Image We’ve heard all the clichés about young mothers. They’re so focused on their expanding bellies while they’re pregnant that they can’t think of anything else, especially doing their jobs. After the baby is born, they’re sleep-deprived and covered with spit-up and all they can think of is feeding schedules and diapers; they’re not good for anything else. When the baby is a preschooler, all mommy knows anything about is kiddie-TV. Mommy can’t even talk in adult sentences. Mommy is afflicted with Mommy Brain. Mommy can’t be around adults without embarrassing herself. Don’t you believe it, says Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Katherine Ellison. A working mother with two young sons, Ellison decided to find out the truth about so-called Mommy Brain. What she found out turns every cliché on its head. Using fifty years of research—much of it done by mommies—in medicine, neuroscience, and sociology, plus interviews of successful mothers, she has learned that the Mommy Brain actually makes women smarter. And just like men sometimes have sympathetic labor pains, being a new father can also make a man smarter. Who knew? The researchers knew. Working with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which takes detailed pictures of activity in specific areas of the brain, and other investigative tools, scientists have studied the effects of positive hormones like oxytocin and prolactin on the brain. And because many of the modern researchers are women, the received wisdom of the laboratory is also being changed. “Research,” Ellison writes, “is Me-search… Driving many of the most accomplished scientists is the quest to understand problems relevant to their own lives.” We all know mothers who are better at multi-tasking and more efficient than any man on the planet. We know mothers who will do anything to protect their child. Ellison devotes Part Two of the book to the five attributes of the “baby-boosted brain”: perception, efficiency, resiliency, motivation, and emotional intelligence.  How is The Mommy Brain relevant to readers of this magazine? We’ve known for a long time that the Great Mother is the Creatrix of the Universe. She is the Great Goddess Who can do all things, probably at the same time. The myths and legends tell us so. Now we have proof that we are all in a sense great mothers, and we have scientific research and facts and statistics to fling at those members (both male and female) of the patriarchy who try to tell us that mommies have empty brains.   ~ Reviewed by Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D.

by Katherine Ellison

Basic Books, 2005

pp. 279 pages, $25

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