Writing While Pregnant

Seven months ago, I assured myself that I'd get two books finished before I took time off to have my first baby.  Surely, a book every three months was reasonable?  After all, I'd been known to write a hundred pages a week -- under pressure, of course.

What I didn't count on was baby brain.

No one told me that writing under the effect of pregnancy hormones wasn't as easy as it sounds.  I knew that I could expect to feel more tired than normal, but nothing prepared me for my complete inability to think laterally.  Something had happened to the circuits in my brain that automatically connected ideas and translated them onto the page.  Suddenly, conscious effort was required ... eeew!

Having to "work" at writing was just too much work.

So what is baby brain?  And how does it affect writing?  I'm no expert, but here's what I've found out...

What is Baby Brain?

Scientists can argue until the cows come home about whether baby brain is a myth or substantiated by research, but no pregnant woman needs an expert to tell her what she's feeling.  She knows how she's feeling.  And she knows how it compares to how she used to feel.

For many women, the ability to think is one of the first casualties of pregnancy.

Not unlike "brain fog," a common complaint of chronic fatigue sufferers, "baby brain" is a colloquial term for the impaired cognitive ability experienced by up to 80% of women from pregnancy until (potentially) a year after birth. [1]

For most women, this comes in the form of forgetfulness and a decreased ability to concentrate.  Minds that once organized term schedules with the greatest of ease suddenly lose track of what's being said halfway through a sentence.  Objects get mislaid.  "Scatterbrained" becomes your middle name.

How Pregnancy Affects Writers

I can't speak for all writers, but I can certainly speak to my experience.

My ability (and motivation) to write has decline precipitously over the past seven months.  I'm normally able to sit down at the computer and get engrossed in a writing project, but these days I've just about given up.  Words swim before my eyes.  My brain doesn't offer me an idea or a nudge like it usually does.  When I do think of something, it takes me up to three goes, writing and unwriting, before I can clearly articulate the idea.  When I finish the sentence, after great effort, I stare desperately at the blank space after the period.  Can't someone just tell me what to write?

It frustrates me that writing now takes so long.  I feel tempted to give up and try again when I'm feeling more mentally sharp.  Maybe I should have a snack for energy, or take a walk around the block...

Or MAYBE this just "how it is" from here on out: a frustrated, bumble-minded writer crashing through vague concepts like a drunkard in a dark and crowded room.

And yet I am perfectly able to do admin and website tasks for the charity that I'm involved with.  Give my brain a simple task with well-defined procedures, and I am on it.  Sure, maybe I need to spend a bit more time on thinking out a detailed to-do list, but I'm certainly not incapable of carrying out the work.  (Filling out government forms, on the other hand, is a different story.  That requires thinking -- and my brain resists it with all its might.)

So perhaps the problem with baby brain is its effect on lateral thinking.  After all, writing is a process of making associations and recalling notions and facts to illustrate a topic.  Your memory needs to be in top working order so that you have all the accumulated knowledge and experience of your lifespan at hand.  Without that rich source material, you don't have much to say.

No wonder I can't think of anything to write.

Writing After Pregnancy

Studies suggest that baby brain can last from three months up to one year after birth.  Some research points the finger at breastfeeding, suggesting that you may get your brain back faster if your body doesn't devote all its resources to producing milk.

That's no reason not to breastfeed, but it certainly sparks a feeling of despair when I think about another year of bumbling through words like a tourist in a busy foreign city.  I'm tired of not being able to commandeer my mind.  Instead, it floats away with the fairies, impervious to demands to return to earth and pay attention.  Is there anything I can do to keep up my productivity when all I feel like doing is staring blankly into space?

Here are a few suggestions.

Tip #1. Write with someone else.

If you're finding it hard to get and keep a project going by yourself, get someone else in on the task.  Brainstorm together.  Ask him/her to produce a rough draft, and use your writing skills to edit/expand it.  Sometimes, just having someone to bounce ideas off can stimulate the mind enough to produce some good work.

Tip #2. Write shorter pieces.

An article is a lot easier than a book.  A Facebook/Twitter post is a lot easier than an article.  Change your focus from quantity to consistency.  You may not be able to make much headway on a book, but that doesn't mean you can't keep your writing skills honed by posting on your blog every day.  Pat yourself on the back for writing anything, even if it's just a paragraph.  If all else fails, write poetry. ;-)

Tip #3. Adjust your work habits.

There's nothing wrong with sleeping in, taking more frequent breaks, or interspersing other tasks throughout the day.  You may have an ironclad writing routine, but it's going to have to change when the baby comes anyway.  Might as well start now!

Do whatever you need to do to make the writing life easier on you.  If that means taking your laptop to bed so you can stretch out your legs while you write, so be it.  If that means getting only a few hours of writing done in the morning because your afternoon nap beckons, then that's just fine.

What you don't want to do is stop writing altogether.  Don't get out of the habit, because it will be awfully hard to get yourself back into it when the baby is born.  You'll have 101 demands on your attention with a little one around, and writing may just slip into the vacuum of unrealized dreams.