As An Autistic Mum, Pregnancy And Motherhood Is A Sensory Overload

"Pregnancy felt like a leech inside my body."
Shamiha Patel

It’s no secret that parenthood is a life-changing experience in so many different ways. From the start of pregnancy to birth you’re dealing with changes in your body ranging from hormonal to mental and of course, physical.

Then the baby arrives and every aspect of your life seems to revolve around raising this tiny human. It becomes a challenge to keep your house pristine clean, you no longer have endless time to yourself and then the constant mum-guilt kicks in, leaving you mentally exhausted thinking about whether your baby is happy.

For Shamiha Patel, 29, pregnancy and parenthood felt even more overwhelming than she had envisaged.

She knew it would be difficult due to being chronically unwell most of her life, but after the birth of her daughter she was also diagnosed with autism and ADHD.

Speaking to HuffPostUK, Shamiha said: “I became pregnant around four years ago and I knew pregnancy was going to be difficult as I have other health conditions. I had brain surgery a few years before, so I was worried.

“I’ve always been chronically ill. I was born with clubfoot, scoliosis and then had a cyst in my brain at 24 so I knew pregnancy would be difficult. But I didn’t know it was gonna be difficult in the sense of a sensory overload.”

Shamiha struggled with pregnancy as she said it “it felt like a leech” inside her body as so many changes were taking place at the same time.

“Although I wanted my baby and I was so happy to be pregnant, it was taking everything for me and I struggled with depression. In the first trimester I was sick all the time and couldn’t get out of bed.”

After having her baby, Shamiha felt her life had changed overnight and she began to struggle even more, leading her to see a therapist.

She said: “The first days of motherhood were difficult, I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and it was a lot for me, the hormones are so intense as well and I was experiencing sensory overload. Dealing with all the liquid that comes out of the body, vomiting, feeding and changing – it was just a lot of sensory stuff post-partum.

“You don’t have personal space so your child lives in your space, as much as I might need alone time I can’t do that as my child needs me. She’s three now and she’ll ask for me and I can’t say no to her as I love her but I need space.”

Autism diagnosis

At the beginning of pregnancy Shamiha didn’t know she was autistic so she would put herself down and had a lot of mum guilt. After birth, challenges she faced included not being able to put her daughter to sleep at night as she had no energy.

She said: “With autism we have a spoon theory, which is we have a set amount of spoons a day and I didn’t have enough spoons at night to put her to sleep so my husband does the bedtime routine.

“Now that I’ve realised I’m autistic, I don’t think of myself as a bad mother. I’m a more confident parent.”

Another challenge Shamiha faced was dealing with mess and chaos. She needs everything to be in a certain place and with kids, everything is everywhere.

“I didn’t have a choice but to accept my home won’t be as organised. At the beginning I would spend every hour putting toys away and losing time with my daughter – I had to work through therapy to avoid doing that.”

The 29-year-old also explained that the social demands of being a parent can also be incredibly overwhelming – for instance, dropping her daughter off at nursery she feels there is always an expectation to engage in small talk with parents or nursery staff.

“I find it uncomfortable as I don’t have a lot to say. I also find hygiene difficult with a child – when brushing my daughter’s teeth, it’s confusing so my husband does it.”

“I decided to have therapy around 10 month post-partum and the therapist immediately realised I was experiencing these things as I was neurodivergent and should speak to my GP. This was the first time I had heard the word neurodivergent. I did a symptom check online and scored really highly. I realised I think the reason why I’m struggling so much is I might be autistic and might have ADHD. I got referred in December and got my diagnosis in April so it was a quick turnaround,” she said.

After her diagnosis, Shamiha was able to be kinder to herself and give herself grace. She says it’s helped her be a more positive role model for her daughter and she embraces it and is fixing generational trauma.

“I came from a family who didn’t talk about disabilities. I started making TikToks last month as I just wanted to disband the taboos, there’s a lot of taboo talking about autism openly. My parents are Indian and I got my diagnosis around two years ago and before that I never thought I was autistic.

“Even though it was obvious in my childhood it’s not something your parents think you have or you think you have. We knew autism from what my parents and community had told me, someone who is nonverbal and high support. Now I have a diagnosis, I know my own triggers and I am able to prevent meltdowns - if I see myself getting triggered I can recognise and step back.”

You can find out more about Shamiha’s journey on her TikTok where she talks about autism and parenting.