Do you feel like a completely different person than you were before having kids? Well you aren’t alone…many moms out there feel that they are a completely different person after having kids. I actually count myself in amongst that completely changed group. I was curious all the ways that having kids changes you as a person, so I decided to do some digging to see what research has uncovered. Interestingly, this isn’t a topic that’s well researched. There’s still a ton we don’t know about pregnancy and motherhood as a whole. Here’s what science does know so far about how you change after having kids.
Your Brain Changes During Pregnancy and Postpartum
This study examined the brain structures of first time parents comparing pre and post pregnancy brain structure using MRIs; specifically scientists studied the gray matter in the brain. The changes in a mom’s brain before and after pregnancy and birth were very significant. Some areas grew in the brain while other shrunk. The differences were dramatic enough that the researchers could look at changes in scans over time and use an algorithm to correctly determine which women had given birth versus not based on the degree of volume change in the first scan versus the second scan. On top of that, the degree of the volume change in gray matter was correlated with the degree of maternal attachment as well.
So why do these changes happen? Well of course scientists are exactly sure, but they do have some running hypotheses. Gray matter is responsible for a number of important roles including controlling movement, memory, emotions, speech, decision-making and self-control. The thought is that the shrinkage of some areas of grey matter may be the brain “pruning”  of skills/knowledge that is less relevant to a new parent (all those extraneous bits of knowledge that you carry with you), while growth in other areas represent development of new skills that are critical in caring for a newborn. This may be the scientific explanation for the mom fog commonly known as “mom brain”.
Your DNA Changes During & After Pregnancy
Scientists have known for many years that microchimerism – a condition where the DNA from one person (in this case your baby) appears within the cells of another person (you) – happens during pregnancy. This occurs because the placenta allows for an exchange of cells between mom and baby. Interestingly, these cells have been shown that they can persist for years if not indefinitely. These fetal cells have been found nearly everywhere in a mom’s body even the heart and brain. According to researchers these cells may have both benefits and potential drawbacks too; they seem to promote tissue repair and potentially prevent a woman’s immune system from attacking her baby. However, on the downside, there is a theory that posits that fetal microchimerism may be related to autoimmune disorders, particularly later in life .
Your Body May Change In Permanent Ways
Your body may change in a number of ways after giving birth. To name a few of the changes that some women see: your shoe size may increase, you may have an increase in dental problems, breastfeeding could potentially reduce your risk of breast cancer, your hair texture may change permanently, you may face bladder control issues, and the list does really go on and on. These are all remnants of the major physical and hormonal changes your body goes through during pregnancy and in the period thereafter.
So your brain changes, your DNA changes, your body changes, what else about you changes? I asked some friends and family how having kids changed them. Some of the common themes that emerged:
- You find a new respect for your own parents
- You may feel a bit isolated from friends (especially those without kids) and your old life
- Your priorities shift – number one focus becomes your kids
- You may become a more patient person
- You see the world a bit differently, through the lens of a parent and the eyes of your children
N of One – My Personal Experience
Anecdotally I can attest that after having my daughter, not only did my priorities and focus shift, but I noticed that I became a much more sensitive person. They say having kids is having your heart live outside of your body, and I completely agree with that sentiment. I simply can’t read news that involves children getting hurt or being in harms way because it makes me sick to my stomach. I also can’t watch movies involving anything negative happening to kids. I just can’t help but see my own innocent children in every child. This isn’t to say I was heartless and didn’t care about children before. It’s just so much more visceral now; it just hits me differently.
Overall my life now feels worlds away from life before having kids. I look back and wonder what I did with all of that time! While there are certainly things I miss (like going to the bathroom alone, not being pestered with endless questions first thing in the morning and late at night), I wouldn’t trade being a mom for anything…and I was never one of those people who always dreamt of being a mom. I thought I wanted kids one day, but it wasn’t how I defined myself. Now, I find that my priorities have completely shifted, and having kids really crystallized what is important to me.
Did you change at all after having kids? I’d love to hear your experiences. Please leave a comment below!