Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Memory, Baby-Brain, and I forgot the other noun I was going to use for this title

          I have written about memory here before. In summary, it was an observation that some people seem to have brains that go back a long way in time and others have brains that are able to actually remember what they were supposed to pick up at the grocery store. I have always been one of the former, who has distinct memories all the way back to two and three years of age, but I've been forgetting why I went into a room since at least age nine. I did not pick the age of nine at random for this post. I specifically remember this instance. I always find it fascinating to ask people when they can pinpoint their first memory and how this correlates to the way their mind works.

          I am boggled when people tell me they can't remember anything before age five or six, like my mother. This explains why my first Christmas memory was of my family taking down the fake tree from the attic and unwrapping it from the plastic storage bag in parts and assembling it. Other hearty New Englanders will understand that this was not meant to be my first Christmas memory. It was supposed to be of a live tree. When I remind my parents of that year, my mother is horrified because we started buying live trees a year or two later. "You weren't supposed to remember that," she will say. She wrongly assumed that my memory would stretch back only as far as hers, but I take after my dad in this way, who also has memories from two and three years old. This first Christmas memory is not a bad one, mind you. My beloved grandparents were there. We were putting out a tree for Santa! It would be covered in small and large bright red waxy apples that would years later be discarded because mice started to think they were real apples. And tinsel! So much tinsel! I have no real problems with this artificial Christmas memory, because to me, it was as real as anything else a child could feel at that time.

          So why has this question of what the mind remembers come up for me? The answer is pregnancy. Pregnancy seems to have exaggerated all of my mind's inherent flaws and strengths. I didn't think it possible that my short term memory could actually get worse, but it has. The husband and I went to Montreal for a post-Christmas sort of Babymoon, (boy, Capitalist America will turn any idea into a thing now), and even though I read that the forecast would be quite a bit colder up there than this year's unseasonably warm New England weather, I forgot gloves. Not only that, I nearly forgot to pack up the delicious cheese we bought there for our return home. I HAVE NEVER BEFORE FORGOTTEN TO PACK THE CHEESE.

          Now, I knew that the phenomenon known as "Baby-Brain" was a thing, probably caused by hormonal changes in pregnancy, but I didn't realize it involved not only memory loss but a very specific kind of obsessive memory retention as well. It seems that, much like the chin acne of my teenage years that made a comeback for a few weeks in my first trimester, in many ways, the fecund nature of my mind from my teenage years has made a comeback. As a teen, I bought a 1977 edition of Halliwell's Film Guide at a tag sale and in combination with viewings on TCM, I read and passionately took so many of those old films to heart that now, much of its contents are never to leave my brain. To my mathematician father's dismay, I absorbed basically none of the Algebra that I was supposed to have learned, and to this day I'm pretty certain I can't muster a simple equation.

          So in the same way, for the past few months when the husband asks what I've done that day, it's usually something along the lines of reading 100 pages of a pregnancy or baby book, but on the same day also attempting to put a plate in the toaster. I didn't intend to arm myself with so much information on the topic of pregnancy and infants, but I can only describe it as a type of compulsion. And I don't just mean going to the apps that tell you what kind of fruit your baby most resembles this week. I mean everything I could get my hands on. If you had asked me before I got knocked up, I would have said that there is such a thing as too much information, but I have been unable to help myself. And I'm hardly a baby novice. I grew up with a lot of young cousins and family friends and have many friends now venturing into this arena. In the second trimester alone though, I voraciously devoured about six or seven baby books, at least three novels, countless baby science articles and am working on Amy Poehler's Yes Please, which is largely devoted to childbirth in its first chapters. (I usually am geared toward depressing fiction of the searing feminist genre, but in the past few years as an essentially humorist blogger, this seemed weird, and I have tried to fill in my gap in this reading.) At the same time, I had to memorize a Verdi score, the contents of which seemed to fall out of my brain at a much more rapid rate than these things usually do for me.

          I haven’t yet even reached the post-partum phase, where it’s said that the mother’s brain will likely fall out along with the placenta. If you come to the house during those first few weeks, which I harbor many delusions about as an awestruck blur, be patient with my brain. In my fantasies of new motherhood, I picture myself besotted with our new human, even if, like most freshly-baked babies, he or she is a little funny-looking. Nevertheless, I envision myself a drowsy Bohemian earth mom who can’t find time to shower, but who wears an elegant kimono style robe over all her dirty clothes, as though just prepping to go onstage. No, you say? The reality will be way more disgusting and bizarre? Well, so far, I actually have liked being pregnant, so I am still holding out some amount of hope here. Try not to rain on my parade too much. 

          Oh, it's true that I have my fears and anxieties about life with a newborn for sure. It’s just that at this point, most of them have to do with my struggles to wake from a nap and actually feel refreshed or with the idea of turning around in my home and discovering that my mother has just alphabetized the spices and I can’t find anything. Given the state of my brain, this could be inevitable whether she takes the liberty of doing so or not. I haven't yet found a book or article yet that can relieve my mind of these concerns.

          Ultimately, it's delusional at best to think that the reserves of compulsive research I have done have been stored at all for when this baby arrives. It is more likely that the little bean will just teach us the way through new parenthood with his/her own personality, throwing us for a loop at every turn. We will just have to see. And if this child remembers our fumbles as new parents, it hopefully won't be without some fondness, like my own first memories. What I am actually excited to see is whether I can ever get around to blogging and if it produces any lucid thoughts during this time. Please join me on this journey. Just don’t ask me to make any toast.


  1. How did you forget the cheese?

    FYI, I nominated you for a blogging award:

    1. Allegra, I plummeted so much further into baby braindom that I completely missed this! Thank you!