After the twins were born, I had to go back to work in 12 weeks. The US is the only OECD country in the world without a national statutory paid maternity, paternity, or parental leave. But that ridiculousness is a topic for another day.
Physically, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically, I was exhausted. But what was most interesting was what was happening to my brain.
There was a substantial reduction in the grey matter area of my brain for 2 years.
The grey matter includes regions of the brain involved in muscle control, and sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control.
How do I know? There have been studies that have shown, compared to fathers, new mothers show significant reductions in the grey matter for at least 2 years after their child is born. It is seen in brain regions involved in social cognition, particularly in the network dedicated to the theory of mind, which helps us think about what is going on in someone else’s mind (such as our babies).
Does that mean that ‘baby brain’ is real? Actually, no, that is not entirely true. The same researchers found no cognitive decline in these new mothers, except a reduction in verbal word list learning tasks.
So what does this all mean?
Women’s bodies and brains go through tremendous changes in order to give birth. Our brains, just like our bodies adapt structurally to keep the helpless new human alive and thriving. We have different priorities and a very important one.
We temporarily lose a substantial portion of our brains to keep a human being alive.
The least we can expect is some paid time off.