I threw away my wallet when I was pregnant. Not as any statement or social experiment, but because my brain was elsewhere when I finished my second breakfast of the day and in the trashcan my wallet went, along with the remnants of my sesame bagel and cream cheese. An hour or so later, I realized I couldn’t find it (perhaps 3rd breakfast was calling me on this particular day). I checked in at the bagel shop, retraced my steps and even sent an email to the entire office staff about my misplaced wallet. And then I happened to glance down at the wastebasket beneath my desk.
The science behind pregnancy brain is unclear. Most researchers believe that there is truth to it, though there’s some disagreement as to why it happens. Blame it on shifting hormones, changing brain cells, the diversion of resources to your growing baby, or merely our focus on something more important than remembering where our wallet is at any given moment. During my pregnancy with Simon I clearly recall meeting discussions when the external discussion focused around campus safety, student leadership, budget issues and other common higher education topics and I would sit there, nodding, thinking about the tiny foot that had just kicked me. If a less than scintillating conversation topic arose, I’d inwardly roll my eyes, knowing that my little guy was doing the exact same thing in utero. We were a team, the two of us, and we were growing a human. These meetings were child’s play (halfhearted attempt at a pun intended) compared to the work that the two of us were accomplishing. A little distraction seemed par for the course. I was doing insanely important things inside of my own body and had little time for the details of the world existing around me. (This is said, by the way, MOSTLY tongue in cheek, as a means of justifying some of the flightiness that plagued me during the final months of my pregnancy).
Interestingly, perhaps, pregnancy brain is still with me, 5 years after my first child was born and 18 months following Laine’s arrival. I put yogurt in the pantry, a diaper in the wash, and repeatedly need to go back inside after everyone has been loaded into the car for some item or other. (While this does have the added benefit of a few minutes of alone time, this is not (usually) my reason for doing so). I lose a lot of small objects, some of them important. Being of the “A place for everything and everything in its place” camp, this drives my husband insane. Though I am loathe to admit it, sometimes my scattered brain and lack of organization drives me a little crazy too. BUT, when I am lugging 5 grocery bags out of the car and a toddler out of her carseat while she reaches down my shirt, screaming “moop”, telling my son that it’s only okay to pee on the side of the house and not in the front of the house, bending to pick up the keys my daughter has taken from me and then promptly dropped on the ground, and hoping that my elderly dog hasn’t pooped again in the house, sometimes it’s hard to focus.
Lest this provide fodder for those backward enough to believe that women’s brains are somehow less capable than their male counterparts, I will say this: my capacity for multitasking is borderline heroic. There are constantly at least 17 balls being juggled simultaneously by every pregnant or mothering woman. And that’s only the ones with which we are externally engaged. Approximately 24 more exist inside of our heads. Combine these balls of both the tactile and projected variety and it’s astounding that more doesn’t get thrown away.
I was at an interview when I was pregnant with my daughter and one of the people interviewing me asked about my ability to multitask. I *may* have offered an example similar to the one I gave earlier, essentially indicating that multitasking is not actually a choice, but a way of life. Given the option, I’d happily direct my attention wholly and completely to the task at hand. But mindful multitasking – there’s a challenge.
In yoga, focused attention is known as dharana. The sixth limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path of yoga, it’s a focused state I have reached when absorbed in a good book or concentrating on a sewing project. Artists know it, as do athletes, and, really, anyone who can become fully absorbed in their craft, whatever that might be in the moment. While it may be difficult to find dharana while simultaneously checking out a new lego creation and monitoring a toddler’s ascent up the stairs, maybe it’s not entirely impossible. Yoga provides us the opportunity to hone the skill of focus and concentration. Also, fortunately for us (me), dharana doesn’t require that we achieve single-minded awareness throughout the entire duration of our yoga practice – even a moment or two counts. It’s why yoga has always been my entry into meditation. Focus during stillness is still exponentially more challenging for me. Asana, with its emphasis on linking breath to movement, with awareness directed toward the physical body in whatever space it is currently occupying, provides my sometimes overworked brain a place to rest. I can feel my hands on the ground, my feet on the floor, my breath in my body, sometimes even the muscles required when I press my right thigh back, or draw my shoulder blades together. Remaining focused doesn’t necessarily come easily. My full attention isn’t absolutely required and not infrequently I drift to my mind’s natural inclination toward existential angst, or dinner planning, or some combination thereof. But movement and breath can give my mind the permission it requires to let go of the constant multi-tasking and juggling, of awareness existing in a number of realms. And that freedom to focus during a practice may even help prevent me from tossing more important articles in the trash, training my brain so that, bit by bit, I cobble together a tenuous presence of mind.
While pregnant, this state of dharana can be even more gratifying. Instead of pretending to focus on something other than the amazingness inside, during your prenatal yoga practice, it is encouraged that you do nothing but. Breathe and connect with your baby. Move and connect with your baby. Be still and connect with your baby. Whether awareness of those flutters has even begun, or those flutters have turned into roundhouse kicks, I can think of no sweeter place to focus.