Before having a kid, many of us might write off the term “mommy brain” as nothing but misogynist conspiracy theory. Oh, how we wish that were the case! So did actor Alison Pill, but her new essay in Glamour actually puts the changing state of new mother’s gray matter in the most positive light we’ve ever seen.
“I’d spent nine months surrendering so many things I thought were essential to my being — my body, my job, my irresponsibility,” Pill wrote. “No one mentioned I’d also be giving up my brain as I knew it.”
The Newsroom star, whom we’ll next see in the CBS All Access series Star Trek: Picard, began feeling this way during pregnancy, when she couldn’t sleep more than four hours a night. Already worried about losing her identity and slowing down her career by becoming a mother, she was disturbed to discover that she couldn’t concentrate on crossword puzzles or conversations that weren’t about “puppies and rainbows.”
As most parents can imagine, that got a whole lot worse once her daughter, Wilder, was born in 2016, and not just because of lack of sleep and the demands of feeding and caring for a newborn. In the midst of her haze, Pill read something that shed a different light on what “mommy brain” really is.
It was a study published in the journal Nature showing that mothers experience a loss of volume in gray matter in the regions of the brain that pertain to social cognition, and that this change corresponds to an increase in maternal attachment. In other words, our brains change to make us tune out some of the world while we focus on our babies. This change lasts for “at least two years postpartum,” the study says.
Reading that made Pill stop mourning the loss of her crossword-solving skills and appreciate that she was not alone in this.
“My lizard brain desire to protect my kid and lack of patience for social interactions that felt inauthentic suddenly made sense,” she wrote. “Evolution is cool like that.”
She also appreciates a new way that her brain has been growing, now that Wilder is 3. She’s a “Question Machine,” and Pill has decided to make sure she gives her curious kid real answers to those questions. That means she’s got to research optical physics to tell her what rainbows are.
“My mom brain has become a time management expert, a more humble and patient servant, and a curious challenger,” she concluded, “and I’ve never been more grateful for the work it does.”