Childbirth and autism.
**Trigger warning-Childbirth trauma**
It's not something I’d ever taken seriously until now.
And I’m past that part of my life, where I’m having children.
It’s a tricky, risky, minefield; childbirth and autism.
As an autistic person, I am easily triggered off into trauma.
At the age of nineteen, I had my first baby.
My GP was not nice.
She told me I wasn’t even trying, was rough, threatened to not provide pain relief, and at every opportunity afterwards, told me I should give my baby up and get an education.
In the lead up to that birth, my waters had broken five days prior.
And nobody believed me.
So there I was, admitted to hospital, treated like a crazy case.
I was asked multiple questions about the baby’s father and had eyes rolled at me.
I was refused products to keep me from walking around in wet clothing because my waters continued to leak and I was told I was ‘imagining it’.
The trauma was horrendous.
I was eventually induced, and refused any alternative pain relief tools I asked for with a swift "That doesn't really work".
"No photographs in here" etc.
When I cried out in labour at one point, my GP said
"You wanted a baby."
When she was born, a breast pump was thrown on my bed and I was told I’d “work it out”.
When my lunch was brought to me and I was bent over in excruciating pain, I was dismissed and scolded for not thanking the nurse for my food.
A day after she was born, whilst I was showering, my baby was handed to a work experience high school student for bathing.
I went looking for her and found her in a sink of water, held by a sixteen year old, guided by a midwife.
I remained composed on the outside but screamed on the inside, all of my being wanting to snatch back my baby.
No consent. No consideration. Something so special I’d never get back.
And no voice to oppose.
Fear. Compliance. Self preservation.
I still hold feelings of such deep sadness around this.
For my second baby, I had to do a lot of work with professionals to overcome that trauma.
There is so much more to that story, but it isn’t appropriate to share here.
There are parts of my story I want to keep to myself.
I participated in art, writing, sharing, sessions with a psychiatrist and other strategies.
I visited the hospital, the birth ward, I asked all the questions I needed to ask of the staff.
They were wonderful, inviting and understanding.
And then, again, like before, I went into labour five days before.
In and out of labour.
By the time it was actually time to engage in active labour, I was exhausted.
It was traumatic.
Five days of agony.
The birth is a blur.
I was cared for by a wonderful, kind and loving midwife.
And as I was recovering directly after the birth,
Two young doctors proceeded to abuse her in my presence.
Petty arguing that broke her heart.
And I saw it.
I held her hand and shared with her that she had gifted us wonderful care and not to pay attention.
She was autistic.
She was distraught.
I was distraught.
And following this birth, I developed postnatal depression.
It was a long time and another child later in between the last birth.
I booked into the same hospital.
I had fought against being booked into a plethora of services I neither asked for, or needed.
The Doctor looked at my file and said
“Oh, your youngest must be three by now!”
I said “Yes, she is”.
“Is she doing well?” he asked.
“She is beautiful, bright, happy, doing lovely. She’s autistic.” I said.
And then the silence.
“Jesus Christ”, he said “Are you devastated?!”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Sat in my car and sobbed.
Something so simple, something that should be so joyful had never been that way for me.
As an autistic person, I struggle when my power is taken away.
When I’m not offered choice.
That GP ordered fortnightly scans to measure my baby’s head in case she was going to turn out autistic.
I sat in my car and sobbed.
I called my husband.
“I’m having my baby at home” I announced.
And I did.
Surrounded by a beautiful, respectful, caring and nurturing team of midwives; with an obstetrician overseeing my care, with an ambulance on standby.
I was able to share openly about my trauma.
It was taken very seriously by my team of powerful women.
My autism was treated with kindness and compassion.
I was showered with information about my baby’s potential for tongue tie (common amongst children on the spectrum) and other issues that may interfere with feeding my baby.
I was supported, shown, given space and time and freedom.
I was empowered.
I didn’t have to listen to midwives laughing and sniggering about baby wearing Mamas (I had).
I recovered in my own bed, in my own time, with daily visits from medical professionals.
It was the most empowering, liberating, healing experience I have had.
There are wonderful medical professionals out there-doctors, obstetricians, midwives.
Mountains of them.
There are wonderful hospitals offering excellent care.
But once an autistic person is traumatised, we are traumatised.
Everything associated with a past trauma becomes a current trigger and a new trauma.
I hadn’t even considered that the very things I was provided in my care were so aligned with my autistic needs.
My own space, people I trusted, patience, autonomy, consent for any touch or medical practice, compassion, empowerment, love, support in what I wanted.
Here in Australia, there is much evidence based support available to victims of sexual assault and abuse during their pregnancies and births.
I think this is so wonderful and crucial.
I would also like to see more research, with the inclusion of autistic people on pregnancy and childbirth for autistic people.
Tactile defensiveness, sensory input, routine, all of it is astoundingly disrupted during the process of growing, giving birth to and caring for a baby.
The reality of autistic people needing support during this transformational time is seriously overlooked.
And here’s a photo of me, barefoot, at peace and wearing my baby.
Who is autistic, by the way, just like every other members of my family.