I was a risk-taker before becoming a mother. I was also pretty relaxed about life and it took a lot to make me cry because friends told me so. I didn’t plan too far ahead. I didn’t really look back either. If a person can ever be described in three words I was fearless, careless and light.
Then I had a baby.
And I changed. Well, at least I thought I changed because my world had changed, but now science is telling me something different. When women become mothers their brains change and these changes in the brain — from increases in biochemical reactions to increased grey matter and increases in activity in regions that control empathy, anxiety, and social interaction — make a pre-baby brain different to a post-baby one.
This is hugely comforting to me because I went AWOL when I had my first baby and while I’ve somewhat returned, I know I will never totally rid myself of my more anxious, vigilant, emotional side. It’s been 15 years since I became a mum and many scientists also say that they’re not sure whether the brain ever goes back to what it was like before.
That’s good news, or at least decent ammunition in an argument. It’s not me obsessively worrying about an unreturned text message, crying in Korean telecommunications ads and forecasting worse case scenarios when it comes to simple, glorious days at the beach with the kids. My brain did it. It physically changed on me.
There was no soft entry into this brain change for me. It was like a switch was flicked. My first words to my husband after a long labour, as he cradled our new baby in his arms, were:
“I have to close my eyes for a second. You need to look after her. Promise me, you’ll look after her. I just need two minutes.”
He was already kissing her on her head and cradling her in his arms.
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My vigilance was extreme. I was anxious, I was scared of something, anything, going wrong, and I was in love — the obsessive kind. The type where if it was a man I would do drive-bys and cyber-stalk. It was me and my baby. It took me three months before I could leave my daughter and I only went out for two hours with a friend at my husband’s insistence. Hurrying home. Running in the door. Checking.
When my husband went back to work and my mum went back to work, I had company. My internal monologue. It went something like this: