Autism, pregnancy loss, birth trauma, and postpartum depression
By Rachel

I am a woman with Asperger’s syndrome. I was diagnosed with before it was incorporated into the Autism spectrum. My journey to Motherhood has been affected heavily by that diagnosis.

I cannot recall a time where I didn’t want to become a mother. I also wanted to be a geologist, chemist, teacher, etc. but MOM was always on the list. My husband and I had been married for five years before we decided to try for a child. I had my geology/teaching degree and was teaching middle school. Life was amazing. My parents were moving away from my “hometown” which made me cry with happiness since where I grew up was horrible for my whole family.

Depression and anxiety has been my constant companion for most of my life. Change has never been easy. I have had full on panic attacks because the orientation of chairs in a classroom got changed from the way they had always been. How much more of a change is having a child that depends on you for everything?

Then, I had four miscarriages in a row. My start to motherhood was entirely pain and heartbreak. I was depressed. My favorite school administrator died and I attended her funeral amid a miscarriage. One of my 8th grade students fell pregnant and another one fatally shot another student accidentally. My body/brain/hormones were in turmoil. While trying to save a pregnancy, I had to get off of all my mood stabilizing medications that help me with the sensitivities I have from not being neurotypical. Then, I was finally able to keep a pregnancy. It was amazing. The doctor, not so much: I lost almost 30 pounds because of hyperemesis. But, I was so happy to be sick because it meant I could stay pregnant. My students saw me run to the sink to get sick. They saw me endlessly trying to sip at ginger ale. I wasn’t on my medications so stress caused pre-term labor and I was placed on bed rest right at the end of the school year; we bought a Netflix subscription that summer.  

When the time came to give birth to my daughter, it was stressful. My parents were half a world away when we thought I would have her. Then she didn’t come…and didn’t come. Pre-term labor ended in an overdue baby. My parents had to postpone their move (that they had already postponed for a month due to my baby girl coming). I felt like I was letting everyone down. The day finally arrived. She was coming. Then, the unexpected happened. I had to be transferred from a free-standing birth center to the hospital. She was stuck. She wouldn’t turn. She wouldn’t descend. I had been in active labor for 24 hours. The hospital gave me the epidural and let me rest for a couple of hours while they tried to turn her, to no avail. After three hours of constant pushing, she was finally born via forceps. 9 pounds, 19 inches, wrong position, but she was out.

Because of the relatively traumatic entrance into this world, she was taken to the nursery for testing. She was large and I didn’t have the healthiest of pregnancies. They wanted to make sure that she was okay. She spiked a fever and ended up being in the hospital for six days on antibiotics. She had a spinal tap and at least ten IVs. I was thrust head first into this crazy part of motherhood I never expected to go through. I had my mind prepared for something vastly different. I got through those first days purely on adrenaline.

When I got home, my mom stayed with us for a week. When the adrenaline and oxytocin crashed, I crashed. Waking up and caring for my baby was relatively easy. I was having great success breastfeeding. But at around 1 pm one day, the thought of bathing, feeding and getting her ready for bed pushed me into melt down mode. I didn’t want to have to go to sleep. What if something happened to her while she was sleeping and I lost her. Having lost five pregnancies, (one before officially trying) this was a huge fear. I cried. A lot. My mom got my daughter into the stroller and we took long walks in the park thinking fresh air and exercise might help. I had been cooped up in the hospital for a week. We tried that for two days. When it happened again, my mom asked if I thought it was more than just stress and if it might be postpartum depression. Knowing that I am prone to anxiety and depression because of my Asperger’s syndrome and being off my medication for a year, I knew I needed to see a doctor.

My faith in the medical system had failed me in many ways with the birth of my daughter. But, when I called them and said the words “for postpartum depression” they got me in within an hour. I was literally trying to get clothes on to get out the door as I was on the phone. They took it extremely seriously. The nurse was amazing and the doctor listened to everything. Talking with her about my prior medical history, as well as my desire to breastfeed, we settled on a medication proved to work for me that was also compatible with breastfeeding.

