The night before the birth I couldn’t sleep. I thought it was just because I was going in for a scheduled cesarean section the next morning at 6 am. I also considered that it could be because the hotel bed was so uncomfortable. I didn’t realize it was probably because I was in labor. When I arrived at the hospital the next morning, I was having fairly regular contractions but had no idea. I guess the rumors of having a high pain tolerance are true.
I felt nervous. I’ve never been in a hospital before, except when I worked in labor and delivery. It’s very different being a patient though. For the last time as a pregnant lady, I struggled to change my clothes and put on that flattering hospital gown. I climbed into the bed and prepared for all the poking, prodding, and litany of doctors, nurses, and other people that constantly come into the delivery room. Luckily, I had my doula there with me. Even though she’s a labor doula, and I wasn’t planning on doing any actual laboring, she’s more like an emotional support animal – especially for someone like me with a lot of anxiety.
Not only do I suffer from anxiety, but now I know there’s a reason I have anxiety. For the first time in my life, it was official and disclosed on my hospital paperwork. During my pregnancy, we learned that I am autistic. This may have lent itself to a lot of my pre-partum depression and general experience with pregnancy.
While I struggled a lot with my pregnancy experience, the one thing I did enjoy was learning about my own autism. I did so much research about women and girls with autism, started listening to podcasts, and talking to one of my best friends about it. Even through the pre-partum depression, learning about my autism gave me a real sense of validation I’d never had before. All kinds of aspects of life, personal stories, and experiences finally clicked into place and made sense. Everything made more sense. I felt like I knew myself better than I ever have before. I had a much deeper understanding of who I was and why I am the way I am. Instead of feeling like a weird outsider and assuming I’m just a weird person by nature, I knew there was a reason I never felt like I fit in anywhere – and it’s because I didn’t.
Initially, my birth plan was not to have a plan and let my doctor decide what was best. I knew it was going to be easier on me if I didn’t set myself up for expecting to have a birth be one way, and then it drastically goes another direction. That would not be so good for the anxiety (or the autism). However, as the birth got closer the baby was estimated to be ginormous, a good reason to consider a cesarean. Although he didn’t end up anywhere near as big as they originally estimated. We started talking about the possibility that I could labor for hours, the baby could get stuck, or I could end up with an emergency cesarean. My doctor never pushed a scheduled cesarean on me, but after telling her what I found out about being autistic, I suggested it might be easier on my own mental health to go that route. I have a lot of experience working with autism as a teacher and am very familiar with it from that perspective. For years I had suspected I had a sensory processing disorder, which is part of being autistic. Now that I know just how deeply connected sensory issues and anxiety are for me, I’m able to advocate for situations that best serve my needs. I worried that many hours of labor and the sensory processing that comes with that would shut me down and make for a more traumatic labor experience, even if everything went as it should. My goal with my birth plan was now to make a plan that would leave me with the most positive birth experience I could manage. That’s why I elected to have that c-section.
Let’s stop for a minute if you don’t know a lot about autism here are a few bullet point notes:
- Autism has a spectrum because it looks different on every person. There’s a saying that says, “If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism.”
- Sensory processing disorders are where your brain and nervous system have a difficult time interpreting, processing, and integrating stimuli. It can cause atypical behaviors when someone becomes over or under stimulated with sensory input.
- Autism looks very different on girls and women. For years all the research on autism came from studies on males, and that’s created a great deal of misinformation and stereotypes.
- The anti-vaccination movement is very damaging to the autism community. It assumes that someone would rather put their child at risk of a deadly illness instead of ending up like me (and I’m pretty awesome) or any number of other autistic people.
- Autism has a lot of co-occurring conditions like ADD, ADHD, learning disabilities, or OCD and anxiety (in my case).
- There are a couple of terms we see used in the autism community (and others), neurotypical and neurodiverse. Autism is a type of neurodiversity.
- Autistic people often hear the words, “you don’t look autistic to me,” which are intended as a compliment. However, this is a good time to remind everyone that autism doesn’t ‘look’ like anything in particular. Since it’s a spectrum, you will meet all kinds of neurodiverse people with different aspects of being autistic. Chances are, you’ve met, worked with, and spoken to all kinds of people with autism before and just don’t know it.
With an autism diagnosis on my paperwork, I found I was able to receive the mental support and accommodations I needed to give birth. In fact, every time it was mentioned before my cesarean, it seemed like I was some kind of a unique anomaly to the hospital staff. My doula was even allowed in the operating room for when the anesthesiologist gave me my spinal tap. That’s not something they’ve ever allowed before, and traditionally my hospital doesn’t even allow more than your partner (or one person) in the operating room to have a cesarean. I was happily allowed to have both my husband and my doula there to hold my hand and distract me.
Despite all the things you can read online about c-sections, I have to say mine wasn’t bad at all. It was the best experience I could hope for, and it took so much anxiety out of the situation. It gave me the opportunity to make birth choices that allowed for the most positive situation for my mental health. The staff at the hospital was great and accommodating. People often talk about how awful the spinal is, how weird it is feeling the baby tugged out of you, or how you can feel cold air inside you as they operate. None of those things happened to me. The most uncomfortable part was the way the spinal makes you shakey. You’re shaking like you’re extremely cold, but I wasn’t cold at all. It made it difficult to hold Howie after he was born.
By far, the worst and most painful part of giving birth and having a c-section is when they come in and press on your uterus to make sure it’s contracting back down to its normal size. Even that wasn’t too horrible. I’m a little over two weeks post-op today, and my recovery has been pretty great. The advice to get up and start moving right away truly does make a huge difference. However, there’s been days where I’m mentally spent by 6 pm, and I attribute that to my new sleeping schedule.
I did hit a wall by my second day in the hospital: too many visitors, not enough sleep, a whole new range of hormones and sensory things to process. If anyone else out there is a first-time mom with autism and googling stories to find out how things go, my advice to you is this: Don’t let your visitors stay longer than a couple of hours each day. I let mine hang around all day and wasn’t sleeping during the day, and then also wasn’t sleeping at night, and that’s what did me in mentally.
So, that’s my birth story. I have to say that it is still really hard to believe I had my baby inside me. I felt so disconnected from pregnancy. I’ve also had to worry about developing post-partum depression since I experienced pre-partum. I’m happy to state that I feel more like myself now than I have since before being pregnant. I’m exhausted, and I cry a lot over all kinds of things (because of hormones), but I’m in a much better mental state than I was during pregnancy. It feels good to be me, and now I can be a proud mom because all I want to do is share photos of how cute my baby is and have everyone meet him. I can’t wait to show him off to everyone and have visitors so I can show everyone the thing I made.
Now that I’ve told the world I am autistic, explained why I had a c-section, talked about the birth, and told you I am in love with my kid I’ll just end this with a few photos. I hope talking about autism is something I can do more of here. As always, I hope that by sharing my experience it can help others too.
All the lovely hospital photos by my best friend, Katy Davis. The at-home ones are by me.