Leona O'Neill: Critics of airplane turnaround mum haven't a clue about baby brain

A woman who left her baby at an airport, causing an airliner to turn around mid-flight to go back for the child, has been criticised for carelessness but, as Leona O'Neill writes, it could happen to a prime minister

'Baby brain' can leave parents exhausted and unable to think straight

ANY new mother and father can attest that the gruelling hours, the demands, the sleep deprivation and the weight of responsibility can leave you with what is commonly known as ‘baby brain'.

It's a fogginess, a level of tiredness that not even a rock festival attendee who has been awake and drinking beer for three days and nights straight would be familiar with. In times of exhaustion your brain works at very basic levels – usually just enough to enable you to sustain yourself and your offspring. If you have a child who perhaps never sleeps, often times ordinary, everyday tasks are a bridge too far.

I remember when my second son was born. The child, who is now 14, has always been a big ball of energy. For the first three months of his life he never slept for more than an hour, day or night, and would go through periods were he just slept in 10-minute bursts. It was torture and I almost went mad with the lack of sleep.

I remember during this time going to the bank to put in funds to cover a payment. I stood in the queue in the bank with him sleeping in his pram and me sleeping standing up with my eyes open. When I got to the bank teller she asked me what the total was that I wanted to lodge. I looked at the cheque in my hand. It was for £400 and I had £60 cash to add to it. And I looked at her.

And I looked back at the cheque and cash and I couldn't count up what 400 and 60 equalled. I asked her for a calculator and she asked me what age my baby was. I said he was five weeks old and never, ever sleeps and she told me not to worry, she could work it out.

I thought of this moment when I read last week about a young mother on a flight from Saudi Arabia who accidentally left her baby behind her at the airport terminal.

The Saudi Arabian Airlines flight heading for Kuala Lumpur had to swing around and head back to King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah to pick up the baby. The story ended happily with the mother and baby united and airline staff commenting that it was certainly a new type of emergency for them.

Of course social media was awash with people criticising the mother over her actions, asking how she could be so forgetful. Clearly they have never functioned on two hours' sleep for seven days and had no comprehension of the depths of confusion to which baby brain can take us.

I talked about this to my friend, who said her mother did something similar on a much smaller scale when she was just a newborn baby.

Her mother had been in Belfast city centre shopping with her newborn daughter and parked her pram up outside a fruit and vegetable shop to nip in and get some items. She came out laden with bags of heavy potatoes and soup mixtures and the week's veggies, headed back up the road in a black taxi, stuck the key in the door and put the kettle on, a constant niggle in the back of her mind that she had forgotten something.

Her blood ran cold when she remembered it wasn't turnips she had forgotten, it was her baby girl. She ran to a neighbours for help and a lift, raced back down the road and found her baby girl asleep where she had left her, none the wiser.

Looking after kids is hard work and it's not only little babies who are accidentally left behind.

Former prime minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha left their eight-year-old daughter Nancy behind them in a Buckinghamshire pub back in 2012. After meeting their friends at the pub they left in separate cars, each thinking the other one had their daughter with them. When it was discovered she was with neither of them the prime minister's wife rushed back to the pub, distraught, and discovered her daughter there, safe and well, helping the staff with their work.

It is probably the most heartstopping experience to think your child has been put in danger, and it was essentially your doing. And I'd imagine you don't even breathe until you have your baby back in your arms again.

But certainly the Camerons' experience shows that this can happen to anyone, regardless if you are a tired working class single mother or the leader of a country. Baby brain knows no boundaries.

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