It was NOT an instant fix. It was NOT a total fix. My parents were still moving. Two days after beginning treatment for PPD, my mother had to leave. She was fearful for me but grateful my husband would be there.

Therein lay another stress trigger. My husband had graduated with his PhD in Chemistry three days before the birth of our daughter and was unemployed and job hunting across the country. I knew we would be moving “soon” as well. I still had a major fear of taking my daughter to the doctor thinking they might find another thing wrong with her and we would again be stuck in the hospital. I still cried at 1 pm every day for a month. There were days that the only thing I washed was my nipple for her to eat safely.

Depression and anxiety has been my constant companion for most of my life. Change has never been easy. I have had full on panic attacks because the orientation of chairs in a classroom got changed from the way they had always been. How much more of a change is having a child that depends on you for everything? I can’t even express the dichotomy of the pure joy of finally fulfilling my deepest desire to have a child paired with the complete and absolute fear of that child depending on you for everything when you are trying to figure out how to brush your own teeth and hair. It fell onto my husband to make sure I was taken care of while I tried to care for our child.  

The postpartum depression hit a new facet when we decided that I needed to go back to work. My husband had always wanted to be the breadwinner. He wanted to get his PhD, get a post-doctoral position and provide for his family. I always wanted to be a stay at home mother for at least a few years. Our dreams were yet again shattered. He got to experience being a stay at home dad. I got to experience what it meant to be a working/breastfeeding mother. As a substitute teacher, it is hard to figure out where to pump and then store your fresh milk. I still remember crying during a high school prep period I had while pumping in a car shop. I was teaching a shop class for a day. Our situation made the depression come back in a vengeance. Sometimes the depression is hormonal, sometimes it is situational. Sometimes it is a horrible mixture of everything. As the hormones situated themselves and the medication was in full potency, situational depression got better as well.

The fact that I had a job that I had to get up, get ready, go, and do was good for me. It at least meant my hair and teeth were brushed. It wasn’t easy. My husband almost got on medication himself because of the depression he fell into being unemployed. It eventually got better. I would say the depression lasted a good six months postpartum.

We were able to get through a heart defect/potential congestive heart failure/surgery/post op with our daughter. My fears of losing her almost happened. I got a call for a permanent teaching position offer as I was sitting next to my four-month-old in the ICU.

Honestly, if I had not listened to my mother to go to the doctor three days after coming home, I don’t know how I would have handled everything. My natural tendencies of anxiety and depression in addition to situational anxiety and hormonal crashes are a recipe for disaster. No matter what, becoming a mother is one of the biggest changes you can go through in your life.

I was lucky. I had my life partner by my side the entire time. I didn’t have to be home alone after a week or less. I had a mother that encouraged me to go to the doctor for medications. I had the knowledge of what medications worked for me. I had knowledge of strategies to get through life changes with my position on the autism spectrum. These collectively ensured my successful trek through what was my experience of postpartum depression.

I am the face of Autism. I am the face of pregnancy loss. I am the face of birth trauma. I am the face of postpartum Depression. I am the face of Motherhood. 

Think you or someone you know may be struggling with postpartum depression, anxiety, or another mental health disorder? Please contact your health provider including your OBGYN or family doctor. Need more information? Visit Postpartum Support International for great information on maternal mental health and more. If you fear you or someone you love may be contemplating suicide or facing a mental health emergency, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline and get to your nearest emergency room. Please consider buying a PPD Awareness t-shirt, all proceeds go to help mothers in need. Have questions or need support please join the discussion on Facebook

About the author: Rachel is a stay at home mother of two. She has a degree in teaching and is an avid crafter. She was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at an early age. Her experience with PPD was heavily influenced by her position on the Autism spectrum. Her story is an illustration of how motherhood does not always go as planned. However, her story of hope and perseverance shows us that we can struggle on, we can survive, and we can conquer.

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