Marriage is a funny concept when you stop to think about it. Strip away the legalities and the love, and you’re basically left with an agreement to spend the rest of your life desperately trying not to kill another human being. Perhaps that is why, traditionally, people get married before they have children. Perhaps it isn’t so much about religion and chastity, as about the chance to practise being legally bound to somebody that you genuinely might accidentally kill.
A day or two after Sawyer was born, a stark realisation washed over me: that what we had done could not be undone. Staring at his little face in the middle of the night, milk leaking from each of my nipples and deep grey puddles beneath each eye, I realised that Lloyd and I now had this inexplicable responsibility for the rest of our lives. And although that prospect terrified me to the core, I do also remember feeling a connection with Lloyd that was unlike any other I’d known. We were bound, truly, forever. Not by a verbal, or even written contract, but by shared love and protection of another human being. We were no longer her and him. We were Mum and Dad.
The early Sawyer days were both exhausting and exhilarating. We would go on long family walks pushing him in his pram, sit in pub gardens enjoying the sunshine, and have friends and family over to snuggle with him whilst we made dinner. He wasn’t a velcro-baby like his sister turned out to be 2 years later – he would happily kick about on his play mat for hours, giggling and cooing like a cartoon. Looking back, Lloyd and I were smug. Having our first baby had not put the immense strain on our relationship that you hear about so frequently before you have children – in fact the opposite had happened. We were stronger. Happier. Sawyer and I were lucky enough to spend a summer and a winter together before I went back to work in early 2011. As many of you will know from my earlier blogs, it was around that time that I started to notice some subtle differences in Sawyer’s behaviour, and it is at that point in our history that an invisible yet poignant line has been drawn. First there was a life before Autism, and then there was life after.
I don’t think the full pressure of parenthood really hit us until our daughter was born in December 2012. Sawyer was two and a half and the process of potty training had begun. Meanwhile, my beautiful newborn daughter would not sleep unless she was on my chest, and her greatest hobby throughout the day was screaming for her Mummy. She would not take a dummy, nor a bottle, and she would not go in to a pram. On top of those usual parenting issues, Sawyer, as we know, was incredibly hard work by that point. Suddenly and without warning, the relationship that Lloyd and I had been strengthening was put under intense strain as we muddled through in the dark, sleep deprived and stressed.
- Take one painfully tired female with leaking nipples and a sore vagina.
- Add one sleep-deprived male.
- Confine them to a bedroom for a few hours during the night
- Stir in one grizzling, moaning, sniffling, stirring, crying, coughing, screeching baby
- For maximum effect, serve alongside a hyperactive, autistic toddler.
I can’t speak for Lloyd, but it certainly took me a good few months to stop wanting to rip his face off when he
swanned cycled off to work at 8.30 each morning.
I suppose all parents go through the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with the changing dynamics of a growing family. I certainly don’t wish to downplay anyone else’s parenting experiences (unless you’re going to tell me you found it easy, in which case you’re simply not welcome here). But I will admit that the added stress of knowing something wasn’t ‘normal’ about Sawyer, and the constant underlying burden of needing to find out what, was something I hadn’t been prepared for. I’m not sure anyone could be. That said, there are many issues that parents face that we have been lucky enough to avoid. I never had postnatal depression, for example. I didn’t have any major complications during their births. Lloyd, despite his insistence on BREATHING at 3am each morning, was, and still is, a very good and hands-on dad. There are couples, and single parents (shout out to you), who go through far more traumatic experiences than we did, and I will always be glad that the affliction Sawyer was dealt with is autism and not something more sinister. My son will be fine, and others are sadly not so lucky. What parenting an autistic child has taught me is that we parents could all stand to be a little kinder to each other, since nobody truly knows what is going on behind closed doors. Do I have a hard time of being a mother of autism? Yes I do. But would it be fair to assume I’m having a harder time that any other parent? Would it fuck.
Our children have now grown that little bit older, and the tensions in mine and Lloyd’s relationship have lessened considerably. Eventually Piper learned to sleep, which gave us back those crucial few hours rest each night, and although we will never have that same respite from autism, we have learned to fit it in to our daily lives, and in to our marriage. It would be a lie to say that Sawyer’s additional needs haven’t been a source of conflict in our relationship, and an even bigger lie to say they never will be again – but like all parents, we make the best decisions we can at the time and we hope that we’re making the right ones. Nothing will test a relationship like having children, and for us autism is just part of that. As well as being married to each other, we are married to autism.
And some things will just never change.