First featured on 32/7 on 12/08/2016:
I recently read an article about a teenage girl whose post about her mother’s “Mom Brain” went viral. Apparently this proud mother took the time to share her daughter’s photos on social media but could not, for the life of her, remember the names of her daughter’s friends in the pictures. The daughter, and everyone else in the world apparently, thinks it’s funny, in the way that children think their parent’s quirks are lame and endearing (like how I love and hate my father’s penchant for wearing tank tops). And though I love a good laugh, this “mommy brain” joke hit too close to home for me to find the humor in it. For me, “mommy brain” was the first stage of, what would become, debilitating health issues.
When I went back to work three months after having my daughter, I felt like I was in a fog. I would spend 10 minutes looking for my key fob to go to the bathroom, only to realize it was in my hand. I would leave the 22nd floor of my building and walk a block to my favorite coffee place, order food and a coffee, then realize I forgot my wallet, then walk back to the building, go back up, get it, go back down 22 floors, walk the block, pay, pick up my food and forget my coffee. I suddenly was terrified to drive for the first time in my life...what if I zoned out and forgot to look both ways, or that red means stop? It sounds silly, but it didn’t feel that way. Sure, I could laugh my flakiness off at first, but then other things started happening.
I found myself so exhausted at my desk that I’d have to nap in the mother’s room during my lunch break just to make it through the day. I’d have gotten a full night’s sleep the night before (I’m blessed with a child who’s a good sleeper) but it didn’t matter. I also couldn’t lose weight no matter how hard I tried. Everything that used to work to shed the pounds made zero difference. My body ached—my back and neck were constantly screaming. My feet felt like I was walking on giant bruises and ached with every step I took. It hurt to stand. It hurt to walk. People would tell me if I wanted to lose the baby weight I just needed to exercise more and it was all I could do but to cry. How was I supposed to exercise when it hurt just to stand? On top of that I was dizzy--all the time.
Well-meaning friends and doctors would tell me that everything I was experiencing was normal: You just have mommy brain, welcome to motherhood! It will take time to lose the weight, just be patient. You have a baby to care for now, it’s normal to be tired. But I couldn’t accept that being a mom meant I was just going to be achy, flaky, and exhausted all the time FOREVER. How good of a wife and mother could I be feeling like this? And if everyone felt like this, why would anyone have more than one kid on purpose?!
After some digging, I asked to have my thyroid and blood sugar levels checked, as most of my symptoms aligned with a thyroid or blood sugar issue. After multiple western and eastern doctors offered little to no answers for what was wrong with me, and my blood panels came back within the normal range, I started to give up hope.Maybe this is just what it feels like to be a working mother, I thought. That is when the sadness, that would eventually feel like depression, set in. I had a wonderful husband and daughter, and a really great job, yet felt like I was failing in every aspect of my life. I no longer recognized myself in the mirror. After 10 months of a difficult pregnancy, followed by an emergency C-section and then a year of feeling like this, I couldn’t remember the last time I felt at home and comfortable in my own body. I found myself crying uncontrollably at night at least once a week. (Did I mention my husband is a saint? Seriously, he deserves a medal.) Eventually my husband and I decided that the only choice I had was to walk away from my job and see if reducing my stress levels would help my symptoms. Coincidentally, as soon as I put in my notice, I went to the doctor again, and asked for a more thorough thyroid panel, AGAIN, to find out that I wasn’t just experiencing “normal postpartum hormonal changes.” I had severe adrenal fatigue and a disease that causes your immune system to attack your thyroid.
As strange as it may sound, the feeling I had when I got that diagnosis was relief. I finally had confirmation that I was right! Mommy brain was not normal for me, nor was feeling like I couldn’t keep my eyes open or being in almost constant pain, or the mood swings and depression. I was sick and tired and overwhelmed and I simply needed someone to listen to me and take my symptoms seriously.
I felt the need to share my experience because I know I’m not alone. There are millions of women of all ages out there struggling with symptoms like mine who have been told they are fine. If you are one of them, my message to you is to be your own health advocate. If you suspect that something isn’t right with your body, trust yourself. No one knows your body better than you or knows what you are experiencing. Be persistent, be insistent, do your research, and look for help until you find answers. It will take time and sacrifices, but you don’t have to accept that having perpetual "mommy brain," fatigue, and pain, is the price you pay for procreating.
It’s now been six months since my diagnosis and I’m looking and feeling more like myself every day. I’ve had to try things and adjust—I’m still learning what works for me and my body—but I know I’m on the right track. And, I can proudly say, I no longer suffer from mommy brain.