My first son was frequently called a “perfect baby”. Within a couple of months, he’d sleep a good eight hours in a row at night. He had many long day naps as he got older, and wouldn’t wake easily. He was quite passive; he wouldn’t crawl around to explore his environment even though he’d learnt the skill. You could place him down somewhere and he’d pretty much stay there, though he preferred to stay in his car seat than be held or put on the floor – all the easier, right..? So easy to care for, so placid, so quiet. What a lucky mummy.
Well guess what; babies are meant to be hard work. They are meant to make your days and nights difficult, sleepless and noisy, with their desire to be up and experiencing everything and be a part of it all. I would have swapped that early “easy” stage for all the normal difficulties in a heart-beat. Because the ease of those early times were a sign that something was very wrong – that our lives would gradually turn into an incomprehensible nightmare .
Those who were praising me for being such a natural parent and cracking the sleeping routine so fast, should have been raising an eyebrow and raising some questions about my child’s behaviour (or lack of behaviour) instead. It was all the more confusing and cruel then as I moved from being called a wonderful natural mother, to a negligent sub-standard one, as my son’s developmental issues started to emerge. Those around us should have realised the possibility that the cause was inherent to my son, instead of variously blaming or praising my mothering skills for his unusual behaviours from such a young age. I relied on the expertise and experience of other people, letting it drown out that nagging motherly instinct that told me something simply wasn’t right here.
I love my autistic son without reservation, but autism is not something beautiful or wonderful, it is a cruel curse that can show signs from early in a baby’s life (some instances of autism do appear later in a child’s life, usually because of a known genetic condition which we don’t suffer from as a family, I’ll be discussing this in a future post). The differences from a “normal” baby, are astoundingly obvious now that I have had a second son. My husband and I have weekly, and sometimes daily, “eureka” moments as we watch our second son grow up (and he’s not even a year old yet); we frequently say to each other “so that’s what a baby is meant to do!”. We are often worn-out by what our second son puts us through, but we also get all the laughter and satisfaction and triumphs that we missed out on with our autistic son as a baby. Milestones that are natural and easy progressions for my second born, are hard-fought achievements that have taken years for my first-born – some things my eleven month old has mastered, are still difficulties for my five-year old.
So each night that I lose sleep to suit my baby’s needs, the days I spend running after his non-stop crawling and exploring antics, I remind myself to smile through my exhaustion; because this is the beautiful price I am paying for a child without autism.