My fear of becoming a parent.
In my fourth blog post, I'd like to talk a little about the Dad side of me. I have two children. Martha is my eldest child, aged 5. She has started school this year and is wild, strong and has the kindest heart. Benjamin is my youngest child, aged 1. Although he's 2 next month. He's a while off school (he'll start in 2019) and he's affectionate, warm, loud and a very playful little boy. They both adore bouncing. They have a variety of nicknames. Martha will often be referred to as Moo or Martha Moo and its many derivatives. Moodle, Mootown etc. Benjamin gets an even wider array of alternative names. Ben, Benny and Benji are the most widely used but he also gets Flop, Benflop and Mr Mop to name a few. They are the best contribution I'll ever make to this world. They are my little bears and I love them totally. I'll often talk about these two as they make up a huge part of my life and current daily routine.
However, the title is quite specific today, so onwards. I discovered I was going to become a Father in early January 2011. It wasn't completely unexpected by any means but the first time around always comes as a complete shock anyway. I was very happy about this turn of events. There is no good time in my industry to have a baby. In my opinion, that can easily be the case in many other walks of the professional world. It is very easy to put it off in order to achieve a career goal or personal aim. My wife and I had talked about this very subject occasionally throughout our relationship and had both concluded the same. So although we never actively "tried" to have children, we didn't actively "not try" either. (That's as gross as this blog gets by the way.)
Onwards. A considerable amount happened in-between finding out about my impending fatherhood and the birth of Martha. Not just in terms of events, work and the like, but in my mind. I distinctly remember thinking at the time that I should write some of these thoughts down, but didn't. My memory is pretty good though. At the time of finding out the news, my wife and I were staying with my in-laws. My wife had been working nearby and she had set up camp with her folks. I visited, rather than staying too, as I still was touting for work based out of our little London flat. When I was told, I was immediately delighted. It was good that a child was on its way. Everything worked, others aren't so lucky. Extending our family was the next logical course of action. My wife was meant to be a mother. My wife's maternal instincts still confound me to this day. It's like she can read their minds, or predict what's about to happen.
The feeling of joy did not subside for a long while. A good few weeks. It was so far away, the impending change didn't bother me. I could gear up to cope with the change. I mean, for me at least, it was a mental change anyway. My body didn't have to change. I wasn't going to physically give birth or grow another being inside me. Upon our decamp from my in-laws and our move back home to the small flat in London which we shared with a close personal friend, things started to change in my head. Three things particularly worried me.
1. My wife was meant to be a mother, but was I meant to be a father?
2. How would I develop any attachment to a bump. My journey was to be a logical, practical mental journey. Not a physical one.
3. Would my child be worse off because of my AS and the potential of passing that onto my then unborn child.
I'll deal with these one by one.
1. "My wife was meant to be a mother, but was I meant to be a father?
My life to this point had had its bumps and challenges and problems both little and big. Like most people. Yet, I'd managed to come through all challenges, loved, supported, married, working (in the most part) and positive. I had learned coping strategies for daily existence. I had managed to pass by undetected among the "normal" people most of the time.
For the record, I've never actively hidden my AS diagnosis from anyone. I was diagnosed at the age of 12 (my 12th birthday to be exact) after a misdiagnosis two years earlier of dyslexia. It's never been a secret. Especially at school. Some teachers felt the need to tell the other pupils about my condition whilst I asked to leave the classroom so as not to be embarrassed. However, it's never been common knowledge either. Until now. Well done me. I'd talk about it with people I thought it necessary to talk to about it with. Sometimes I'd just talk about it with people who I was becoming friends with. But on the whole, I've not openly talked about my Aspergers. It's my information to share. I'll do another blog on "Why?' at another point.
So, back to it. I asked myself how I'd gotten to this point in my life so relatively unscathed. I'd managed the journey as a result of those closest to me. My parents and sister particularly must take the most credit. Some aunties and uncles also. A Nana (sadly departed now) who loved all her grandchildren unconditionally. They were all there from the off. Numerous members of staff at the school I attended. Two in particular along with some choice school friends who I really don't see enough of any more, along with my family, saw me through the toughest years of all. And picking up the baton in the more recent years were my dear college friends and of course my darling friend, girlfriend and eventually, Wife. I didn't really think I could take any credit for getting through life to that point. I had gotten through on the wings of other people. More under the wings of most of them really.
