Being pregnant is both challenging and rewarding for any woman. Everyone will have their own experiences. As my due date approaches this month, I wanted to devote a blog post to exploring some of the specific ways that I have found pregnancy and autism to interact, for me personally.
The Mask Simply Falls Off
First, the physical strain and pure sensory overload that accompanies the full-body changes happening during pregnancy have rendered me much, much less capable of maintaining my usual “mask” for interfacing with a neurotypical environment. Any pregnant woman may be tired, anxious, irritable, (glowing =D), etc. I have been those things, but I have also been simply unable to spend the extra energy that I would normally do on an almost unconscious level, in order to present “normally.”
This lack of leftover energy to put into masking results in many small quirks that seem to have been exacerbated while I have been pregnant. For one, I am much less tolerant of misinformation.
For example, I have found myself less understanding that when my husband says he is going to lay down for 5 minutes, he doesn't actually mean “5 minutes,” he means “until he gets up again,” which could be anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour. !?!? How am I supposed to prepare myself for what I need to do in his absence if I think he’s going to be gone for 5 minutes and it turns out to be 60 minutes (an 1,100% increase!!!)?? (Love you, Husband. =D You are allowed to use NT speak for “as long as I need.”)
Or or at work, I have found myself losing my cool when a colleague says, “Yes, that number encompasses all of our clients.” And I say, “Including the ones in New Jersey?” And they say, “Oh, no. I didn’t know you wanted to count them, too.” (O_o I said “ALL” of our clients...)
Or at a restaurant, when I want to order something new, but the picture shows some mysterious kind of delicious-looking sauce drizzled all over the dish, and the description says nothing about any sauce, and I ask the waiter what kind of sauce comes on the dish, and he looks at me like I’m speaking in a foreign language. The picture and the words don’t match. How am I supposed to know what I’m eating??
Cut the Small Talk
While pregnancy consumes me (and makes me glow, yes, it does), I am less willing to put in the advance time to prepare for unpredictable or unstructured social interactions, resulting in more "awkward silences" or simply lack of interaction with colleagues in the shared pantry at work, or with parents of other kids at my son’s school.
I can feel people wondering why I am only half-heartedly laughing at their casual jokes and not reciprocating with happy banter. Instead I am smiling placidly and remaining silent when I know I should be asking them how their weekend went or something similarly proactive. But I just can‘t tear my brain away from the fact that a tiny human is kicking me from the inside, and my legs are screaming at me to sit back down, and I am going to have to walk all the way back to my desk in a minute...
Lastly (though by far not the last small quirk that has intensified for me at the intersection of pregnancy and autism, the last one I am going to explore here), I am quicker to be thrown off by small changes in my routine. This results in me forgetting important things more often (you might call it “pregnancy brain,” just imagine it x10 for someone with ASD who may rely on the routine in order to remember things in the first place).
This also results in an increased rigidity in my general behavior that can be most pronounced when I am parenting my toddler, who by his nature requires a significant amount of flexibility. If my routine coming home from work, for example, is slightly off or presents me with something I hadn‘t predicted or prepared for, I can find myself being significantly less willing to go along with innocent whims from my son that evening, who might randomly decide he wants to wear socks to bed that night (when he never does), or that he wants to eat breakfast food for dinner (why not? I love breakfast food, too! But right now, it hurts my brain too much...).
Having increased rigidity and decreased placidity of my brain also results in me being less tolerant of thinking about things in new ways. "This is how I've always done it, this is how I'm going to do it now. Don't teach me a new way to do it, no matter how much more efficient it might be." Usually, logic will win out for me on these occasions, and I will proactively learn new ways of thinking in order to increase overall efficiency. But now, with my body in constant state of overload, my brain screams for sameness, familiarity, and quiet. "Taking the road less traveled by" will have to wait for another day.