I have wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. In particular, I wanted to be a mom to a little girl. I envisioned myself as the stay at home mom type. My daughter and I would have Saturday afternoon tea parties.
We would cook Sunday morning pancakes in our pajamas– you know, the fancy kind that come out looking like cute forest creatures. We would spend quiet evenings snuggled on the sofa and fill our days with adventure, exploration, and laughter. I honestly thought it would be pretty easy. I was so very wrong.
My daughter was born when I was newly twenty-three. I was single, not yet finished with my degree, and had a pretty ferocious case of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety (PPD and PPA). These factors paired with my sensitive nature and a particularly fussy newborn made the first few months of her life extremely difficult. I knew I loved her, but I could not really feel it. What I did feel, was terrified and overwhelmed.
It is a hard truth to admit, but I hated being alone with her. I constantly worried that I could not take care of her well enough or handle the stress that came along with being her mom. I was fully surprised by the realization that I did not enjoy being a mother. These negative emotions lessened substantially as she grew older and I was treated for PPD and PPA. I was able to fully bond with her, but the feelings of fear and incapability lingered.
Until recently, I did not know the extent of my own neurological differences so I did not understand why I found almost all aspects of motherhood to be so difficult. My anxiety and sensory overload were compounded by a heavy guilt. The three fed off each other constantly and left me depleted. No one knew this, though, because it was downright embarrassing. How could I possibly admit that though I loved my child, I could not say I loved being her mother?
Eventually, I learned that I fall on what was previously known as the Asperger’s end of the Autism Spectrum (Frankly, I refuse to seriously use the phrase “High-functioning Autism”). One aspect of this includes that I am easily overstimulated by touch, noise, and unplanned events. Parenting is full of all three.
Parenting a child who likely falls somewhere on the spectrum herself? It is beyond overwhelming. My daughter is my favorite human on the planet. She is brilliant, vibrant, creative, and so very full of love that it is almost heartbreaking. I love her more than I knew I had the capacity for.
But, that doesn’t change the fact that parenting with autism is straight-up sensory hell. There is so much noise that at times I honestly want to use ear plugs. The amount of touch required is managed by pure will power and extreme devotion. Navigating one of her meltdowns over having to wear socks that feel “wrong” or eat food that isn’t the exact right temperature or process big emotions that she is unsure of the source for, takes every ounce of patience I possess. It is beyond hard. It is something which I do not have a word for.
I am not a martyr by any means. I chose to become a parent and while my struggles are different than that of most people they are not singular and they were not thrust upon me without my consent. This is my circus and she is my monkey. I would not have it any other way; I would choose her over and over in any version of reality I could possibly be presented with. I am filled with gratitude for the tea parties, and sofa snuggles, and Sunday morning pancakes (that look nothing at all like forest creatures). I am thankful to say that I have grown to love being a mother.
But, I do wish it were easier. More than that, I wish the people in my life understood the means I go through to parent well. Yet still, more than either of those things I want other parents with autism to know they are not alone and they are not bad parents because of their differences. They are incredible warriors who fight so hard every day against demons no one else sees. They persevere relentlessly for their children, and that is what makes them the best advocate possible for their kids.
I want them to see that autism does not make them less of a parent than anyone else; it simply colors the way in which they connect with their children. When those connections are healthy, they are beautiful beyond words. I want neurodiverse parents to understand that, just like their neurotypical friends and family, who they are is enough. It has always been and will always be enough.