After becoming a mom, it can feel as though not much changes anymore. For your kids, sure. But for you? It often seems as though you’re trapped in the routine of changing diapers, picking up toys and crumbs and random socks left in the middle of the floor, school drop-offs and pick-ups, and playing the never-ending game of keep-up-with-the-laundry.
But aside from the obvious physical changes you’ve undergone, there’s a more significant change you probably didn’t know about: Your brain.
Here’s a fascinating little fact: If you were to take a random group of women off the street and scan their brains, you’d be able to tell which of the women had given birth and which had not. If you did the same with men, their scans wouldn’t give you any hint as to which ones were fathers.
You see, during pregnancy, your brain undergoes a pattern of extensive pruning — which is essentially a process of fine-tuning. It’s the same process that happens when you’re a teenager. As a baby, your brain grows with incredible speed, building connections and networks as you learn and take in the world around you. So, when you head into adolescence, your brain weeds out the extra stuff (the gray matter) it no longer needs.
The same thing happens to your brain when you become a mom.
I should also tell you that the loss in gray matter is related to a loss in memory (it affects the hippocampus which is the area of the brain responsible for remembering where you put your keys and set down your lukewarm cup of coffee for the 15th time). But, don’t worry, the hippocampus regains it back after a couple of years. Phew.
If our brains undergo such significant changes while growing children, changes that last years if not the rest of our lives, what does that mean for us as mothers?
It means motherhood is not the end of our own growth but the beginning.
From a scientific perspective, motherhood makes us more adept at processing social information — we’re better at recognizing emotion as well as the needs of our children. It helps us detect potential threats and it promotes attachment and bonding with our babies.
It makes us more attuned, aware, and connected.
Not just for our kids, but for ourselves as well.
So, how can we use the brain growth experienced during pregnancy to further our own personal growth? In three ways:
1. Recognize how your own emotions signal what you need from yourself
Pay attention to how you’re feeling throughout the day. Check in with yourself. If you’re losing your patience more easily, if you’re feeling extra tired, or if you’re just having a blah day, ask yourself what’s lacking and what you’re needing more of.
2. Figure out what’s getting in the way of your own enjoyment and fulfillment
You’re really good at detecting threats to your kids — what about threats to yourself? If you’re stuck in the hum-drum of mom life and you don’t know where to start to find yourself again, start with asking yourself what’s getting in the way. What fears and anxieties, negative thoughts, limits or rules are holding you back from making a change and doing something for you?
3. Get quiet and connect with yourself again
Learn to tune into the part of you that’s calling out for something more. Learn to trust yourself and that pull on your heart. Write out those big, scary dreams. Create a vision board. Meditate for 10 minutes every day. Do whatever it takes to get back to who you are, at your core — the person you were before you were a mom and the person you still are today.
Being a mom means you have more to take care of and worry about. You have little people to feed, bathe, clothe, and argue with. But it doesn’t mean you stop changing. It doesn’t mean you stop doing what you love or pursuing the things that bring you joy. Being a mom and living out your dreams are not mutually exclusive.
In fact, they seem to compliment each other quite well.