Sleep deprivation is one of the greatest sources of memory loss. No wonder so many parents struggle to remember the first few months of their child’s life. New parents are exhausted!
According to Harvard Health,
“not getting enough sleep is perhaps the greatest unappreciated cause of forgetfulness. Too little restful sleep can also lead to mood changes and anxiety, which in turn contribute to problems with memory” (Pendick, 2020).
As a mom of two young daughters, a three-year-old and an eight-month-old, I know all about the extreme exhaustion that only parents can understand. I’ll also echo the sentiment I often hear: they grow up so fast. The newborn stage came and went in the blink of an eye and although exhaustion was certainly a part of that experience, I remember each of these precious times with crisp detail.
Here are my four secrets to remembering and cherishing some of the most incredible months of my life:
I know what you’re thinking - I’m too exhausted to even shower, let alone journal! I hear you. Making room for any activity, other than caring for your newborn baby, is not easy. However, the few times I did manage to jot down some thoughts during maternity leave are now some of my most special entries. The days that I wrote anything down are also the days that I remember with the most clarity.
For example, I wrote in my journal on the first day that I was alone with my first daughter, Darcy. My husband was returning to work and I was not ready for him to go. Our newborn baby and I tearfully waved goodbye as he drove away. As a first time mom, and only one week after my daughter's birth, I didn’t know how I would manage without my partner. I was still trying to figure out breastfeeding, I wasn’t sleeping, and simply standing up was painful. I remember exactly how overwhelmed I felt in that moment because I turned to my journal to help me heal.
According to the New York Times,
journaling is one of the best strategies to reduce anxiety and depression, boost mindfulness and improve sleep and working memory. No one needs these things more than a new mom!
Keep your journal on your coffee table or kitchen table, wherever you and your baby spend the most time. Also, don’t worry about writing long, award-worthy pieces. Most of my entries postpartum are just choppy sentences, short notes to my daughters, and bullet points.
2: Practice Skin-to-Skin
Because I write for Bonsie Skin to Skin Babywear, I’ve spent countless hours researching the benefits of skin-to-skin contact and interviewing the experts. It’s safe to say I know a lot about the subject! The list of benefits from practicing skin-to-skin contact is extensive, but in all my research I’ve yet to come across memory preservation. However, I am certain that regularly practicing skin-to-skin contact with my babies has helped me to slow down, find peace and calm and remember those sleepless days filled with breastfeeding, spit up and baby snuggles. Here’s why:
According to Sanford Health, practicing skin-to-skin contact for just 20 minutes significantly lowers cortisol levels, the stress hormone, in both mom and baby. The result? Mom feels happier and more attached to her baby and her baby sleeps more soundly and cries less often. (Amongst many, many other benefits.)
I practiced skin-to-skin contact with both of my girls, but with my second baby, Laney, this was a built-in part of our daily routine. In the evening after everyone had a bath, I would lay on the couch with my baby and practice skin-to-skin contact while she took her evening nap. This was the most relaxing and rewarding part of my day because it helped us both to recharge and reconnect. My older daughter also snuggled with us and benefited from this quiet, tranquil time together.
My postpartum memories are filled with the softness of faded quilts, the scent of our wintertime cedar candle, the chatter of my toddler and the warmth and weight of my tiny baby sleeping on my chest, skin-to-skin and heartbeat to heartbeat.
During my postpartum period I listened to Jay Shetty’s inspiring book Think Like a Monk on audible. (Read it! It’s SO GOOD.) Shetty’s discussion about meditation and visualization was perfectly timed as I tried to find balance as a work-from-home mom. In particular, his advice on visualization helped me to focus on gratitude and all the beautiful chaos around me.
This is what Shetty says about visualization:
“Visualization can be used to intentionally turn a moment into a memory. Use this visualization to create a memory or to capture joy, happiness, and purpose” (Shetty, 2020, pg. 201).
Shetty’s strategy is a game changer when you haven’t slept in days, are drowning in dirty diapers, but still want to savor all your emotions and cuddles from your tiny baby.
Here’s his strategy:
“Find five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste…Now that you have attended to every sense, breathe in the joy and happiness. Take it inside your body. Let yourself smile naturally in response to how it makes you feel. You have now captured this moment forever and can return to it anytime through visualization” (Shetty, 2020, pg. 201).
If you don’t have the brain power to find all those examples, just try to focus on a couple things: that irresistible newborn smell and the feeling of your baby’s little hand grasping your finger.
4: Slow Down Time
As I witness my babies’ rapid growth I am constantly reminded of how much I want to remember everything about each stage of life.
My baby, Laney, would now rather crawl across the floor than snuggle in my arms, she has no interest in baby food and she wants to do everything Big Sis does.
Likewise, it feels like yesterday I was cradling my first daughter in my arms, marveling at her tiny toes and big blue eyes. Now, she’s riding a bike, doesn’t want to hold my hand and can put her shoes on all by herself.
Sometimes I miss her littleness so much it leaves me feeling dizzy and teary eyed. However, I don’t spend too much time dwelling on this heartache because I want to bask in the season we are in now. Darcy is three, wonderfully curious, obsessed with the weather and asks me to tell her a story every opportunity she gets. Laney, aka Little Sis, desperately wants to talk, is always smiling and clapping and wants to be in close proximity to mama at all times.
I can’t freeze time, but by journaling, practicing skin-to-skin contact and capturing moments through mindful visualization, I can almost slow down time.
Pendick, D. (2020, April 18). 7 common causes of forgetfulness. Harvard Health.
Phelan, H. (2018, October 25). What’s All This About Journaling? One of the more effective acts of self-care is also, happily, one of the cheapest. New York Times.
Seitz, J. L. (2017, August 9). The Importance of Skin-to-Skin with Baby After Delivery. Sanford Health News. https://news.sanfordhealth.org/childrens/the-importance-of-skin-to-skin-after-delivery-you-should-know/
Shetty, J. (2020). Think Like A Monk. Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day. Simon & Schuster.