Originally for NorthJersey.com
Juggling the responsibilities of parenting with the demands of a career can cause strain that leads to forgetfulness, experts say.
When my twin boys were toddlers, I gave birth to another set of twins, and though I tried not to be a frazzled mess, having four kids under the age of 3 did unique things to my mind, body and the smell of my home.
I thought I had it together, managing to occasionally wash my hair and exercise, and usually getting everyone out of the house almost on time. But one day, I had an epic fail. For any parent who’s ever had a colossal mind lapse, I have two words for you:
What’s in a name?
Here’s the backstory. My religion (Judaism) said I could name my children after deceased family members. (And my Jewish mother said I had to, so I really had no choice.) But my sister had 4 kids before I had my first, so she essentially covered my small group of deceased relatives. By the time it was my turn, we had only a few names left to honor, so the middle names were ours to play with.
When Alexis was 4 months old, I took her along to pick up my sons from nursery school one afternoon, and I ran into a woman I’d often seen around. “Oh, she’s beautiful,” the woman cooed. “What’s her name?”
A rose by any other name…
Wait a second. What’s her middle name? Oh, my God … what is her middle name? I can’t remember her middle name. I’ll make something up. It’s Rose. She’s Alexis Rose. No, I can’t do that. What do I do?
“I don’t know,” I said under my breath. “Excuse me?” the woman said, “you don’t know your daughter’s middle name?” I looked at the floor and shook my head. “No, I don’t know,” I said in disbelief. “I can’t remember. I’m sorry.”
I forgot my daughter’s name.
I’ve had some dumb lapses ― I’ve gone to my share of birthday parties on the wrong day and have often explained why the tooth fairy got lost on the way to our house ― but this one left me feeling ill. Of all the things to forget, don’t let it be your kid’s name.
It’s just ‘mom brain’
Over the years, I’ve told the story to several friends, who’ve all had the same response: Don’t feel bad, it’s just mom brain. And part of me has always wondered if that’s true. Is there really such a thing as mom brain?
“There’s definitely truth to the term ‘mom brain,’” said Dr. Aerin Hyun, a Columbia University-trained psychiatrist practicing in New York City and Tenafly who specializes in women’s reproductive health. According to Hyun, several factors can make mothers particularly susceptible to memory loss and impaired concentration.
“Being a mother traditionally means that, on top of being responsible for your children’s well-being, you’re also the CEO of the household, and that can be an enormous strain,” said Hyun, noting that mothers are usually tasked with remembering to buy toilet paper, scheduling after-school activities, making dinner and worrying about their kids’ homework and friends.
“Juggling so much and having your children in mind all the time, in addition to any outside jobs and responsibilities, can create a constant state of stress. All that stress increases cortisol levels in the body, which can prevent new memories from being laid down and prevent your ability to recall existing ones.”
Multitasking makes it worse
In addition, the constant multitasking that motherhood demands can cloud our overall ability to concentrate. “Not only does multitasking increase stress,” Hyun said, “but the more you try to do at once, the less your attention can be devoted to each one of those tasks,” increasing the risk of forgetfulness.
Don’t skip sleep
Sleep deprivation is another common cause of memory impairment in mothers. “As a society, we’re in a constant state of sleep deprivation and it’s causing all sorts of spikes in anxiety and depression, which are both associated with impaired memory recall and retrieval,” Hyun said.
Eating on the run, as mothers often do, can also affect memory. “Poor nutrition and vitamin deficiencies can definitely impair brain function,” she explained, adding that postpartum hormonal imbalances, which can last up to a year after birth, also play a role by causing anxiety and depression, which may impair memory and concentration.
Here’s what you can do:
But parents shouldn’t despair, as Hyun has some tips for relieving the fog. “I recommend practicing mindfulness, with activities like yoga and meditation, which teaches you to focus on one thing at a time and can decrease stress levels,” she said. “Also, delegate responsibility and ask for help,” said Hyun, who notes that mothers often take pride in giving off the impression they have everything under control by themselves. Acupuncture, therapy, adequate sleep and proper diet round out her list of tips for combating mom brain.
Now here’s the best part of my story.
A few weeks ago, nearly seven years after my brain lapse, I told this story in front of my children, who hadn’t heard it before. When I finished, my sons looked confused.
“Wait, what’s Alexis’s middle name?” Jonas asked, appearing baffled.
“It’s Harlow,” I said. “You know that.”
They looked at each other, and then at me. “We didn’t know that,” Adin said. “We always thought it was something else.”
“What did you think it was?” I asked. And they all answered at the same time:
“We always thought it was Carlos.”
Contact Jackie Goldschneider at firstname.lastname@example.org.