Autism, and brining baby no 2 home….
That picture was taken the day after Fern was born. Fraser was, of course, the first to meet her. Which makes sense. Family (immediate) first was always what we had planned. And that’s where it ended, our planning I mean.
We didn’t do a postpartum plan, or hire a doula, or anything to prepare us for what was to come. They say going from 1 to 2 is the steepest jump. The hardest adjustment. And Jesus, did we feel that. Our journey won’t be the same as yours, because we had a different one with different blocks.
What I wanted every time someone came round, was to be comforted, told that everything would be fine. But never really was. You see, Fern cried, and Fraser cried, and I mean really cried. Fraser used to say really really sad things like ‘I just don’t want to be here anymore’ which coming from a 2.5 year old is a slug in heart. He used to hide. He used to cry, he used to refuse to eat. It was radical. And I had no idea if it was normal or if I had ruined his life. I’m sure if you asked us both at the time, we would both have said yes. Grant and I ruined his life.
Our story was never going to be the same. Because after my second child was born, I took her home to my first child, the one we didn’t know was autistic. We thought he could be, but nothing cemented it like that did.
I told my health visitor when I was pregnant with Fern, that I thought he could be, and she said (rightly so) that me being pregnant was excellent news, because she would see Fraser with huge amounts of regularity and be able to see him through the transition from one to two. And that it would be such a helpful way to observe what was happening. And she was right.
I never really discuss Fraser and autism, because it’s his, not mine. But sometimes there isn’t a line, and his lived experiences and mine cross over. So I want to make it super clear that that’s all this account is, it’s just the crossing of the stories.
But I never considered that difficulty that I would have presented him with, or that I had presented myself with, or anyone in fact. And while I wouldn’t change what’s here and now, there is a lot I would change about how I got here.
If we go back a bit, to before I was even pregnant, Grant and I had observed Fraser doing things that weren’t what we expected. Verbally, he was MILES ahead, and I mean, miles, saying full sentences at one, amazing the health visitor with words like crocodile. He would memorise entire tv shows and books. He flapped his hands a LOT. He didn’t make eye contact with strangers (but then, who actually does want to do that??) and he didn’t eat anything wet.
That unhelpful comment ‘he won’t starve himself’ would ring in my fucking ears as I cried about food that my kid wouldn’t eat. Meals he refused because he wasn’t given enough warning they were ready. Meals he refused to eat because he touched something and it was too hot. I have since found out, that that saying, if your child is autistic is fucking nonsense. And that sensory processing disorder is real, valid, and that he deserves to eat all the things he wants. There is no point in making him sad by forcing him to try anything. That’s not how this works.
The language, the pre verbal stuff I was also unprepared for. I’ve since found out that way of communicating is called scripting. And it’s something that’s hugely common in autistic children. And it was, in the early years, Fraser’s main method of communicating with us. So what was happening when he said ‘ I just don’t want to be here any more’ was that he was quoting an exact scene from Llama Llama, where he is at a supermarket and is just so over it that he chucks all his mums shopping out the trolley. Fraser didn’t not want to be with us, he just didn’t want to be in this situation anymore. And thank fuck for that because I could still cry thinking about him saying those words to me. I don’t think anything has ever hit me as hard as that.
The crying. Ohhh the crying. Crying is consistent with Fraser’s meltdowns. Meltdowns are not tantrums. And I want to be so very clear about that. There is a huge distinction. A tantrum is a choice. A tantrum has an end goal. The tantrum being the thing that is tried in order to reach that goal. A meltdown is involuntary response to over stimulation. Fraser is a crier. His meltdowns are tears. And huge big uncontrollable emotions. His tantrums are small tatties compared to them.
When Fern cried, and don’t get me wrong, he understood, he used to repeat it to himself ‘babies cry when they want something, they cry because they don’t have any words to tell us’ and I’m not even exaggerating when I say that. That’s what we said to him and he repeated it every time she cried, moments before he too would start roaring and greeting. But understanding doesn’t stop the noise from physically hurting does it? He soon after this got to a point that he could say ‘it’s cutting my brian’ when she cried. And we got him noise cancelling ear defenders. And what a revelation. He does sometimes tell her she is cutting his brain with certain noises even now.
