I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who once said, “If you want something done, ask a new mother.”
I have recently had the incredible experience of becoming a mother. In honor of Mother’s Day, I am going to take the opportunity to humble-brag on behalf of all my mummy friends and myself.
There are a million and one lists to prepare you for pregnancy, labor and delivery and provide advice on child rearing. What they all share in common is NONE of them will ever truly prepare you for any of these things. The best metaphor I ever heard was from a girlfriend who compared delivery to a car accident with an incredible birthday gift on the other side. The list I could have used, the one we never see, was ten ways to leave and return to work gracefully.
Something many moms experience during pregnancy, especially in the last few weeks, is what one of my colleagues calls zombie brain. This was definitely my experience. Just when you are totally uncomfortable and ready to be done with the whole thing, your intellectualism completely depleted, you say farewell to your colleagues and head home to await your special delivery. You leave the company of the people who push and stimulate you for over 40 hours every week, on a low note — gassy, waddling and seemingly dumber than a bag of rocks. Then all of a sudden, you blink, and it is time to go back to work.
Preparing for that transition back to the office was one the most challenging parts of the whole process for me. My emotional state was not exactly the most stable — I was equal parts hormonal, sleep deprived and pure fear — but the part women rarely talk about is this: I was terrified of failing; terrified I had “lost it;” and terrified I would no longer care about the work that had meant so much to my sense of self before mommy-hood. In preparation for my return, I was, simply put, miserable. Of course, I was also terrified of leaving my baby with strangers at day care, but that feeling never goes away completely, or so I have heard.
But, there’s something else that happens that doesn’t get discussed enough, and here is the bragging part: To my surprise, I have never been faster or more productive in my life than I’ve been in the past year. As a new parent with responsibility for another human 24/7 I can now do four things at once and do them well. I exist on 15-minute intervals and have seemingly grown additional eyes, arms and legs. My experience, and the experience of other new moms I have spoken to, is that turning your mom brain and your work brain on and off at a moment’s notice is one of the greatest challenges early on. Every minute of the day is suddenly spoken for and as a result, the brain adapts and becomes very good at cramming a lot into small intervals of time.
Maria Konnikova’s recent post in the New Yorker describes the research of Professor David Strayer on the phenomenon of the super-tasker. He and his colleagues claim that what creates this small subset of the population involves neurons, cortexes and lobes– that these people are outliers and exceptions.
Well, Professor, I am a super-tasker, and so is every mom I know. I still occasionally leave my keys in the freezer- that is the humble part. But if you need something done, I recommend you ask one of your new mummy colleagues. She’s probably doing 14 other things, but she’s doing them really well.