I became a mother not knowing I was autistic. Surprisingly, it was the first time I was truly aware of how different I am to neurotypical women.
In my 20s, I moved cities and left behind high-school friendships. I made choices to work and build friendships in social justice communities. By day I could work with passionate people who shared my interests, and in the evening I could come home to my partner (also an autistic woman) who respected my needs for downtime.
We bought a house, got a puppy, and then I was pregnant. We had a beautiful child. I was on maternity leave. Those early days were so achingly beautiful, and so damn hard.
I was lonely. Oh my gosh I was lonely. And lost.
My love for my work and my friendships based on work interests were gone. My days were filled with parenting tasks that put pressure on my executive functioning on a backdrop of sleep deprivation.
I met a neighbour who had a baby too, and she liked to talk about our babies. Sleep. Feeding. Milestones. I figured out that if we talked about these things, we could connect. She introduced me to her network of friends. For a while I thought had a group of girlfriends, (which I hadn’t had since school). We went for coffee. Afternoon walks with our babies.
I was keeping up. Or so I thought. I didn’t go shopping with them, or get invited out to girls dinners. But I was their queer friend after all, and as long as I could talk babies, houses, schools, and other nice suburban things, I was fitting in.
I realised there was an unspoken rule that I shouldn’t talk about politics, refugees, homelessness policy, or any of my other social justice interests (or anything deep for that matter). But fuck it. I had girlfriends and that was the price to pay. Maybe they all felt the same too, and were dying inside. I have no idea… Because we kept it nice.
Suddenly, one day when our babies had passed their first birthday, our friendship ended. It ended because of a misunderstanding. I didn’t see it coming and I didn’t know how to fix it. What really devastated me was that I also instantly lost the whole group of friends she had introduced me to. Most of my support network of mothers.
I was lost again. I had no idea what had happened. I had no idea how these friendships had failed. Had I failed?
A few friends remained but despite their kindness, I retreated and decided ‘friendships with women are too hard’. Feeling the pain of losing another group of friends and not understanding why, I also decided ‘I am a bad friend. Other mothers do not like me’.
Time passed. We had two more babies. I went back to work and reconnected with what brought me joy. I still thought I couldn’t do mother-friendships
Then I learned I am autistic. Understanding autistic ways of being and relating completely changed my beliefs about friendships with women.
Reaching out across the internet, I met other autistic mothers and nonbinary parents. We chatted online through facebook groups and private messages. They shared their struggles with friendships, and how they also felt out of sync with girls and women as they grew up. They didn’t expect to meet up with me in person. In fact, most of these new friends lived on the other side of the world. We could talk serious talk, and special interests, and make dark jokes, and ask questions of each other about parenting.
Maybe, just maybe, I didn’t suck at being a woman and a mother? Maybe I could have friends? Maybe other mothers could like me?
My confidence grew a little. I began to understand that there are other ways to be a friend and to be supported in motherhood. I started to be more authentic with parents I met through my children. I told them I’m autistic. It felt good to be me.
Today, I am discovering how to be a friend without neurotypical social norms of friendship. To be OK with my preference for friendships based on shared projects or volunteer work. To be OK with my need for short periods of connecting with friends followed by long months of hibernation. To be OK with talking via messenger or facebook groups before I meet someone in person for the first time. To be OK with not having many friends outside of my family
The more I relate to women as my autistic self, the more I have been able to build friendships with people like myself. In being authentic, I am attracting other parents who don’t operate within the suffocating neurotypical and gender-norms of motherhood and mothers’ groups.
Passing as a neurotypical mother was shit. Finding neurotypical girlfriends within those suffocating norms was exhausting and heartbreaking.
I am unlearning a lot. But most of all, I am trusting that letting go of all those expectations doesn’t mean being alone in motherhood.
- For my friends and readers, I want to ackowledge nonbinary friends and parents who don’t identify as mothers, and so have used words like woman, friend, mother, and parent interchangeably.