Sometimes new parents can’t finish their senten…

No one told me how much ‘baby brain’ was going to affect me at work after mat leave. Here’s what I learned…

July 20, 2023

Picture this.

It’s your first day back at work after six months at home with your amazingly cute, but incredibly bad at sleeping baby. You’re excited to be out of the house and wearing clothes that aren’t pyjamas, but the brain fog is REAL. The train timetable is harder to understand than you were expecting, and when the barista asks your name it takes you a full five seconds to remember it. You tell yourself to get it together. Because if you can’t remember your name how on earth are you going to get through the work day? Self doubt and criticism creep in. Your inner dialogue takes a sharp and negative turn e.g. Nobody is going to take me seriously. I’m so slow and out of it. I’ve got nothing to offer the world outside my living room. What am I doing away from my baby? Oh my god. Did I forget the breast pump?

Zoom camera off

I had a serious case of baby brain when I returned from mat leave. It took me by surprise (like a lot of things that come with a first baby!). For some reason, I thought I’d just bounce back to doing what I was doing pre-baby. I’d read that ‘baby brain’ could be a symptom of pregnancy and new parenthood, but I wasn’t prepared for the havoc it was going to wreak on my self-esteem at work. There were times I could barely string a sentence together! It left me feeling completely overwhelmed in meetings. I was terrified of not having the answer, and what people might think of me. Sometimes during Zoom calls I would turn my camera off because I felt like I was going to cry.

Whyyy does baby brain happen?

Like so much readily available information on new motherhood, ‘baby brain’ is a key development that often gets overlooked and oversimplified. In fact, research has found that a woman’s brain changes more during pregnancy and the postpartum period than in any other stage of her life. Our brain’s grey matter actually reduces(!) to make way for new updates that help us care for our infants.

My ‘baby brain’ made it possible for my body to convert blood to breast milk. It gave me other superhuman abilities too, like being able to hear the slightest sounds from my baby over music and through walls.

Baby brain also made me lose my train of thought. I wish I knew then that it was nothing to be ashamed of. The more I learned about the evolutionary changes that were taking place in my brain and body, the more I realised ‘baby brain’ was something to be proud of.

Harvey founder Rebecca Smallchua and baby Arthur

New parent skills transfer to the workplace

Great articles like this one describe how the skills of a new parent, like emotional regulation, negotiation and time management directly transfer to the workplace. It’s an important message to share with employers. New parents add serious value.

But the thing is, sometimes we don’t, especially in the beginning. And maybe that’s another important message to share. We might move a little slower and occasionally forget things. And we tend to be very, very hard on ourselves about it, which can lead to us losing confidence in ourselves outside the home. And that’s a disaster for parents and employers alike. With the right support, new parents are some of the most efficient, motivated people in existence. We can absolutely kick arse at work.

Baby Arthur at work!

Baby brain brings people together

I accidentally sent a random photo of my sleeping baby to a Whatsapp group of very impressive women in leadership. You know, one of those groups that you joined a while ago and haven’t really contributed to, but it’s too awkward to ‘leave’? Plus you have FOMO and have been enjoying being a passive listener? The photo had zero context and was my first contribution to the group in more than a year. I was mortified. I realised what I’d done and followed up quickly with an apology.

A Whatsapp group of inspiring women

Everyone was so lovely and kind and supportive. And I felt so much closer to the women in the group as a result of it. I learned that baby brain could also be my friend, and I never need to apologise for it. It totally changed my perspective.

Things looked very different the 2nd time around

I’m a mum of two now. And wow - the second time returning to Harvey was very different to the steep learning curve of the first time. Read my top 6 things that helped here.

I hope a new parent reads this and feels less self-critical and more aware of the value they’re bringing to the world. Because we’re valuable people. Even when we forget our names at the cafe. In fact, especially then.

The Smallchua family



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