I gave birth to my son Louis when I was 20. I had Zeke just over 2 years later. Having children was brilliant for me, I love being a mum. We carried on doing the same things we did as teenagers but with 2 crazy boys hanging out with us too. We went out to eat, went to the cinema, took the kids on daytrips. I went to work half the week and their dad worked evenings and weekends. We were a team. I look back on those 3 years of being a family of 4 really fondly as it was a stress free relaxed time for us. I never really considered any of my parenting decisions. In fact, I wouldn’t even describe them as decisions. Everything in our family seemed to evolve to the next level effortlessly and organically. I didn’t particularly discuss motherhood with friends, preferring to catch up on the latest gossip or go to Topshop instead. They were really easy days. I hope we can guide our family back to those care-free times, but we are definitely in an alternate family universe right now.
I had fairly difficult, although contrasting births. Louis took 45 hours of labour, an epidural, hormone drip and a ventouse to finally evict him from my belly (he now tells me it was cos there was something good on the belly TV). Zeke was induced and flew out only 19 minutes later without so much as a paracetomol let alone gas & air. Once Zeke arrived, I felt that I was done with pregnancy and birth, it was just too scary! Only a few months later, I felt incredibly contented with multiple motherhood. It was a breeze compared with the uncertainty and shock of being a first time mother. I started to feel broody and since everything was so perfect, I didnt have much trouble in getting Alex along for the ride (so to speak!) in adding another member to our family team. Along the way we lost a baby, which only consolidated our resolve that having another kid was exactly what we wanted. I got pregnant again towards the end of 2007. Compared to my other pregnancies, this was notably plain-sailing. No pre-eclampsia, no hyperemesis. Just growing satisfyingly round and planning being a family of 5. I went 2 weeks overdue and at exactly 42 weeks pregnant I was booked for an induction. Having had 2 quite shocking inducions previously, I was fairly nervous.
Luckily for me, it was 3rd time lucky and I went into labour all by myself (which i am still absurdly proud of!) in the early hours of the morning. Apart from a fairly traumatic experience of having an electrode attached to the baby’s head while he was still inside me, the birth was incredibly straightforward. Almost textbook. I had a little boy. We named him Thurston Jonas. He was incredible, unlike any other baby I’d seen. He had a remarkable mop of black hair which made me so happy. I’d been very patient through 2 blonde children and was thrilled to see ‘me’ in one of my sons. The 2 days we were in hospital, Thurston and I were mostly alone together. It was almost blissful, I breastfed him, cuddled him and stared at him. Almost instantly, I knew that Thurston was different. At first, all I knew was that he was different than my other children but then I expected that. Louis and Zeke were already very individual personalities. I couldn’t believe that mixing our genes together produced such varying results.
Once at home, the atmosphere felt much more tense. Thurston was a fussy, clingy baby and I struggled to get to grips with being a mum of 3. That’s all I thought it was. I struggled mostly by myself as I couldn’t face any criticism of how I was doing. Thurston cried. He cried, and screamed all the time, day and night. Not whinged, *cried*. I couldn’t do anything besides look after him. My toddler would fall asleep on the floor as I couldn’t even lay Thurston down long enough to take Zeke to bed for his nap. My 4 year old had to quickly learn how to make a drink and even a sandwich because I was permanently attached to my red, angry child. Soon, his skin turned red and angry and began to bleed all over his chest, staining all his little clothes. He was sick after every feed, he was miserable (and so was I!).
I spent the Summer of 2008 in my lounge with the curtains shut trying to get to grips with this new phase of motherhood. I stopped breastfeeding and switched him to soya formula to try and ease his sickness. By Christmas, we were all exhausted but I felt oddly optimistic. There’s something about New Year that provokes a blind optimism which felt promising. Thurston was also reaching 6 months which meant I could start weaning him on to solid foods (this sounds hilarious now, as at 3 1/2, I am still weaning him onto solid foods!). It seemed as though maybe Thurston’s problems were all tied into being a colicky newborn and not agreeing with his formula.
The day I began weaning was the turning point. I knew as soon as he projectile vomited the one spoonful of carefully prepared baby rice that I was in for a battle. Thurston was completely unable to swallow anything more solid than formula. He was referred to a Feeding Specialist Speech Therapist. Then a Paediatrician. Then a Dietician. After that, Thurston didn’t meet any of his milestones anywhere near ‘on time’. He lay on the sofa day after day stroking a label on the end of his pillow. I’m his mum and I knew he wasn’t as he should be. He was then referred to a Physiotherapist. Then an Occupational Therapist. Then a Developmental Paediatrician. Along the way, he was diagnosed with Hypermobility Syndrome, low muscle tone, Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux, allergies (currently standing at dairy, soya, sweetcorn, corn syrup & starch, shea butter, Calpol and broccoli), Febrile convulsions, Glue Ear. However, nothing explained his developmental delay and so we were given a Developmental Assessment.
It took one hour at the assessment for the Paediatric Team to evaluate Thurston. He was instantly diagnosed as having Autism Spectrum Disorder and was classed as severe. Aged 20 months.
I can’t say I had much of a reaction that day. I hurried home to my other children and we all went to Nando’s. We were determined to carry on as normal, despite it now being obvious that nothing was normal. I’m still processing what his diagnosis means almost 2 years later.
We are still trying to be the family we want to be although we definitely have to make some comprimises for Thurston’s benefit. We all look at our iPhones hidden behind cushions so that he doesn’t take over. I stay up all night when he is struggling and watch Cars on repeat. If we are in the car, we list names of TV characters to keep him calm. Louis and Zeke are *never* allowed to choose what is on the TV!! At the cinema, Alex & I take it in turns to walk around the foyer looking at the 20th Century Fox logos on the posters. We won’t stop going to the cinema though, as we want to give Thurston all the experiences that we give our other children. We adapt to Thurston, no matter how ridiculous his latest obsession is!