Last week, work took me to San Francisco for a housing trade show. (This is also why I went radio silent on my posts.) In my pre-mommy days, I used to absolutely love, love, love these types of trade shows because I could work them like no other. I had nearly every minute of my waking hours programmed with meetings with new and long-time sources. It made for some really long days, but I would come home with a boatload of story ideas and a fat stack of business cards, each name and company affiliate already committed to memory by the time my plane landed back in D.C.
But that was then and this is now. And now, my mommy brain doesn’t work like that. It can neither process nor retain anywhere near the volume of information that it used to just a year ago.
An embarrassing case in point: I was standing with a long-time source/friend when another source happened upon us and stopped to say hello for a few minutes. I immediately recognized this person and was actually glad I had run into him by chance, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember his name. And it wasn’t like I had only met him once or only talked on the phone with him. No, this was someone I saw fairly frequently over the years at events like this and while his face was more than familiar, I was drawing an absolute blank when it came to his name. After chatting for 10 or 15 minutes, he left and my friend said to me, “Who was that?” All I could say was, “I don’t know; I can’t remember.” I spit out like five facts about this person and his company, but the one really important piece of information–his name–was not in the list. My friend looked at me with disbelief, and said, “You carried on a conversation that long and you don’t know him?”
I tried to explain that I did know the person, but it’s really hard to convince anyone that you know someone when you can’t conjure up a name. So, I just came clean and said that ever since I had baby, my brain hadn’t worked quite right.
Pregnant women always talk about pregnancy brain, so when I was a mommy-to-be, I was completely prepared when I started spacing out on stuff all the time. I chalked it up to the fact that your brain can’t function at full capacity when you are growing another human inside of you. In fact, I used to call it “placenta brain.” (Although someone recently had one better; he said his wife became what he called “pregtarded.” Love that.) But I had no idea that it would be more or less permanent.
Now, being unable to remember sources is so not a good thing when you’re a journalist. And realizing that’s where I am made me wonder whether I’ll ever really be as good at my job as I used to be.
This question also got me thinking about all those stories you hear about working women who get passed over for promotions after they have kids. My initial reaction to those stories always was: “That’s so unfair!” But could it be possible that placenta brain rather than management bias was more to blame in some of those cases? I mean, how realistic is it to earn a promotion on past performance when going forward you’ve got very real limitations on how much time and effort you can put in?
It sounds awful to suggest that, but when I really look deep, I can’t say for sure that my job performance post-baby has not suffered in some way. I mean, some days I feel like I’ve still got it. But other days, it feels like I’m running just to keep up. (And then there are still other days where I think I might be sucking at both my job and being a mommy.)
And then it sort of occurs to me that maybe why some of these women get so ticked off at not advancing in their careers post baby is because they’ve been getting the shaft all along. Maybe pre-baby they were killing themselves to be a superstar, with the hope that someday all their hard work will pay off in a big promotion. And then baby comes and they realize that someday is today. They know it’s impossible to keep up their pre-baby pace–working moms just can’t stay until 10pm working every night anymore–and they’ve also got some perspective on what’s reasonable when it comes to work versus what’s possible given the realities of babies’ needs. Working at break-neck speed just doesn’t pencil without some real advancement; these women need more incentive to make dealing with the BS of an office worth spending time away from their babies.
But now that my brain won’t go back to working right–I’m convinced that once you go pregtarded, you can never go back–it’s hard to see how I will be as smart, fast, or competitive (my company’s internal tagline) as I used to be. Although I’m sure, in reality, my brain is probably functioning at the same pre-baby voltage, I know its power is being divided to more outlets, reducing it’s end capacity. So, while it’s a relief to know that I haven’t just spontaneously lost a bunch of brain cells, it’s a little depressing to consider that I maybe have peaked in my career given the amount of stuff–spouse, baby, pets, house, job and all the detours that come along with them–I have to process on a daily basis.
The good news, then, is while I may not be as driven and strategic as I once was thanks to my plaguing case of placenta brain, the one work aspect that does improve post baby is efficiency. It is an upside to realize that even if I’m doing less great work, I’m getting more of it done in a shorter amount of time.