Content Notion: Internalized ableism
I’ve written a lot about that I’m mourning not knowing I’m autistic earlier in my life. One of the times that really makes me sad to think about is when I had my child. By then, I had been in therapy a lot for my recurring depressions and emotional instability (which turned out wasn’t emotional instability) and I considered myself “fixed”. So did all professionals and I was so sure that the last problem – that I got so tired from being around other people – was going to be ”cured” when the baby came. This sounds unreasonable to me now, but at the time a psychologist had convinced me that my constant fatigue was just the normal everyday tiredness that everybody feels. I thought that I was somehow spoiled since I kept complaining about it and when the baby was born and I couldn’t focus on myself anymore, I would adjust and stop being spoiled, unsocial, and feeling so mentally overloaded and tired all the time.
So what happened? Well, having a baby did certainly not decrease the amount of quiet recovery time that I needed. In fact, having a baby made it obvious that not getting plenty of quiet time on my own was a disaster to my health. Having a baby made the differences between me and my partner very obvious.
Because, before our child was born I thought of mine and my partner’s need for quiet time alone as fairly similar. We both needed it and were fine with it. But when our baby was born and neither of us got very much of that recovery time, our responses were very different. My partner longed for time on their own, for sure, but was still feeling okay. Tired, of course, but that was about it. I felt exhausted but not tired and sleepy, like my partner. I couldn’t sleep. I cried. I panicked. I was so overwhlemed and had no words to describe what was happening and I felt like the worst parent – no, the worst mom – in the world. I didn’t feel like a real mom. I felt like a fake mom and a fake person since all the therapy obviously hadn’t fixed me.
I loved my baby so deeply. Before my baby was born I was well aware that feelings of love don’t neccesarily blossom by the baby’s first breath, but to my surprise I loved my baby very soon. But the love was painful. My baby was easily overwhelmed and probably had a tummy ache and cried a lot. My partner and I took turns carrying our baby wrapped close to our bodies in a carrying scarf to make the baby suffer less. It helped, and it was wonderful to be close to the baby, but it was overwhelming. My joints hurt like hell from all the carrying (I didn’t know about my hypermobility problems either, at the time) but that was not what made me cry. I cried, lost my ability to talk, to interpret sounds and visual information because I couldn’t digest all the sensations from having so much body contact. I had no clue what was happening, having my baby wrapped close to me felt wonderful – why was it so hard? Why did it make me cry and have meltdowns (even though I didn’t call it meltdowns at the time) all the time? I was confused, ashamed and thought of myself as a failure.
If I had known that I was autistic I could have been a bit kinder to myself. If I had acquired a language for my experiences of sensory overload I could have communicated it to my partner and avoided a lot of misunderstandings. What’s even more important: I could have taken better care of myself. If I had known I was autistic, I could have given myself the recovery time I needed without feeling guilty. Without telling myself I was a horrible mom, a defected person in dire need of being fixed. I could have treated myself with respect.
I feel like I lost my baby’s first year due to all the nasty things I said to myself. My baby was wonderful and it is, and will probably always be, painful to think about how horrible I treated myself during that year. This is why I find it so important to not deny people a chance to self-understanding. Because self-understanding is closely connected to self-respect and self-care.