Edgy Mama: Momnesia

You’ve seen it, you’ve heard of it, you’ve dealt with it: Momnesia—that period of memory lapses and fuzzy thinking that follow giving birth.

A bunch of neurologists who study postpartum moms have discovered what anyone who’s ever pushed out a baby can tell you: babies cause you to lose your mind and everything that goes with it—your car keys, your wallet, your shoes and even your other kid.

When my first was 3-months-old, I loaded her into her car seat and drove to the nearest drugstore. I got out of the car, locked it and walked into the store. About 30 seconds later, I realized three things: I’d left the baby in the car, the car was locked, and I didn’t have the car keys. In fact, as I ran back to the car, I realized the engine was still running. The only thing I did right was putting the car in park.

Can you say mommy freak-out? The baby was asleep, thank God, and it was November (i.e., she wasn’t going to die of heat exhaustion within minutes). This was in the days before ubiquitous cell phones. So calling my spouse to tell him I was an idiot who’d just locked his firstborn in a running car, and could he please come bail me out, wasn’t my first option.

I ran back into the store. I told the clerk what happened, trying not to hyperventilate while watching out the window for potential baby snatchers. The clerk reached under the counter and pulled out a rigged coat hanger.

“Happens all the time,” he said. “Well, not with the baby and the engine running, but …”

My circa 1986 Honda Accord was amenable to being jimmied with a coat hanger, so my baby was only in the car by herself for a few minutes. Those minutes were not as excruciatingly long as the ones when we lost our 4-year-old son in the Atlanta airport (another column one day), but they were none-the-less longer, by far, than your typical 60 seconds.

While Momnesia can be dangerous (see above), scientists say there’s actually a biological benefit to losing one’s mind. Basically, new moms use every ounce of available brain power making sure their offspring survive. Your brain can handle only so much at a time. When you’re learning (or relearning) how to take care of a newborn, it’s difficult to focus on other complex learning, or remember where you left your car keys. All your energy, like it or not, has been taken over by the biological imperative of protecting the next generation. Many pediatricians will tell you that they trust a mother’s instincts about whether or not there is something wrong with her baby, regardless of that baby’s symptoms.

Enviro-spouse was always amazed that, even though I couldn’t tell him what I’d had for lunch on a given day, I could recite the baby’s exact eating, sleeping and pooping schedule going back several days. I could describe the consistency, weight and number of wet diapers. I knew exactly how many times she nursed, how many minutes she slept and how often she made eye contact with the cat. I couldn’t remember my husband’s birthday, but I knew exactly when our baby next needed to eat.

The good news is that, as the baby grows older and stops needing around-the-clock care, and the birthing hormones stabilize, Momnesia fades. A pediatric cardiologist once told me it takes about four years after giving birth for the brain’s connections to return to normal. Although I suspect that, like my hip joints, my brain won’t ever quite be the same.

But that’s OK. Now I have two kids who often remember what I don’t. Like not to leave them locked in the car with the engine running.


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9 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: Momnesia

  1. The day after I turned in this column, I locked both my keys and E-spouse’s keys in my car (engine off and no progeny within this time). It’s been almost seven years since I gave birth, and I’ve still got a touch of Momnesia!

    Luckily, I was within walking distance of home and we have a spare car key. But it was a cold walk.

  2. Rio

    14 years later and the brain is worse than ever. I still maintain it’s the kid’s fault – little parasite sucking the life cells out of the mom from day one.

  3. restless

    I don’t what you sisters are talking about. I never had any trouble with Momnesia, though I did have trouble remembering to brush my, eh…… um…… things in my mouth that chew food.

  4. Beth

    When my eldest was 2 and I was pregnant with my second, I took her to a Kindermusic class at 5:30 pm after working all day. I had to ask my friend how to spell my child’s name for the name tag….and I’m not exaggerating at all!

  5. Michelle

    Doesn’t it have to do with anesthesia? I’m not a mother myself, never had children yet but I heard anesthesias can cause memory lapses after undergoing operations. Perhaps these memory lapses on mothers can occur only to those who went caesarean birthing.


  6. Hi Michelle,
    I imagine anesthesia can exacerbate the problem, but neurologists say that womens’ brains actually get rewired after they give birth. Even women who’ve had natural births and home births experience Momnesia. I’ve always compared pregnancy and birth to going through a really fast adolescence. Your body, hormones, and brain all go through these remarkable changes. It can be intense, to say the least!

  7. Michelle

    God. I’ve always feared giving birth and for good reasons too. Stories and facts I’ve heard and read sounds frightening. Yep, it could be the most amazing experience a person could have but I’d much prefer for the guys to do it!

    – Michelle

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