Saturday, May 03, 2008

Where Did My Words Go?

Somewhere along the way I lost my facility with words. It was right around the time I had children. If you’re not a parent, you might not know about the post-partum phenomenon of fuzzy mommy brain (not a technical term, but a decent description IMHO). I think part of the syndrome is hormonal, although I have no scientific evidence to back that up.

Beyond the possible hormone connection, the bigger part of my post-pregnancy verbal issues was simply a lack of practice with words. After working hard at my Master’s program (in English lit, keep in mind) and teaching English at the college level, I was glad to take a little time off after I had a few kids. In fact, I was thrilled. My days consisted of Sesame Street and taking long walks while pushing a stroller, and that was quite alright with me. Problem was, I had next to no adult conversation during that time period and I certainly didn’t have any deep, thoughtful conversations that required meaningful contemplation.

Let’s face it, when you’re knee deep in diapers and truckloads of laundry, it’s all you can do sometimes to catch a shower during the day let alone find time for intellectual stimulation. So I forgive myself for going a bit brain dead during that time. But it’s scary when you’re use to expressing yourself intelligently and all of the sudden you find yourself pausing for long moments during a phone conversation, unable to find the right word. My family would try guessing what I wanted to say since I lost all talent for formulating a thought into words. Sometimes I’d wake up from a nap three hours after a phone conversation like that and the word I’d wanted would come to me. Talk about slow processing time!

After a few of those incidents, I realized what was happening. Verbal facility isn’t like riding a bike where, once you learn, you never forget. A flare with words is a skill that requires exercise. Practice. Immersion. And as much as I loved Sesame Street, Elmo wasn’t working with me at the verbal level I needed to stay sharp.

I started reading more. Working on the occasional crossword puzzle. But most of all, I used my new epiphany to get back to writing. I’d started a novel around the time I started grad school but then got away from it as I got busy with course work. Now that I’d taken a bit of a breather, I got out my old notes from the project and pursued it in earnest.

It didn’t take long before my words came back, helped along by daily writing and by meeting writer friends who wanted to talk about characters, conflicts and plots. I immersed myself in language and stories all over again and it was like coming home. I felt recharged and rejuvenated, intelligent and whole once more.

*** Did you ever have those space-out moments as a new mom or has anyone close to you gone through the fuzzy brain months? Share your experiences on the board for a chance to win Joanne’s sexy new May Blaze, UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL. Winner chosen at random from all posters.


Ann M. said...

Our joke is each time one is pregnant more of your memory cells are gone and will never return. After three kidlets I'm very low on the memory side. :)

I figure it is because we are multi-tasking and remembering everyone's schedule that mothers have these brain freezes.

Cheri2628 said...

I think the fuzzy thinking comes from little sleep and an overloaded brain. While I was raising my kids, I was also teaching kindergarten. That also put a strain on my brain...too much to do and think about! Being around my own kids and a classroom of 5-year-olds really limited my vocabulary, too! My attorney husband would spout out some wordy mumbo-jumbo, and I would go "Huh?"
Now that I have retired and my own kids are grown, I am SO much smarter. ;) I am an avid reader, and I love crossword puzzles. Even my smarty-pants husband can't do those puzzles!

Stefanie said...

I haven't got kids, so I wouldn't know about that.
But it's very interesting to read your stories, lol. :P

Dina said...

When my girls were small, I had the same thing, I think likete others has said, we just way too much on your mind that it gives your temp brain loss. I used to call the girls by the otherone's name all the time, I'm sure that has happened to us all, lol.

Jane said...

I'm been at a loss for words many times. It has happened when I was delivering a book report in class and the words just wouldn't come out of my mouth even though the notes were there. I also hate it when I'm playing along with a game show on tv(Jeopardy) and the answer is on the tip of my tongue, but I can't get it out in time.

Maureen said...

I think I did but those years are a bit of a blur with whole periods of time missing from my memory when the kids were sick or teething. My husband brings up movies that we watched during those lost years and some of them are completely unfamiliar. Of course it was many years ago but I remember movies I saw before I had children.

robynl said...

I have memory cells gone but it is from the change of life, lol. If yours are the same I totally understand; but mine aren't from ever being pregnant.
I open my mouth to say something I have thought of and get out 'umm' and then there is silence b/c the brain has already forgotten what the tongue/mouth were going to say.

kim h said...

i only remmber my mom had craving for fried food and pickles.

Pat Cochran said...

It has been so long since I had a child residing in this home that I
don't remember this syndrome! Our
eldest is 46, the youngest is 36!
I did ten years of grandchildcare
but it has now been seven years since
the last one. Nowadays, we call
the momentary occurrence of brain
freeze a "senior moment."

Pat Cochran

Gigi said...

17 years after my last daughter was born I am still suffering from Fuzzy brain syndrome.
I have been a stay at home mom and I live in the country that might have attributed to the fuzzies a bit too.
I agree with Ann taking care of everyone's schedule and multi tasking for so long wears a brain out.

No wonder women died so early in medieval times.

Shari C said...

As many women out there already know, raising children, keeping a home, and working full time keeps one's brain in constant confusion...when it works at all. If I didn't write things down in my very necessary and large calendar I would never have accomplished getting things done in time (or sometimes at all). I don't know if I now have any brain cells left to work with, but am hoping they regenrate and multiply quickly so I can survive the next few years.

Aideen said...


I laughed when I read your post because it all rang true. I have four young kiddies at home, all boys and I tell you, somedays I don't even get to use real words.
Back in 1995 B.C.(that's Before Children) I had a brain that seemed to function without being asked to. Those were the days.
Fuzzy brain syndrome is a global thing, and at the moment there appears to be no cure.
I'm a aspiring writer, as in I write daily and try my hardest to get at least 200 words on paper. Last week I had my hero and heroine finally get it together so I moved them to the bedroom.
Their build up of sensual tension had the word 'carrots' in it. I noticed other words too later on in the script like p.j's, baby formula and toothpaste. Seriously, I might need help of the professional sort.
Fuzzy Brain? Yes. And I still have decades to go. (p.G.)


Virginia said...

This was really a cute post. I think I lost my mind totally when I was pregnant and had my child and never regained it back. Now I blame it on old age, my son is 18 now and what little memory I had is all gone. I don't think I will ever get it back at my age.

Joanne Rock said...

I'm so grateful I'm not the only one :-). Cheri, my parents have done crossword puzzles for years and their vocabularies put mine to shame. Not that they use all those words in everyday speech often, but I'm shocked at how quickly they can come up with some obscure bit of trivia or a little known word. My mom credits it to crosswords and Scrabble! And Jane, not to worry... even if my vocab has improved since I've been back to writing, I'm still not a quick Jeopardy thinker either. My husband has lightning fast reaction time for these things my response always arrives a little later than his. My best chance to win on our living room Jeopardy battles is to get a category he doesn't know because I can never beat him on the speed for the ones we both might know.

***Winner*** Aideen, you're my winner for the thread prize! Email me at with a shipping address and I'll zip out your book ASAP. Thanks to all for visiting with me!