The Unexpected Gift of Being a Mother With Asperger's
It’s very easy for me to reel off all the ways being autistic has had a negative impact on me. However, since receiving my Asperger’s diagnosis last year I’ve come to realize that a period of time I had felt was another huge failure on my part was actually the greatest gift of my life.
Prior to the birth of my first son 12 years ago, I had presumed that I (like all of my friends and peers) would have the baby, enjoy both him and the maternity leave and then get on with the struggle of juggling work and family just like everyone else. However, when the time came it was a completely different story.
After only a break of five months, I was due back at work. I worked for a small business and received only the basic maternity leave and pay. Adjusting to being a new mum had been really hard (isn’t it for everyone?) but we were doing OK. We had gotten into a routine and I had a deep connection and love for the baby, even though his arrival had literally turned my world upside down.
I knew all my friends had said how difficult it was to return to work, but they also described a sense of getting back to themselves and having a sense of freedom of not being responsible for a demanding infant 24/7. I was hoping I would soon be feeling that too.
I returned to work, to a job I had previously enjoyed. The same people were there, still doing their same thing and there were lots of exciting tasks to be getting on with. However, instead of feeling that I had returned to familiarity, it was like I had entered a strange world I didn’t want to be a part of anymore. The stage and the players were all the same and they were all sticking to their script, but I couldn’t perform as the upbeat, super-organized Marketing PA anymore. Inside I was desperately struggling not to go off script.
A black sense of panic descended quickly. Before the baby, I had the energy and capacity to perform at work. Now I didn’t and I had a new role to play as a mum. I couldn’t do both, however much I tried. I felt desperate and I couldn’t understand it at the time.
In the second week after returning, I was driving to work and I suddenly had clarity. Something was going to have to give and it wasn’t going to be me or my baby. I asked to speak to my boss and told her I was leaving. I just walked away that day and never went back.
This period of time has always held a deep shame for me. I couldn’t do what everyone else just got on with — I was a “failure” and I felt embarrassed. When people asked me “what do you do?” I would say “I’m a mum” and that was always followed by “so what did you used to do?” from the dismissive inquisitor or “It’s all right for some” from the disgruntled neighbor. Everyone had something to say and it was rarely positive.
But now, armed with the knowledge that my Asperger’s diagnosis has brought me in the past year, I can see why I did what I had to do. The complete change of lifestyle and routine that having a baby brings was enough to be able to cope with. There was no further capacity left in the tank to perform at work too, however much I tried. As someone who was always working hard to fit in with the norm, when I couldn’t do so on this occasion I felt I had failed. I wasn’t part of the “Working Mummies” gang and so I was pushed into the fringes, on the outside once again.
But as time went on, I learned to enjoy the path I had carved out. I have been present as a mum and that’s the best gift I could have given my boys. We had fun days, sick days, boring days and incredibly special days while counting up the milestones along the way. Every family must choose their own path, and I chose the best option for parenthood that was right for us.
Yes, it was hard sometimes. Yes, some days were long. And being a wage down meant we had to economize. But I know today when I look at my children and how well they are doing that I did the right thing for both them and me. I have no regrets and no shame any longer that I couldn’t manage it all. Having Asperger’s has given me the gift of being able to love and focus on my children, and I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.
As for work? As the children grew older I’ve had a mixture of freelance and voluntary jobs, and was proud to win an award last year for my Marketing. So in the end I did manage it to do it all, even if I wasn’t doing it all at the same time. I have absolutely no regrets.