Before Chelsea Conaboy gave birth to her first child, she anticipated the joy of holding her newborn son, the endless dirty nappies and the sleepless nights. What she didn't expect was how different she would feel. It wasn't simply the extraordinary demands of this new role, but a shift in self – as deep as it was disorienting. In truth, something was changing: her brain.
New parents undergo major brain changes, driven by hormones and the deluge of stimuli a baby provides. These neurobiological changes help all parents – birthing or otherwise – adapt in those intense first days and prepare for a long period of learning how to meet their child's needs. Yet this science is mostly absent from the public conversation about parenthood.
Conaboy delves into the neuroscience to reveal unexpected upsides, generations of scientific neglect and a powerful new narrative of parenthood.
Chelsea Conaboy is a veteran journalist, specialising in personal and public health. She was part of the Boston Globe's Pulitzer prize-winning team for coverage of the Boston Marathon Bombing and more recently, has worked as a freelance magazine writer with bylines at Mother Jones, Politico, The Week, The Boston Globe Magazine and others. She lives in Maine with her husband, their two young sons and her own changing maternal brain.
"Mother Brain takes direct aim at the damaging and false narratives of morality and biology that have shaped our thinking about women and mothers for centuries. Fascinating and relatable [...] A must-read"
– Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed
"Shines a bright light on the truth of parenthood, and the way it changes us. Mother Brain is a book for anyone raising a child, or who ever was one. Insightful, generous and wise"
– Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of She's Not There
"Becoming a parent often comes with an influx of overwhelming feelings, and beliefs that result in guilt and shame. Conaboy dissects the research of what is truly going on inside our brains through storytelling to help us remove the unrealistic parenting expectations and get true support"
– Eve Rodsky, author of Fair Play
"Fearlessly researched and deeply empathetic, Mother Brain blew my mind. Every page pruned away sexist, guilt-inducing assumptions about the 'maternal instinct'. If every new parent, boss and lawmaker read this book, we would make a century of progress overnight"
– Lauren Smith Brody, author of The Fifth Trimester
"Part memoir, part scientific sleuthing, Mother Brain is storytelling at its very best. This book is deeply engrossing, not only because it untangles so many mysteries, but because it helps us reframe what we thought we already knew – about motherhood, about parenting, about ourselves. A game-changer"
– Amy Ellis Nutt, author of The Teenage Brain
"[Conaboy] deploys her journalistic skill to bring this complex subject to a readable level [...] Mother Brain isn't a parenting manual but rather a work of pop science jam-packed with neurobiological research; it's both fascinating and surprisingly readable [...] Highly recommended"
– Library Journal, starred review
"A fascinating insight into a hugely complex but important topic. Mother Brain is vital reading for anyone who wants to understand more about how and why the maternal brain changes during such an important life event. Conaboy writes in a compelling and accessible way that will help so many people understand themselves better"
– Melissa Hogenboom, author of The Motherhood Complex
"Mother Brain uses science to confirm a truth known to adoptive and other non-gestational parents: becoming a parent rewires our brains to love and care for children, just like biological parents. This physiological change anchors us to our children and makes space for society to see us as real parents. Thank you, Chelsea Conaboy, for including our mother brain in your tome about parenthood"
– Nefertiti Austin, author of Motherhood So White
"I learned so much from Mother Brain – about neuroscience, yes. But also about pernicious mythmaking, and the vast chasm between the reductive, sexist lines we're sold about motherhood versus the science and stories of how families are actually made, how brains and hearts and bodies are transformed by pregnancy and parenthood. A generous, engaging, deeply researched book that will change the way you think about your own parents, your children and yourself"
– Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad
"Mother Brain captivated me from page one. Conaboy fearlessly pours herself into the silence surrounding the open secret of mothering and caregiving – how we are profoundly remade by it, in both beautiful and destabilising ways"
– Angela Garbes, author of Like a Mother
"I absolutely loved Mother Brain. If I had read it in the early days of my recovery from postpartum psychosis, it would have been more than medicine – reassuring, legitimising and qualifying all those negative feelings that I thought were "just me""
– Laura Dockrill, author of What Have I Done?
"I wish I'd had this book when I first became a mother. If I'd known what was coming, I might not have been so blindsided by how different I felt in my own head. Chelsea Conaboy has done a great service to parents and brains everywhere [...] I am so grateful for her work, insight, courage and generosity"
– Emma Jane Unsworth, author of After the Storm
"An awesomely detailed and refreshingly positive review of brain science as a rich source of explanations for the often surprising, commonly bewildering, routinely criticised experiences of parenthood [...] powerful, honest and reassuring. A great read for beleaguered new (and old) parents"
– Professor Gina Rippon, author of The Gendered Brain
"Chelsea Conaboy presents a vital new narrative of what it means to parent, and to care. Meticulously researched and deeply personal, Mother Brain explores how parenting and caregiving shapes us, changes us and makes us human. Compelling and compassionate, this is the book we need as we look towards a future where parenting, in all its diversity, is valued and celebrated"
– Elinor Cleghorn, author of Unwell Women
"An illuminating examination of the changes the brain goes through during parenthood. Surprising and enlightening, this should be required reading for all caregivers"
– Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Mother Brain feels like a book that will inspire today's new parents: socially alert, inclusive, kind [...] Conaboy promises a new route through the parenting wilds"
– Victoria Segal, Sunday Times
"A compelling book that upends popular notions about becoming a parent [...] reminds us why scientific research is a feminist issue"
– Alona Ferber, New Statesman
"Mother Brain offers a science-based reassurance that 'unlike a rigid instinct, [parental aptitude] also can be repaired and redirected' by any motivated caregiver"
– Science Magazine
"Engaging [...] The author deftly translates scientific studies into accessible prose that speaks to needs and anxieties that many parents share"
– Kirkus Reviews