Our speech therapist once said to us that being a parent can feel rubbish sometimes, and at some point you have to stop second guessing and judging yourself, and make peace with yourself as a parent. I am trying to do this at the moment. To stop focusing so much on the end result of my parenting efforts and to put that energy into parenting itself. It’s working. Slowly I am becoming more confident, and with that my joy in my Mommy role is flowering. It wasn’t always like this. I need to first share with you the story of Melon’s birth, and the story of Dark Place. If you’ve read some of my earlier blogs, you’ll have heard a little of this before, my apologies.
Melon was born by emergency Caesarean section. There was meconium in my waters when they broke, and after 18 hours of monitored labour with little progression, she showed signs of distress, and was delivered by the surgical team at about 3am. She was perfectly healthy, totally beautiful and took to breast feeding like a duck to water.
But a huge part of me was devastated. I had done EVERYTHING right. I did pregnancy yoga, I ate well, I took exercise, I didn’t gain too much weight. I researched birthing options, and I had my brith plan all set out – lights, music, a birth pool, no drugs….But my stupid body hadn’t been able to get her out. All the planning and preparation didn’t matter a damn thing. My precious little baby hadn’t even arrived in the world and I’d already begun to let her down. For weeks, I couldn’t even feel like I could say that I’d given birth. I just used to say that Melon had been born. I hadn’t done any of it, someone else had to get her out. I cried every time I told the story of her birth. I found it unbelievably hard to listen to accounts of people who had had “normal” deliveries. Without knowing how or why I had failed at the first hurdle of Motherhood. My confidence and belief in myself as a mother was shattered.
In retrospect, I was clearly a bit depressed, and I’ve learned since that my emotional reaction is fairly common amongst women who have had a c-section. I moved onwards and upwards, and the 12 months maternity leave that Melon and I had was some of the most blissfully happy time ever. We did baby groups, developed a great set of friendships that had begun in pregnancy yoga – my confidence bubbled back up and life was good.
Then over the next couple of years came the realisation that Melon was autistic.
And my bubbles of self-confidence and self-belief began to pop at a fierce rate. It was happening AGAIN. I’d done all the right things, baby groups, breast feeding, homemade baby food, reading, art, play dates. But somehow I had gone wrong. I’d cleaned too much, I’d played too little, I’d ignored those warning signs and pushed them under a rug in my mind, I hadn’t pushed for assessment and intervention early enough. I had let Melon down again. I had failed. I’ve mentioned in a previous blog about going to a “dark place”, where I limited my contact with some friends, and totally cut myself off from others. I’ve read a blog by Deciphering Morgan this week where she talks about putting herself on an “Island” away from all her friends who don’t have special needs children. “Dark place” was a bit like that island. It was Lonely, it was introspective and it was scary.
But it was away from all those people whose happiness and pride and joy in their children’s development was causing me such pain. And that was a good thing, because I was not a great person to be around when I was in dark place. I was snappy and resentful, I was anxious and tearful, I was fixated on Melon and her social/communication skills to the point where I pretty much removed any joy at all from the experience of being a parent. God only knows what it must have been like to be parented by me – poor Melon. Those people who I struggled to be around hadn’t done anything wrong. They were celebrating the progress and achievements of their children in the exact same way I would’ve been doing if Melon’s journey had been different. And they had every right to do so.
In some ways, I’m glad I went to dark place. It was a protection. It protected my friends from exposure to my constant crabbiness and negativity, it also protected our relationship as it limited my opportunities to take my own fears, resentment and sense of failure out on them, and it protected me from having to be around those things that constantly reminded me of my “failure”.
But I had to get out of dark place. Partly, plugging into the online autism community helped me. But ultimately, the most important step back to light was making peace with myself. To accept that I wasn’t all-powerful. To actually really believe and accept that this was not my fault. I can’t cure Autism, it’s not an illness or an injury, and I hadn’t caused it. I HAD done a good job, I HAD done my best. Yes, Melon was autistic, but that was ok.
I’m learning a lot right now about autism, and I’m having to re-frame many of the ways in which I understand Melon’s behaviour into a different context. I’m focusing a lot on cause and effect Sequences in her behaviour, and looking into how I can be better in dealing with these. But it’s nothing like the corrosive negative sense of guilt and failure I had in dark place. I know there are battles and pitfalls ahead of us, But for now I’m marching in the light and my head is high.
Try and make peace with yourself. Being a parent is the best and hardest job you will ever do. But it is definitely one where the amount of effort put in directly correlates to the amount of joy gotten out. And both effort and joy are harder to come by if you constantly resent yourself.