When I was pregnant, our doula said the most lovely thing anyone has ever said to me about my Asperger’s. She said, “I think you having Asperger’s is going to be an advantage for you in this area.” I was touched, and I don’t think I will ever forget her words. Too often, discussions about Asperger’s focus on difference as a negative; challenges that need overcoming, or a problem that needs solving. Sometimes having Asperger’s is actually the solution rather than the problem, and for me, this is the case with mothering.
- I am comfortable breastfeeding anywhere
The advantages of breastfeeding are well-known. I am committed to breastfeeding, and I enjoy it (except when I get overstimulated). The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding until the child is 2 years old. So I figure, I might as well aim for that.
One of the impediments to breastfeeding is that our society is not breastfeeding friendly – or particularly baby-friendly, in general. I have spent time living in Arnhem Land, where babies are welcomed everywhere and there is no setting where it would be considered inappropriate to whip a boob out to feed the baby (or the six-year-old). It is an enviable environment in that regard*.
Of course, dominant culture is much less accepting of breastfeeding breasts than in Arnhem Land, but I will still breastfeed anywhere. Breastfeeding is not illegal, and if people have a problem with it then they are safely in the wrong.
I have yet to find a place where I’m not comfortable breastfeeding – socially at least (finding a place to breastfeed that is comfortable for my body is a little more tricky). I’m not self-conscious about breastfeeding because I don’t care about showing my boobs – I respect the social convention of covering them in order to get along in society, but I believe that breastfeeding gives me dispensation from that social convention.
I do make more of an effort to hide my nipple when breastfeeding in public, though. Again, it’s not because I care if people see my nipple, but because it’s not socially acceptable to leave my nipple hanging out while I burp my baby. This is actually way more difficult than it looks, and I resent when I have to focus on hiding my nipple before I can focus on looking after my child (see reason two as to how having Asperger’s helps me mother). I am aiming to care even less, to the point that I feel comfortable leaving the nipple out if the child takes priority.
If I were in Arnhem Land, though, I would probably be as free the Yolŋu women when it comes to showing nipples while breastfeeding.
- I am single-focussed
Sometimes when I am struggling with Asperger’s, I remind myself of the one big advantage of my brain: I have the ability to focus intensely on one thing for long periods of time. I bring this single-focus energy to mothering.
That might make it sound like I’m a helicopter mum, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What I mean is that I have the ability to put my child first, and not worry about other concerns. For example, if he is crying in public, I can put aside worries about what other people might think and focus on getting him what he needs. If I am folding washing and he starts demanding my attention, I can leave the washing and go straight to him. Looking after our son is always number one on my to-do list.
This focus also means I am getting to know him well. The Pilot and I are learning together his different cries, his hunger cues, his tiredness cues. We are memorising his little personality quirks, like his flair for drama and his quiet contentedness.
- I don’t mind doing things differently
Until today, The Pilot and I didn’t have a pram**. This decision originated with The Pilot, who spent his formative adult years in Arnhem Land, where everyone he knew carried their children – Yolŋu as well as non-Yolŋu. With few footpaths and many uneven surfaces, prams aren’t that practical in Arnhem Land anyway. For the last seven weeks of our baby’s life, we have been carrying him in various carriers.
Baby-wearing is very common with the mums I have met since having a baby, but I have never met a family (outside of Arnhem Land) who doesn’t own a pram. Our decision not to get a pram sparked several discussions with curious family members, and we were on the receiving end of a few comments about how we’ll succumb within weeks. But I don’t mind. Now that we have ‘succomed’, I’m sure we’ll get some smug smiles, but that doesn’t matter either.
We also use cloth nappies, which can be challenging, but as ardent environmentalists we never considered any other options. Again, there is a big cloth nappies culture (especially online), but 95% of Australian families use disposable nappies, so we are definitely doing things differently. The biggest challenge with using cloth nappies is the fact that it draws attention. People feel like they are being judged just by us making a different decision to them, and it is awkward to navigate socially. Worth it though.
*When I first lived in Arnhem Land in 2012, I came to the conclusion that I was in the rare demographic that wasn’t allowed to go around topless. Children can go around without shirts. Men certainly can. Women past child-bearing age can, especially on bush trips. And breastfeeding mothers were never required to make an attempt to hide their nipples. As a woman of child-bearing age who was not currently bearing children, I felt like I was the only person who had to wear a shirt. And that gave me the shits, because it was bloody hot!
**Last week I mentioned to The Pilot that it might be helpful to have a pram for walking local places. Today he bought a $1300 pram at the Green Shed for $20.