Latest Issue

The Bookworm Sez: “Mother Brain: How Neuroscience is Rewriting the Story of Parenthood” by Chelsea Conaboy

The Bookworm Sez: “Mother Brain: How Neuroscience is Rewriting the Story of Parenthood” by Chelsea Conaboy

Sometimes, you think you’re losing your mind.

The baby’s crying, where did you put the remote?, someone called and wants to meet your newborn today, you haven’t slept two consecutive hours in a month, and you hurt in places where you didn’t think you could hurt. You last had a shower… was it Friday or Sunday? Congratulations, you’re a parent, and in “Mother Brain” by Chelsea Conaboy, you’ll see how OK all this is.

In the months before your baby arrived, you spent all kinds of time imagining what it was going to be like, being a mother. Every baby is unique, you know that, but what about the things you don’t know? What if you can’t bond with your baby immediately? You read the books, you took the classes, you gathered advice, but what does all this mean?

“Science,” says Conaboy, “has given us a whole new way of answering these questions…”

Like most parents of newborns, Conaboy says she was consumed with worry in the “first weeks and months as a mother,” in part because she didn’t feel the “maternal instinct” that she expected to feel. Science, she says, now shows that there’s no flip-of-a-switch when a baby is born, that humans “are, in a very real sense, remade by parenthood” from our neurons on out.

When in labor, the body “often knows what to do.” Parenting needs to be learned.

It just takes time. Fortunately, a “flood of stimuli” from an infant itself “compels” a parent to give care, no matter how exhausted or confused they are. This is the case for both parents, no matter what gender. It happens, even if a parent is experiencing postpartum issues which, Conaboy stresses, are real and miserable.

“In a sense,” she says, “the brain works to keep… babies alive until the heart catches up.”

Says Conaboy, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” New parents need to be told that they’re okay, that this is normal.

“Frame those words,” she says. “Hang them over the bassinet.”

You can read, and read, and read all you want about newborn babies but all the books in the world won’t tell you every single thing you need to know. “Mother Brain” helps to make sense of this lapse, and it explains what we’re learning.

As a journalist and a mother, author Chelsea Conaboy tells a familiar tale of exhaustion, worry, guilt, and fear when her first son was born, using it as a launching point for the science she then proceeds to share. This is (generally) told in ways that even the most sleep-deprived parent can grasp, although the information can get a little more science-y than you want to tackle. Still, the honesty that’s in here, and the very accessible I-never-thought-of-it-that-way moments will comfort legions of new parents who might need this book now.

“Mother Brain” is the perfect book for parents-to-be, for grandparents, and for friends who want to help. Again, it can run deep but if there’s a baby in your future, you won’t mind.

“Mother Brain: How Neuroscience is Rewriting the Story of Parenthood” by Chelsea Conaboy
c.2022, Henry Holt
368 pages