I'd have to find a way of feeling worthy to become a Dad. I don't think I ever did in the lead up to Martha being born. I always felt unworthy, unready and like I was going to fail whoever was born.
2. "How would I develop any attachment to a bump. My journey was to be a logical, practical mental journey. Not a physical one."
There was nothing I could do about the perfectly natural difference between the pre-natal parenthood experience for men and women. It's something I think everyone could do well to understand. From a male point of view, there is no physical change, only a mental one. It's the only parenting advice I've ever given to anyone. You'll never be able to be physically prepared as a male. Only mentally. Prepare the best you can. Be aware of the shock to the system. There is however, opportunity to become physically connected.
The very first time I had that experience was completely bizarre. It was the clearest and most pure feeling I'd ever had. It was simply magic. I'd been given the morning off work to go to the very first scan. Martha is not camera shy at all. Even in utero, she found the lens. There she was. Well, there it was. We chose never to find out the gender of either of our children. But it was a baby. It was our baby. It was my baby. I was very light headed, extremely emotional and very disorientated. It made me feel like it was real. Like I was involved. I found other ways of connecting throughout the pregnancy. Eventually. My wife always asked me to sing to the bump. The bump loved it. I was always embarrassed and usually tried to get out of it. After all, I had that scan photo. Now I really felt like I was going to fail. And I had a picture of who I was going to let down.
3. "Would my child be worse off because of my AS and the potential of passing that onto my then unborn child."
I know this has lots of moral implications. I want to take this purely from my view point at the time. It was a thought I had. It is perfectly natural for a parent in my view to want the best for their children. As much as I say that AS has helped make me who I am, it is still a struggle. It really has made me the man I am today. I can't imaging my life without AS. The experiences I've had both good and bad as a result of it and the people I've met through my life are essential to who I am as a person. But, over the years, there have been many times that I wish I was "normal". Yeah, I know. What is normal? Please take this as it's intended. When considering this issue at the time, I was wishing an easier life on my unborn child. One without coping strategies. One without not understanding what those nearest to you need. And I felt really guilty for those feelings. Like I was criticising myself and others like me. There were times when I was convinced that it was a total mistake to become a father. Knowing all the risks and still having a baby felt selfish and irresponsible. I was convinced that I would create a life that was already on the back foot from the moment it was born and then proceed to let it down further by being a useless Dad.
Happily, I got through this though. And it was my
analytical mind that got me there. Follow my logic.
There was no way I could let this child down. The lesson I chose to take from having help to get through my life was wrong. I got that help because the people who helped me loved me. Or at least believed in me. They wanted me to succeed. So I succeeded. With their support. The feelings of failure at seeing the first scan photo were completely unwarranted. Without meaning to sound cocky, that photo wasn't possible without my input. I had achieved life. My wife took it all a massive leap further by growing our child but without my involvement and our love, there was no child. (No more grossness, I promise). The last hurdle was the easiest to leap to be honest. Sure life has been more of a struggle with AS. Of course it has. Every "disability" whether it be physical or mental comes with its own set of challenges. But it also becomes part of who you are. For me, AS is a badge of honour and I wear it with pride. It's nothing to be ashamed of and it doesn't define me. It's just part of who I am. If I were to pass it on to my child, so be it. It would not diminish my love for that child. It would not stop me from trying to give that child the best possible start in life and continuing support throughout their life until the day I die. I also concluded that if they were to be on the Spectrum, who better to help them cope than someone with an idea as to what the Spectrum is?
I figured this out all by myself over the course of the nine months. Using who I was and what I'd experienced as a template. With some frequent kind words and reassurance from my wife. Martha was born. I didn't need to worry. I love her utterly. And she loves me. "I love you to the world and back Daddy" (I don't have the heart to tell her that that isn't that far as we are already on the world where we stand. I know what she means though). If she's on the Spectrum, and she might be, it doesn't matter to me one bit. She's perfect. And now she's five. But that fact is a whole other blog post.