's ability to focus on her profession.
But I've known more new moms who were a little embarrassed by what motherhood had turned them into. Women who once enjoyed foreign films, presidential politics, or the latest Cormac McCarthy novel find themselves wondering: Did I really just spend half an hour weighing the relative merits of rubber pacifiers over silicone ones? We can't really help ourselves -- motherhood, particularly new motherhood, is so absorbing it hijacks our brains as well as our hearts.