Before I got pregnant I'd heard the term 'baby brain' and thought, "nah, not for me thanks. I very much have my mind together, and no tiny human is going to change that". I didn't even really think it was... real. It sounds cute though, doesn't it? As though suddenly a mummy's head is just full of woollen booties, and chubby cherubs. The reality is somewhat different.
I've always prided myself on being organised, having a great memory (I could draw a floorplan of the house we lived in when I was two years old - just saying), and generally being unflaky. I'm not one of those people who posts weekly on Facebook about losing another mobile phone, or that friend who's always late (or absent). Until pregnancy, I was pathologically punctual, having to force myself not to be there awkwardly early. That girl. But then...
Aside from gaining 4kg in a fortnight, one tell-tale sign of my surprise pregnancy was a vagueness that descended. Baby brain was strong in me. I would trail off mid-sentence, get words jumbled, forget names, places, appointment times...
I say 'I would' - I still do occasionally, and the 'baby' is 18 months old. Is toddler brain a thing?
Of course, the most anxiety-inducing situation is bumping into someone. Someone I think I've met but am not quite sure - hastily asking for clues, "What's keeping you busy?", "How's the family?", pleading for a unique detail or name. Of course, I might just recognise them from Instagram...
But my biggest fear is this: telling an anecdote to the person who told it to me in the first place! Pre-pregnancy, I could recall conversations with ease - who was there, where we were, what the people at the next table ate. Now it's a case of squinting my eyes, flicking through the rusty, broken Rolodex of my brain, trawling for 'Who said that? Did you say that?'
Weirdly, it's only social - at work, I'm myself. Organised, efficient, planned to the smallest detail, notes on my phone, my diary a thing of beauty. But away from my desk? Forget it. Literally.
Not only is it hugely annoying to the mum, whose body is changed beyond all recognition, but it's pretty irritating for partners too. My poor husband often looks at me as if he doesn't know me at all, as I fail to recall a conversation we had mere hours ago, practically snapping his fingers in my face as if to break a trance. There is no trance, it's just how I am now, apparently.
But here's the good news about baby brain: reports have shown that it makes you a better mum, with Professor Laura Glynn, a psychologist at Chapman University in California, saying, "Some of the brain changes during pregnancy may help mothers become more attuned to their infant when he or she is born. Fetal movements that tickle a woman's unconscious might prepare her to bond with her infant, for example. Likewise, changes in brain areas associated with emotion and memory could prime women for caregiving." She continues, "There may be a "cost" - such as the perpetual fuzziness of "pregnancy brain" - but the benefit is a more sensitive, effective mother." Phew!
Our brains actually change. Regions that control empathy, joy and attachment start firing up, helping new mums bond with their baby. When scanned, the brains of new mothers look a lot like those of people in the first flush of love, as do those of new dads, if they're very involved in caring for the baby.
Apparently our brains shrink up to 7 per cent during pregnancy, but they also become better equipped to deal with stress (hello newborn poonami while driving down a six-lane motorway in rush hour), and judgement (I think we'll just get home quickly, rather than pulling on to the hard shoulder and changing an exploded nappy in the back of the car).
But why does it happen? Dr Glynn explains, "It's 'extremely likely' that pregnancy permanently alters the human brain. The hormone flood that occurs during pregnancy dwarfs the hormonal changes that occur during other volatile times of life, such as adolescence. Just as teen hormones permanently alter brain structure and function, it's likely pregnancy hormones do, too."
So it's those damn hormones. Again. I'd also like to put forward my own personal theories of sleep deprivation and busyness.
Here's my question: how long will it last? Because I'm really sick of googling things like "actor, tall, maybe in Gilmore Girls, married?" and trying to remember who sang I Love You Always Forever (it's Donna Lewis). And I'd love to do a pub quiz again, without offering to write the answers in lovely handwriting in order to feel useful.
The experts say 'a few weeks' (thanks What To Expect, confirming your place as my least favourite baby book) and 'up to four months', which gave me a good laugh. Sob.
Friends with three-year-olds say they're only just coming out of the fogginess, while others have said they never fully recovered.
So where does this leave us mums? Basically, writing lists, taking fish oil supplements, and with our phones always in hand, whether it's to subtly find out the names of the children of the person you're speaking to, or to check Google Maps to get you home.
Now where is my phone....?
Helen writes The Mothership, a no-holds-barred blog on the trials and tribulations of being a mummy.
Reals mums tell it like it is:
Everyone's got their own experiences of baby brain...
Anne Osborne, mum to Alan, two, and Matthew, four
"I did the grocery shopping, packed all items into the basket of my buggy and then left the shop, forgetting to pay for them! I would say that an inadvertent benefit of baby brain is much cheaper shopping, but of course I had to go back and pay once I had noticed!"
Van Jennison, mum to Ashton, six, and Owen, two
"I lost my car keys for three whole days, during which time we thought we were going to have to splash out on a new pair, until I eventually found them... in the bread bin! My husband was not impressed."
Janine Mackenzie, mum to Joshua, 16, Abigail, five, and Jessica, two
"I was so exhausted one night, I held my baby upside down while breastfeeding and couldn't understand why she wasn't latching. I only realised what I was doing when I felt a little attempted latch on my belly button!"
Tina Farnfield, mum to Charlie, six
"I had such terrible baby brain, I couldn't even remember what I had for breakfast, let alone the more important stuff!"
Claire Van Dam, mum to Seanna, six, and Astrid, three
"I went shopping in the mall and was on the way back to my car, but I couldn't find my keys anywhere. When I finally got back to my car, I realised the keys were still inside, in the ignition, and the engine was still on - I'd left it running for two hours!