Friday, August 21, 2020

An Autistic Perspective on Becoming a New Mom

Lily
Photo © Howard Ignatius | Flickr / Creative Commons
[image: A newborn baby being held up for the camera. 
The baby's mother is in the background, lying agains a pillow and blurred.]

Amber Bond

It's been 20 days and motherhood hasn't been what I expected.

As an autistic person, I have incredible sound sensitivities. On the morning of my scheduled C-section, a man wheeled his tiny toddler—who wailed impossibly, seemingly uncontrollably—past the waiting room in a stroller, at least thirty times for at least thirty minutes. I messaged my mother that I was reconsidering my life choices. 

This was, of course, met with emoji laughter—though I wasn't sure I was joking, as the sudden, shrill, and very loud sound of other people's children crying has always cut through me. I had inquired the previous day if earplugs might be a reasonable choice for motherhood.

I used to shirk away from pregnant women. I constantly found myself wanting to say: "Do you know that there is a human being growing inside you??" as though it were some sort of alien development. I cringed when they talked of sudden nosebleeds, all-day vomit, or even when they joyously announced that we could all gather 'round to see this foetal child kicking visibly through their skin.

I've often said I don't understand children prior to the age of one or two—that I'm not sure how to interact with something that tells me nothing.

However, I have often envisioned myself growing old with a daughter. In considering this idea, it took a long time to work through the fears that my general state of being brought me: Would the noise be too much? Would I have to walk away too often? Would I not be able to understand the child until they could communicate in words? Would I be too cold? 

My husband always veered more on the side of wanting a child, but said "It's your body and your choice." I was thirty-four before I started realistically considering the possibility of motherhood.

It took six months for our efforts to come to fruition, and the sadness I felt in worrying that maybe I could not have a child at all let me know that, despite all my anxieties, parenthood was something I wanted.

My anxieties are often self-protective. If I imagine that a situation will be extremely difficult, I am often surprised when it is less so. The month we received a referral for fertility—being that I was past the age of thirty-five by then, and we had been attempting for six months—was the month before our baby was naturally conceived.

I also have incredible tactile sensitivities. This has, as long as I remember, caused a dissonance between myself and my physical being. Occupying space has always felt disconcerting, and I dealt with this feeling in my late teens and early twenties by starving myself very small. Though I am physically recovered, the mental ramifications of being so fiercely food- and body-conscious for so long have remained with me. 

Therefore, all the potential physical changes of pregnancy were terrifying to me. 

However, nothing has made my body feel like it has functional purposes more than aesthetic ones like pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Somehow my body grew a human being. Somehow it made essential food for that human—and something about all of this seems much less strange or alien or creepy than it did to me in unknown theory.

If you want absolute humility, two days in the hospital postpartum will do it. With previously unknown nurses changing pads, setting and removing a catheter, and squishing at my boobs at all hours, I'm pretty sure I lost all shame and discomfort in the name of my child.

My baby was born exactly two weeks past my thirty-sixth birthday. I didn't know I had the capacity to love something so completely, instantaneously. Her crying, to me, has been very logical communication and activates this intense protector complex that I didn't believe I had: I am sad when I cannot help her as quickly as I'd like, but I am never frustrated with her.

I love her deep, soulful eyes and her little baby sounds; the picture of my husband's grin in her reflexive sideways smile; her elf ears and her long, lanky limbs; her fierce roaring when she's hungry. She has my heart.

I never could have imagined this life for myself.