I’m going to take you back 12 years to the summer of 1998, when Sampras won the men’s singles at Wimbledon and the weather was distinctively British – miserably grey and wet. It was also the year when autism entered my life in the shape of a twelve pound baby boy. “Twelve pounds?” I hear you gasp. Yes he was and before you ask, I delivered my son ‘almost’ naturally, ‘almost’ because I had to be induced because my son refused to be born. I often think how his refusal to co-operate continues to this day.
Before induction-day, I had tried everything the medics recommended – the curries, the raspberry leaf tea and ‘you know what’. Yep, the medical professional were advocating old wives tales rather than evidence-based science! One-up for womanhood, I say, but did it work? Well sorry ladies, it didn’t. It caused a lot of hilarity between me and my husband though and a lot of indigestion but still my child would not budge! So into the local labour ward I went, where I lay like a beached whale on a hospital bed in a little room smelling of disinfectant and deficient of natural light. There I lay, pumped with drugs and wired up to monitors across my bulging abdomen which was being continually thumped by the frantic movement of my baby. In comparison to my first pregnancy, this baby was very, very active, almost ‘hyperactive’, a word that was to haunt me in later years.
After several hours like this, watching my baby’s life being played out on the heart monitor, eating dairy milk and having inane conversations with my husband, my contractions began! Initially things progressed as they should but then as he started to make an appearance he got stuck by his shoulders (shoulder dystocia is the technical name apparently). I will spare you the details but suffice to say it is a very urgent situation which I now know can injure the baby in the form of nerve damage, arm and shoulder fractures or even oxygen starvation, brain injury and death. Fortunately I was not aware of this knowledge or the impending emergency being played out in the delivery suite. This was perhaps a good thing for if I had known that my baby was at risk of oxygen starvation, then I would no doubt have panicked and been unable to concentrate on the real job of delivering my son. Fortunately, with medical assistance and a lot of work on my part my son soon arrived in the world.
My baby son wasn’t well to start with. Nevertheless, after some minor treatment, my son soon found his lungs and screamed his way to his first feed – a bottle of formula given by his father for I was too unwell to feed him myself. He gulped the milk to the surprise of a cheery midwife who commented, “He’ll be needing a full English breakfast before long”. These were prophetic words indeed for feeding my son was to become a difficult process during infancy and into childhood. It is also ironic that bacon and sausages, whilst my son would grow to like them very much, would prove to be problematic foods for him. Still, at that moment we were a happy family, delighting in the arrival of a son and brother and enjoying the spectacle of his amazing birth weight with medical staff and visitors alike. Autism was a long way from our minds.
Nevertheless, you may wonder why I have written about my son’s birth 12 years ago and what relevance it has today. When a parent receives a diagnosis of a lifelong condition for their child, it is quite natural, I think, to look back and wonder how and why this happened. In relation to his birth, I sometimes ask myself, did a difficult birth cause him to become autistic or did his autism cause him to have a difficult birth? In the same way, I often reflect at the oddities of my son that singularly appeared normalish throughout his early childhood but when brought together presented a holistic picture of his autistic condition. As you will read, those oddities soon started to appear.