It is widely believed that the brain rewires during pregnancy, in part to allow the mother to tune into her baby’s cry under nearly any circumstances (including unconsciousness). I have found this to be so, and (combined with my genetic shortage of folic acid) likely explains why I felt so stupid and fuzzy-headed during pregnancy. It also explains why so much of my brain work has felt so different since she was born. Certainly hormonal changes play a role in the brain function changes–though I got the not-good hormones rather than the ones the author of an article I recently read got, wherein she compared being the mother of a 4 month old baby to that feeling she got “that one time I did opium in Thailand.” But given that I couldn’t breastfeed and my hormones have largely settled a year after the birth and the brain changes seem to continue, I don’t think that’s all that’s happening.
What’s been frustrating to me is that suddenly, my brain doesn’t like to do what Cal Newport in his book of the same name calls “deep work.” Instead, it seems to want to multitask constantly. While that’s useful when I’m keeping my crawling daughter from leaping off the couch or ingesting that odd bit of something not-food she found on the floor, it’s not at all useful in my writing work. I look up at every peep the baby makes anywhere in the house, stopping everything–even if I know that she’s being well taken care of by my husband, relatives, or whomever at the time. I derail constantly, looking for a chance to switch tasks even in the middle of reading a book at night, when I’m tired. It’s frustrating because most of the work I really need to do is the opposite of multitasking.
Many people claim that “preggo brain” lasts about two years after the birth, sometimes longer if you breastfed for longer and thus extended the hormone changes. Some claim that it lasts forever, but we’ll try to look at the bright side and remind ourselves that many women do incredibly demanding cognitive tasks with elementary school age children and do just fine. So whether it’s re-training the rewired brain for its original function, or whether it’s the brain settling down from its emphasis on multitasking as the now small child becomes less likely to do any number of stupid and potentially life-altering or -ending things, well, it seems there’s an end to the “preggo brain.” It becomes notable to me that Rachel Aaron only figured out her 2k to 10k system when her son was about two (or so I remember from a conversation with her).
So in the meantime, I’m looking at how to harness my slightly-altered brain and start training back into deep work. Maybe I’ve lost a lot of my previous training in attention and focus. Maybe I’ve gone from running metaphorical half-marathons to metaphorically huffing and puffing on the way to the mailbox. But what can be trained once can be done again. It’s back to sprints and pomodoro techniques. It’s back to working on different techniques to figure out how I can game the system better in the meantime, so that by the time my daughter is two, whether by nature or nuture my brain will be back to writing at the level I was used to once again. I only have so many hours now! I can’t spend many of them staring at the screen feeling foggy and stupid and task-switching among low-level tasks.
So two thoughts that I’m working on this week: the brain works best off of good food (high quality fat, not too much sugar) and good blood flow. Diet, sure. But also getting up every 25 minutes to do something like squats, climbing the stairs, yoga, etc. to get the blood flow going. With my whole system wanting to rest and get fuzzy-headed at the slightest reason, this has become an important habit. Also helps with lingering postpartum depression stuff. Exercise, even on a small scale, really–really–seems to help. So it’s time to work at getting walks with the baby, push-ups or squats periodically during writing sprints, etc. etc. This is not at all an obvious habit and one that’s going to take some work to remember and do. Already today I feel more focused, however.
Second thought. I once worked with a brilliant graphic designer with pretty severe ADHD. She took a small dose of meds to help her focus, but otherwise, did something very odd. She ALWAYS had at least five windows open on her computer, and every minute or two or five would switch between windows and tasks. If you watched her, it was EXHAUSTING. I couldn’t keep up, much less do good work at the time with that habit. But over the course of an hour or two or five, she accomplished as much or more than everyone else. It worked for her brain.
So if my brain seems to want to task-switch even after I’ve exercised, maybe I can do what I’m doing today. I can go back and forth between a blog post and two different fiction scenes, for example. Give my brain a chance to task-switch while remaining in similar enough tasks that I don’t get derailed. Today it seems to be working. Today, I seem to be doing much better. But it’s going to take some tests to see if this approach long-term helps the mommy brain wiring to be happier, or just makes me stop.
What about you guys? What challenges have you faced with brain power, and what seems to work to get past it for you?