Mommy Brain Syndrome first reared its ugly head when I became a new mom at 46. At the time I didn’t know it had a name. But I knew I wasn’t my old self and I knew I wasn’t alone. Plenty of younger moms complained about forgetfulness.
For the six years since, I’ve been trying to brush it off. But finally it got to be enough of an embarrassment; I decided it was time to do some research.
So I sat down at my computer and opened a search query. Then I went to go fetch a glass of water. And when I came back , I couldn’t recall for the life of me what I’d been searching for.
What Is Mommy Brain Syndrome?
As defined by mothers everywhere, “mommy brain syndrome” or MBS is a condition where a once sharp, focused female mind becomes fuzzy and scattered. We find ourselves losing our keys, leaving the oven on, forgetting names and appointments, and wondering why we just entered a room.
Reportedly, MBS begins during pregnancy and continues through the first few months of motherhood. Then, according to studies, the hormones affecting our brain chemistry and our memories go back to their pre-pregancy levels. We return to our normal, sharp-as-a-tack, pre-pregnancy selves.
Only I’m not so sure…
It’s not surprising. Juggling the demands of work, marriage, and child-rearing is enough to make anyone’s head spin. And it can lead to inadequate sleep and exercise, and a lapse in eating habits.
None of this makes for a happy brain. But for older moms, the story doesn’t end there. “Brain fog” is also a symptom of menopause. We’ll call this type PMB (perimenopausal brain). And when MBS and PMB collide, you’re in for a double whammy.
Where Did The Old Me Go? (Menopausal Brain)
The root causes of PMB and MBS are similar. Both phenomena can be symptoms of overload and fluctuating hormones. In the case of an older mother, there are additional stressors unique to the age group.
For one, many older moms have to balance caretaking responsibilities for both their children and their own aging parents.
Then, as reported by neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, MD ( author of the book “The Female Brain”) hormonal changes associated with menopause can actually alter the way we relate to our children and spouse. Less estrogen means less oxytocin, a hormone that promotes feelings of nurturing and caretaking.
Without it, we’re more inclined toward self-care than nurturing others. We’re also less likely to “bite our lip” and put up with things. This can lead to more conflict when others make demands .
And naturally, as our monthly cycle of fluctuating hormones comes to a close and hormone levels change to a steady state, we experience mood swings.
Fear not, though, we are rational beings and not slaves to our hormones. Menopause doesn’t mandate that we’ll stop caring for our children or become permanently edgy and argumentative. But it does require us to adapt and adjust. And that’s another stressor to cope with.
In addition, menopausal moms may be sharing space with preteens, who are about to begin their own hormonal roller coaster ride.
Got enough on your plate yet?
The good new is that menopausal brain fog is temporary. Once you’re through menopause, brain function returns to normal. (Egad, my great grandmother never STOPPED having hot flashes!) and your memory snaps back to its old self.
This is only partial consolation for those of us whose kids won’t leave for college (assuming they actually do leave) until our late fifties and beyond. We still have lots of mothering to do post-menopause. So as PMB subsides, MBS can still provide comic relief for the entire family.
Take the other morning, when I poured the cat’s breakfast into my own cereal bowl…then sat down to type and repeatedly hit “enter”, wondering why my keyboard kept creating more white space instead of a capital letter. I’m not getting stupid, really. I’m just perpetually distracted.