Amazingly Dear Joseph has been viewed more than any of the other posts I have written. It seemed to strike a chord with many people and I was thanked for my honesty around my feelings towards Joseph. Despite me predominantly writing about our autism journey, some of those emotions were focused on how I felt from the moment he was born and what was apparent that some mistook my statement of finding it harder to love Joseph was centred around the time of his autism diagnosis.
I read the post over and over again and pondered that although most written pieces can always be interpreted another way by the reader, it is the responsibility of the author to make herself clear. And whilst reflecting on that element of the post that I had not worded to the best of my ability, I started to analyse what I had written and not for the first time tried to search for answers as to why I felt that way.
The textbooks (and tell me a first time parent who doesn’t immerse themselves in these bibles) and other parents said that I’d fall in love with my child as soon as I saw his face; that didn’t happen. When I first saw his face I had been in labour for over twenty-eight hours, was completely off my face and my eyes were like piss holes in the snow. I could hardly see his face, let alone love it.
My relatively easy pregnancy had come to an abrupt end at thirty-six weeks and two days when the first signs of labour started. I had been lulled into a false sense of security with my view of mind over matter would overcome anything. In my case, that was all well and good for the first twenty hours but when the midwives and anaesthetists started pumping me full of drugs and the reality of no sleep kicked in, my mind wasn’t going to overcome any matter as it needed scraping off the ceiling.
Twenty-eight hours after it all started, my scrunched up child had been surgically removed from me and at the time it felt like a scene from Alien. I recall crying but not at the sight of alien baby but at this experience that I had been told (by textbooks and earth mothers) would be empowering and magical. I had been traumatised by the whole event, was shaking from the cocktail of drugs, sleep deprivation and the shock of having my baby extracted from me.
It took me a long time to get over that experience and I even had appointments with a birth afterthought service at the hospital so we could talk through those events and for me to receive some logical explanation as to why it all happened in the way it did.
If his delivery didn’t do enough to tip me over the edge, the arrival of my milk a few days later caught me completely off guard. I must have missed that chapter in the Perfect Parenting Guide as the morning it happened, I woke up after 2 hours sleep looking like an overinflated Dolly Parton and went into a slow meltdown.
Joseph’s continued lack of sleep and then the development of his acid-reflux was a relatively slow burner and I don’t exactly recall waking up one day thinking What the Fuck? It was more of a steady decline into a state of Stressed Eric.
I had read about Baby Blues and Post-Natal Depression (in the Perfect Parenting Guide) and didn’t pay too much attention to it, because I wouldn’t be getting that; that was for people who weren’t in love with reality of pregnancy or didn’t have the right mindset. So when I was asked the standard set of questions by the array of Health Care Professionals that visited, I didn’t admit to my feelings. I didn’t want to be judged for not coping and fretted about what may happen if I was honest about what was going on in my head. I certainly didn’t feel that I wanted to harm myself or Joseph (maybe others close to me) but the tears didn’t subside after a few days and I constantly doubted my competency as a mother.
I can’t recall a lightbulb moment when all of a sudden I thought, YES I now love my baby! It was a gradual process despite him annoying the fuck out of me most days. He was a part of me that I that I had carried for eight months and love is inevitable despite those testing moments.
Some three and half years later when I had received an autism diagnosis for Joseph, I felt like my world was about to end and felt angry that once again, life wasn’t as simple as it should be. It wasn’t a case of me only just falling in love with my son and then falling out of love with him because he had a label. My love, I suppose had always been there it was just difficult to feel it because of everything else going on. His diagnosis made me love him even more if that’s possible. I had this overwhelming desire to protect him, as I knew he would need it more than ever.
I’ve stated before that I’m torn with labelling. It solves many problems and enables help to be provided but there is also a negative side to it. Often it’s the label people see first but it seems that’s what people crave, a name for something.
Nobody diagnosed me with Baby Blues, PND or even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and whether I had one of these I don’t know, but with so many self diagnoses these days, I won’t attempt that. Someone who is shit at spelling is not necessarily dyslexic; someone with social interaction difficulties is not necessarily autistic and someone who had a stressful period has not necessarily suffered with depression.
Would a diagnosis have changed anything? Possibly not, but it might be easier to explain certain feelings of stress and inadequacy. Don’t be afraid to speak up and don’t feel you have to join the Perfect Parenting Club. I’d like to say it’s not all it’s cracked up to be but my membership has never been approved so I wouldn’t know!
Life isn’t all about the textbooks or a label and we all experience our own unique journey.
Be true to yourself and be proud of the road you’ve travelled.