We used to have to bundle him out of the room when she started. And what made it even harder was that she cried for breast. But in the time it took her to latch on I would then have another melting down child to comfort. Not that there was much you could do. Just wait for it to pass. And not flip out yourself. Which is easy to say now. Trust me there are many many times I flipped out because I was also so overwhelmed. Which of course just added to my guilt.
By the time Fern was 3 months old, the heath visitor had come, to see her and to tell me that she was referring Fraser for an autism assessment. And I was so fucking relieved I could have kissed her. THANK FUCK. Thank fuck someone else sees it. Thank fuck. We had already made moves. I was already DEEP into Facebook groups and all kinds of internet reading. On why Fraser did certain things. How I could support him, what I shouldn’t and should try to do. I found groups run by autistic adults, and thats been my go to ever since. There is ZERO point on taking the advice of a neurotypical person about why my autistic son is behaving a certain way. At all.
But nothing had prepared me for being home baby no 2. Nothing had prepared me for the series of events that it triggered. I don’t for a second believe that Fraser would have been diagnosed by now. He got his official diagnosis when he was 4.5, right before he started school. There is no doubt in my mind that I would still, today be arguing with CAHMS and SaLT, trying to get someone to believe me. Trying to get him some extra support.
So while I might have for a very small portion of his life ruined it in that moment by bringing a sensory overload of a human into his life. I think might have unknowingly, also have done him a solid.
Because now. Now I think it’s safe to say that he and his sister get on amazingly well. She is patient with him, and kind to him, and she loves him so fiercely that sometimes he has to ask for room the breathe. He has taught her that everyone is different. That you have to wait for people to finish talking (because if you are him, you are gonna go right back to the start because you can stop half way and be expected to pick up where you left off), he has taught her to be kind and patient. They are an excellent match, and I’m fucking buzzing that
I made them.
And I’m proud of how well we have moved through that time. Because it was hard. And it was trying. And Fraser won’t remember it well at all, but I will. That sticks with me like it was yesterday. The mistakes I made. The things I tried to force because society says so.
The day I was told he was being referred I fucked the whole rule book out the window. And it’s the best thing I ever did. I don’t give a shit how much screen time they have, Fraser uses that to self regulate. I don’t enforce food that no one will eat, because there is no point. I make what everyone likes and now and again someone surprises me with trying something new. And that’s cool. Yeah. I do quite often make 3 different meals. But that’s what they need. And I do quite often forget that Fern isn’t autistic and will try new things, so I have to share my tea with her, but that’s ok. Because I’m still learning.
We always talk about how society isn’t set up to support new parents, and I know that, possibly a little sharper than most of my peers. Because no one should have to bring a baby home and just struggle on with their second. And yet somehow we all do. And we are never gentle with ourselves or our children.
They say killing bad Behavior with kindness is a good method for helping to your first born having a sibling. And I honestly can’t agree more. Showing kindness and understanding is the best way. The only way. But it’s also fucking hard 4 meltdowns in and trying to get breastfeeding right.
And if it takes me sharing this story, for just one other parent to feel like they can give themselves a pass for the day, to forgive themselves for yelling or crying in front of everyone or physically needing to be away from their entire family for an hour then it was worth it. Because I have done, and probably will continue to do all of that.
Our stories might not be the same, but there is no doubt they will have crossed over at points. Or even the very nature of how hard we each found it will resonate. It is ok to question yourself. It is ok to feel like you made an error. It is ok to wonder if you should have even had another child. It is ok to be scared. It is ok to feel like you could exit your home and not return. It’s all ok. You might feel all and every one of those things at any given point. And that doesn’t make you a bad person. That doesn’t mean you love less. Or that you are mentally ill. It means you are struggling in that moment. And struggling in that moment is ok. If we give ourselves permission to not be ok, then we might actually be nicer to ourselves. We might actually show ourselves a wee bit of kindness, or our partners a wee bit of kindness, because there is no doubt that the things that ran through my head went through my husbands head. Because how could they not. And even when I thought the worst things, they were fleeting.
I think when I give postpartum support to people, I come from a place of genuine understanding of how hard it can be second time around. And I thought that sharing my story might help. It might sound like your experience. And it’s always nice to have someone that you can relate to. Or someone that’s like you, even a wee bit.