Autism And Pregnancy

The next few blogs I’ve written are the ones I’ve wanted to write for years but couldn’t. The shame that I felt (still sometimes feel) about how I just didn’t mentally cope is still with me and I think it always will be. Pregnancy, giving birth and early motherhood is always portrayed as something natural and easy and we picture a mother cradling her child in a wonderful (glorious) light. The colours I experienced were as dark as the feelings and emotions were strong. It wasn’t an easy time for sure.

I found out I was pregnant after thinking that I might be during a holiday to Egypt. At a dinner table with others on a cruise ship, I just couldn’t stomach the strong smells and tastes. It was like my senses that are usually over sensitive were over sensitive and then some. Looking back this may have been as a result of my autistic brain but it could just as easily be I was simply a pregnant women whose body was going a bit overboard with smells and tastes.

Once I knew I was pregnant I was surprised, confused, happy, scared and all the other emotions that all mums-to-be feel. I did something that was, looking back, a bit silly in that I changed jobs. I’d already got the job before the summer holiday where I found out I was pregnant and had already left my old job – as happens in teaching. Changing jobs meant stress and change and as I’d chosen to go and work in a failing school there was definitely plenty of both. I should add that at this time we were planning our wedding and my husband was commuting between his home 5 hours away and my flat. This was a ludicrous time in my life and definitely contributed to the way I coped with being a pregnant autistic woman.

I was bodily well during my pregnancy and was growing a healthy sized baby. I went to maternity appointments and scans and all was well. We got married in the October after many practice OFSTED’s (the UK state school inspection system) with an actual OFSTED inspection just after we got back from honeymoon. I worked on my honeymoon because being a teacher in the UK at a failing school with OFSTED visiting the next week means that you will automatically have to work on your honeymoon and no-one in senior management will bat an eyelid.

I remember putting up a display in my classroom and a fellow teacher came in and said that she didn’t think I should be up the ladder balancing while leaning across to the display board while 6 months pregnant. I really couldn’t see the issue and that was definitely a red flag as to the state of my mind.

We had a nice Christmas and then in the New Year on the first day back at work my husband was made redundant, my school wanted me to not teach full classes but do some other job (they didn’t specify) so I had that battle to fight and the final piece of stress handed to us was my father telling us that he was selling the flat we lived in (it was his) to a friend of his daughter’s because she needed somewhere to buy and he could do this. To say I was astounded is an understatement but that is often how my father thinks.

I was, then, 8 months pregnant, on maternity leave with a husband who had just lost his job and having a month to find somewhere else to live all after a term of OSFSTED preparations and inspections. It was the last straw.

I went into myself as I do when things are too much. I disassociated to the point that I hadn’t really bought anything for the baby. My midwife was also quite concerned because during one appointment she said that I needed to, ‘Go and spend some time looking at baby clothes and get involved with this pregnancy.’ She was right but I did not have the capacity to do that. It was one of the loneliest times of my life because I did not have my colleagues around me, I was the first of my friendship group to have a baby and so I had no-one to share my thoughts and feelings with.

The final part of my pregnancy saw my anxiety reach new heights and go to levels I’d not been before. I began having intrusive thoughts that focussed on me dying during the birth. I calmly accepted this and for any decision I had to make regarding me or the birth I always thought, “Well, it doesn’t really matter as I won’t be here then.’ It wasn’t a suicide thought or a thought that people would be better off without me, more that I just knew I would die and that was that. This became my new normal: feeling I would die giving birth and any decision that needed to be made about the future really didn’t need my full input because I wouldn’t be there to live the consequences of any decision. My subconscious stopped the intrusive thoughts because, I now think, I had accepted my death.

My behaviour didn’t change outwardly; to anyone who knew me I was just the same but the thoughts continued. I didn’t share how I was feeling with anyone. I don’t know if I thought this was normal pregnancy or not and think I was just existing and getting through each day with little or no thought as to what the next day would bring.

I now know that I am someone who can cope with extreme amounts of stress because I have worked at a failing school while pregnant. I am also someone who can thrive with extreme amounts of stress because I did very well with my individual observations despite all of my class having undiagnosed SEND (the pupils who could had already been removed by their parents and put into other schools which meant I was left with 17 Y3-5 pupils with a huge range of ability, behaviour plus socio-economic challenges). I’m good at what I do. But the cost to me mentally was huge and catastrophic with how I coped with the stress from home and the imminent birth.

I went overdue by 11 days and was eventually induced because there was no sign of my little chap arriving any time soon. (I will write about the birth in another blog post). 2 days after I’d had my son I came home feeling mentally catatonic and that was the start to my motherhood.

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