Sam's story inspired us a lot. You'll find her on Instagram @yosamdysam and YouTube, where you can find her story from beginning to now in her own words. They are quite the words, and I'm thrilled to be able to share her story with you today.
Neurodivergent traits affect so many of us through personal experiences or through people around us. It's a good idea to remember, like with any situation really, that pregnancy and motherhood looks different for everyone. Saying that, what helps a pregnant woman or a new mum has so much to do with how she is experiencing the world around and inside herself. Ask your neurodivergent friend out for coffee, or invite them over if you know they don't like the hustle and bustle of big groups and coffee shops - it's the small things.
I'm delighted to hear about Sam's nursing journey and how pumping has made her life easier as well - with the Lola&Lykke Smart Electric Breast Pump no less. And lastly, a customary notice that Sam did purchase the pump herself well before we spoke about this short mum-story with her!
Allow me to introduce you to Sam.
Your new baby only arrived a just a few short months ago – congratulations! I hope everything went smoothly? What has your recovery and adjustment looked like?
Thank you! I think that everything went as smoothly as childbirth ever can, having a VBAC (vaginal birth after Caesarean) definitely allowed me a much swifter physical recovery than the c-section I had for my first child. In some ways I am glad that I got to experience birth in this way - but also glad that I can choose to never do it again!
Were there other experiences where you may have been on a different page to a neurotypical nurse or midwife for example, or did you have a respectful and helpful midwifery team?
I live in the Netherlands where a previous c-section will put you on a medically assisted birth by default. However, I had a midwife team alongside me who were a huge help with regards to my needs. They helped me find a consultant at a hospital who specialises in “customised birth plans” and with some psychiatry and mental health speciality, and she seemed to really understand why I needed the things I asked for.
In my previous pregnancy I felt pushed around by arrogant healthcare professionals, and of course I didn’t have my autism diagnosis then, so I didn’t really have the confidence to say, “Actually, I need this”.This time round, having that official diagnosis, actually really helped me communicate my needs more effectively.
I understand you have an older son as well – were the pregnancies and subsequent recovery similar or have you noticed massive differences? Somewhere you mentioned worsening ADHD symptoms – do you want to share what those may have been for you?
My two pregnancies were quite different but neither one of them was really much fun for me. During my first pregnancy I experienced prenatal depression and withdrew into myself. I got labyrinthitis during my second trimester which was probably the worst experience of my life. My son was born very small, and slightly early at 36 weeks. However I found that even the day after my c-section I felt back to my normal self again.
My second pregnancy was absolutely fine from a medical point of view, but from a sensory perspective I was miserable. I put on more weight and my joints hurt. I had terrible morning sickness. My skin felt like it was crawling. And being very sensitive to the things going on inside me, of course I could feel every movement that the baby made.
In both pregnancies I had worsening ADHD symptoms. Of course the first time round I just assumed this was some sort of “baby brain” - a normal and expected part of pregnancy. I would do things like leave the taps on in the bathroom and then go about my day thinking “is someone doing some watering outside?” because I could hear water. I had dreadful insomnia and would be lying in bed at 3am with my mind racing - not anxious thoughts, just as if my whole brain was lit up like a Christmas tree.
I think you can tell I really didn’t enjoy being pregnant!
You were diagnosed with autism and ADHD as an adult, and you have shared your story on social media and YouTube. I wonder, how (and if?) becoming a mum has changed your life, your perspectives, or has it changed very little?
A few months into having my son, I started feeling the intense impact and mental load of being a parent. The additional demands of raising a child meant that I couldn’t mask anymore, I couldn’t compensate (especially socially) like I had taught myself to do. I was struggling to do things as normal.
In that way, motherhood has changed everything, because without this additional stress I would never have recognised myself without all the layers of obfuscation. It is only through getting my autism diagnosis that I am finally starting to learn who I really am, outside of the person constructed to be acceptable to society.
Even though in my opinion there is a lot more societal stigma for autism than for ADHD, my ADHD traits are the ones I’m really ashamed of. I have not received an official diagnosis yet, because honestly I am worried they will tell me “you don’t have ADHD, you’re just lazy” or something to that effect, but I recognise the ADHD in myself so much these days, because I know what I’m looking for past the stereotypes.
