Confessions of an Autistic Mom: First Birthdays
I am an autistic mom and I have a confession to make.
It has been 21 years since I celebrated my eldest child’s first birthday. On Friday, I celebrated my last child’s first birthday.
Oh. My. Goodness.
I cannot put into words how difficult these last two years have been for me. Two babies a little more than 12 months apart will Wear.You.Out.
Add in a little thing called autism, and you almost come undone.
I have known since 1991 that infancy is not my favorite part of raising children. The noise, chaos, confusion, and messy physicality of it leave me breathless and I frequently find myself pressed right up against the edge of sanity.
It is only in the last few months that I have come to accept that a large part of my struggle through the first years with my children is due in no small measure to being me being on the autistic spectrum.
I’m an Autism Mom – or, more specifically, a Mom with Autism.
Intellectually I accept – no, I embrace – that the energy and demands of babies is necessary to their growth and development. Intellectually, I see attachment parenting (or evolutionary parenting, or natural parenting or however you wish to phrase it) as being best for babies. They need that close contact with their mother. Their little brains grow and thrive in the close attachments facilitated by breastfeeding, co sleeping. Their emotional well-being is strengthened by a mother’s physical and emotional commitment, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
But it drains me. And I don’t mean in a normal New Mother kind of drain.
By the end of each of my children’s first year, I have felt close to running away – far away – to a locked tower. To a place where it is quiet. Where I can regroup. Where I can focus my mind of books and learning and writing. Where I can retire into my head and just exist in the absence of the demands of my family. Where the only noise is the sound of a dawn chorus of birds or Chopin.
Do not get me wrong. I love my children. The older they get, the funner they become. I love toddlers and their endless quest to try everything. I love preschoolers and their budding inquisitiveness. I love sharing books with my older children, watching their TV shows with them, and spending time with them in silly conversations that develop into Big Conversations the older they get. I love encouraging and facilitating their interests. I don’t mind being a taxi and there is nothing a I love better than bringing out a plate of snacks for all the neighborhood kids.
I adore my children.
Being an autistic mom does not mean I do not enjoy them.
But I do not enjoy babies.
So by the time each of my babies achieves 10 months or so, I start counting the days until their First Birthday. Usually by this point my babies have started walking and the transition from Utterly Dependent Baby to Me Do It Toddler has begun. I’ve been lucky – if one considers these things luck, which I do – that all but one of mine has been an early walker. I begin to breath easier, knowing that soon, my back will mend and my ears and other senses will find some…rest from the carnival that is life with an infant.
My youngest is confounding things, and at 4 days post First Birthday, he shows no inclination to walk or gain any other kind of independence. He is happy to perch on my hip, ride on my back or crawl through my legs. As long as he is on me or withing touching distance, he is fine.
Unless he decides he is not fine, in which case the entire street hears about it.
I know that there are many who will tell me not to wish these baby moments away, that they are short-lived and utterly sweet. I agree. But for me the joy is only ever experienced in retrospect, as I look at my growing child and can fondly recall the individual moments of infancy, framed in the sepia haze of hindsight.
What sees me through these days of my youngest’s extended babyhood is the knowledge that he is my last. Never before have I known with absolute certainty that I do not want another child. Always before, my answer to the question, “Do you want any more?” was a resounding “Never say never!” with a “lol” added to the end.
If I find babies such hard work, it begs the question, why have I had so many?
I cannot speak for all autistic mothers, but for me, a big family is security from ever being lonely, from the indignity of not belonging, the fear of not fitting it, the desolation of not being wanted. For people on the autism spectrum, feeling like we do not fit in and that we are not wanted is frequently our default setting.
In some ways we cultivate it – noise, crowds, sharing physical space with others, and socializing in general can be difficult for us. We often avoid situations where any of these things is likely to occur.
But there is a difference between being alone and being lonely, of needing space and having no where to go, of not belonging and being different but accepted, warts and all.
My children are my strength. They love me as unconditionally as I love them. They do not see my imperfections and will love me regardless of how hard I sometimes find things. There are days when I believe I live for them and for nothing else. I do this gladly.
But after two solid years of babies, I am ready to live for myself again – if only for a few hours a week.
One day, when my youngest is off at college or back packing through India, or surfing in South Africa, I will long again for the feel of a baby’s head pressed sleepily against my shoulder. I will long for the solid weight of a little one held close in and wrapped against me, warm and smelling as only an infant can smell. My heart will clench up just a tiny bit as I watch a young mother perch her baby on her hip while they feed the ducks, and I will long as only the old can for the chance to relive just one day with a baby of my own.
But not today. Today, I am glad to have survived another first year. Today, I congratulate myself for not loosing the plot as I suffer through the mess that is baby led weaning. And I applaud my steady nerves as I cope with a crawler who lives with two shedding dogs and has the evidence clenched in two proud fists full of German shepherd hair, and who seems to enjoy no other game more than screaming at me while I try to change his nappy.
As an autistic mom, I cannot dismiss these issues lightly, as just part of the job. I work extra hard at staying calm and not freaking out.
So I say with only a little shame (because I would be lying if I said I was proud of my differences where my children are concerned) that I am relieved he sleeps, that he is quiet, and I pray that he will stay this way until morning.
Then we will wake up and do it all again.
And one day, I shall miss it.
What have been your thoughts when your children reached their first birthday? Share your thoughts in the comments section below:
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