by Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone
This spring, I became a mother. My baby, Othello aka Theo, is almost 8 weeks as I’m writing this and is a pretty great baby. There have been times in my life where assumptions were made about my ability to parent because of how being Autistic, or my trauma history, or my chronic illnesses impact my life. But ultimately, I’ve found it fulfilling. The people who doubted me before have seen me take the steps I need to in order to parent, even if it doesn’t always look like what they expected. A lot of that has involved identifying what my needs are, what baby’s needs are, and cobbling together strategies to parent successfully based on that. In some ways it is a bit like the other areas of life where we have to build accommodation strategies.
But accommodating yourself while parenting is different from school or work. In school, you could go to the disability resource office with a specific list of accommodations and your supporting documentation for those, and presumably the school would then make sure they or some variation thereof were in place. Usually with a lot of trips to the Disability resource office and hassling them for follow-through, but it was on them to implement the big accommodations involving others. In work there’s less support, but you still have a certain amount of give from them. Parenting is not like that. You have to build and implement it yourself. Babies can’t make your accommodation plan and implement it. They also can’t tell you their own needs directly, just act, so you have to use your knowledge plus those actions to figure things out.
That’s not to say co-parents and family can’t help, but they also aren’t HR or the disability resource office. I depend on my nesting partner, Greg, a lot. He takes a “shift” of primary responsibility a day, and we do one not-at-the-breast feeding a day to ensure I get at least 3-5 hours’ uninterrupted sleep so that my chronic illnesses are in check and my mental health stays stable. When he’s home, he might change the diaper after a feeding so that it gets done faster— my hips sometimes take time to work after sitting a while. My mom usually comes by once a week, and my siblings love to watch my son, be it with me there or, for short periods of time, solo. I have a lot of support.
But I also read up on baby care, had experience helping directly and independently with the care of one of my nieces, watched videos, and did what I could to learn what needs the baby had, and what sort of parenting strategies I could and wanted to adopt and where I had to build it myself. I can then bring that knowledge to Greg, or to the baby’s father Timotheus, or even to my mother or siblings, and get support if I need it, but much of it I still am implementing myself. I can’t expect my supports to do that base learning for me, even if I needed support to learn it, nor all the implementation. Even if I had more formal supports like staff, I’d have to work with them about how I could gain the basic knowledge and how I could implement it.
I have had to apply what I have learned about my own learning, my own needs, and what accommodations work for me in this process in addition to basic baby care and safety. If I can’t figure something out, I know enough about my needs and baby’s needs to ask for help troubleshooting. Unfortunately, there are few disability-specific materials, but in the end a lot of what I’ve needed to learn has been things that weren’t disability specific plus the knowledge of my own needs that I’ve acquired from the rest of my life as me. Besides, we all have to adapt the knowledge we gain even from the disability-specific resources out there because we as disabled people aren’t cookie cutter creatures.
The thing is, the specific strategies might be adapted, but this is a learning curve for all parents. All of us have to learn how to adapt our varied lives and approaches when we become parents. All of us have to learn basic baby care and what our specific baby’s needs are. Sometimes that involves different supports and different balances of supports, but it’s something all of us have to do.
Babies’ core needs are pretty standard ones. You need to feed them, keep them clean, and provide a baby-safe environment. You have to provide cognitive stimulation appropriate to baby’s needs. But none of it—not even “natural” things—is something any of us have baked in. We all have to learn how to take care of our babies- some of us just have to build our own strategies on top of that. It’s putting in that effort to learn and adapt to life with baby, whatever way you learn and whatever those adaptations look like, that demonstrates your parenting. That, and love.