Did getting a diagnosis scare you – or was it a relief? And furthermore from that (this is very personal, so please don’t answer if you don’t want to), was it ever a cause for concern to you that your children may develop neurodivergent traits? Or did you ever even think on it?
It was a relief, yes, to finally have a word for who and what I am, and have been my entire life. People often ask why you want to label yourself, and I say that I want to be able to explain to people why I am the way I am. It’s that simple really.
By the time my husband had been diagnosed with ADHD and I had my autism diagnosis, it was too late to worry about our child! I’m not sure that it was a big concern - after all, our parents managed with us! But if I’d been diagnosed earlier, maybe I would have worried more about whether I could cope with being an autistic mother when you don’t really have a lot of role models out there. Luckily that is now changing with the advent of social media etc.
I always wonder about people’s first interaction with nursing. We celebrated Breastfeeding Month in August, so I’d love to hear about what you thought of breastfeeding before you ever became a mum? Did you ever think about it, or have opinions about it?
I always had a positive opinion of breastfeeding and wanted to do it with my children. My son had a tongue tie that wasn’t identified until 5 weeks in, which caused a lot of difficulties in those early weeks. Because I was really determined to do it, I pushed through, but I’m glad I did because I ended up breastfeeding him for 18 months. I really felt like I could have done with more breastfeeding support.
I’d love to hear more about your experiences as a mum of two with an autism diagnosis. You mentioned somewhere how breastfeeding was an experience for you, due to sensory overstimulation. How did that go? Were you ever feeling down about the experience, and did you learn any techniques or hacks to help yourself cope with it?
I think that breastfeeding a newborn in particular is definitely overstimulating. I’m currently dealing with a 9 week old who is teething - yes, TEETHING (currently two incisors have appeared and 3 other teeth seem to be on their way). I’m having to give myself a lot of grace as a parent right now.
I know skin to skin is recommended everywhere, but the additional sensory burden of sweaty/milky skin, scratchy newborn nails flailing around - I’ve had to wear mostly nursing tops that cover as much skin as possible to help me with this.
The thing about sensory overload - for me certainly - is that it builds up in layers. It’s not usually a question of any one sensation being too much, but is related to all kinds of things - how did I sleep the previous night? Has there been a lot of noise that day? Am I in pain? Things that on their own are bearable become too much very quickly, especially when you factor in a baby that needs to be fed several times a day.
You bought our breast pump yourself, actually. I think our mums would love to hear about your journey with pumping. How did you find the Smart Electric Breast Pump – from how you actually found us to your user experience?
I think I was introduced to the pump through a blog when I was looking for something modern that didn’t make a load of noise. I really love the design and functionality - and no, I’m not being paid for this haha - but especially with my daughter teething so ridiculously early, I have been so grateful for the pump. Right now I am somewhat resigned to pumping almost exclusively (for now) because her mouth is hurting so much that she can’t make a good latch. It’s a bit upsetting not being able to feed without her screaming at me, but at least I’ve got some great use out of the pump.
And the teeth coming through now means that later on should be easier, right? (RIGHT?)
I really appreciate the silicone breast shield (I think that’s what it’s called?) which is much more comfortable than other pumps which have a hard plastic version. Overall, I would highly recommend to anyone - I just wish there was a double version with the amount I’m currently pumping!
Lastly, would you have any advice or food for thought for autistic mums? What about neurotypical people who could maybe use a few insights on how to make an ADHD/autism mum’s life a little easier?
Becoming a parent has made me a lot better at identifying and prioritising my needs. For example, I NEED time to myself when I’m overstimulated, my body is in a state that other people don’t get, so I can’t compare myself to neurotypical mums.
Self-care is so much more than a trendy buzzword, I like to think of it as “putting on my mask before I help others with theirs”. If I’m tired, frazzled, overstimulated or in pain, I can’t parent effectively, so the most important thing is making sure my needs are met.
Neurodivergent parents in general are great problem solvers (and can be fantastic parents), but live in a near constant state of burnout and overwhelm. I guess what neurotypical people can do is understand that, and get to know our particular needs and triggers. For example, I struggle when there are a lot of (other people’s) kids around, so I’d rather meet up with maybe just one other mum and their child instead of attending busy playgroups. It can be isolating when you want to socialise and make connections with other parents but the environments you find yourself in are not accessible to you.