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  • Writer's pictureKelly Snodgrass

Navigating neurodivergence: my revelation in early motherhood

After finding out I was pregnant, I kept hearing the same things over and over from mothers a few years ahead of me.

“Sleep now, you’ll need it”.

Or “being a mother is the hardest thing you’ll ever do”.

Or “You’ll see what I mean when the baby comes.” 


The first few times I heard these phrases, I nodded along politely. Sure, that made sense. Any big transformation is hard. This will be hard, too. 


But what I couldn’t figure out is… why is everyone dwelling on the hard stuff? 


And after hearing these (negative) perspectives dozens of times… something sparked in me. I refused to believe this misery, exhaustion & overwhelm filled life would be my motherhood experience. And there had to be mothers who could tell me otherwise! 


So I went on the hunt for role models of energized mums. 


<<crickets>>


Bewilderingly – I found none. But as the 5x Leo placement fireball that I am, I decided to become my own role model. I dreamt up my ideals – authentic, energized, ambitious – and carried on my (naive) way through the rest of my pregnancy. 


My birth went well enough. An emergency c-section, but with a healthy baby & a healthy mama. 

Then, 48 hours after giving birth things got a bit… emotional. I was not myself. Thinking I was also in that baby blues phase, I expected it to lift, and held onto the ‘authentic, energized, ambitious’ vision as my anchor.


A few weeks later, I was still having intrusive thoughts at the rate of 50 to 100 a day. There were moments of severe anxiety, leaving me unable to speak at their worst. And on top of it all, the occasional flash of white hot anger would overtake me for the smallest of things – like my daughter waking early from a nap. 


The struggles other mums described in this phase felt similar… but also different. And I couldn’t quite place what it was. But as I had always been different, I thought this version of different too shall pass. I continued to hold onto the ‘authentic, energized, ambitious’ vision as my anchor.


After 3-4 months of life with my daughter, the acute emotional dysregulation subsided. I felt normal, even!

Sadly, little did I know that this acute dysregulation had not dissolved – but instead had morphed into an invisible veil of controlling tendencies. 


There were backup plans for backup plans for backup plans – even for something as simple as going to lunch. There was an overwhelming pull to leave the house 20 minutes before we needed to, as I felt the need to plan for my daughter getting fussy (and therefore things might take longer than expected). There was an inflexibility around changing plans, as the additional overhead of re-configuring our day felt horribly overwhelming. While I felt fine, those closest to me did not. They knew I was struggling — even though I was oblivious to it. 


Then, after 9 months of trying to hold the house of cards together — all of a sudden, my hearing became hyper-sensitive. Even the smallest of everyday noises (like a car driving down the road) was an assault on the senses. This was a very obvious signal that something was off. It was literally impossible to ignore. 


So, as one does, I turned to Dr Google. Autistic burnout, he said. I couldn’t quite believe it, and yet it all made perfect sense. Though I was teetering on the edge of Autistic burnout at 9 months postpartum… I still held onto my vision of being an authentic, energized & ambitious mother.


Over the next 6 months I went down the rabbit hole. I read all the books, listened to all the podcasts, browsed all the scientific articles, signed up to all the community meetups and attended all therapy sessions. I knew it deep down after I read the first chapter of the first book I got my hands on, but now I can formally say it. I’m Autistic. 


It is, sadly, a story that’s becoming more and more common. A story where the demands of motherhood outstrip the capabilities of the highly masked Autistic woman – often times ending in severe burnout (which can be signaled by extreme sensory sensitivity). 


In receiving a formal diagnosis, I was able to discover that my flavor of autism is most disabling in interdependent relationship dynamics (typical of a pathological demand avoidance – or PDA – autistic profile). And having a baby not only makes you a mother, but makes you a member of a three-person family. A PDA-er’s nightmare!


It’s serendipitous that I am writing this on my first work trip away from my now almost 2 year old. Unsurprisingly, I feel the most emotionally regulated & mentally healthy that I have felt in years. On a solo work trip, there is none of the interdependency of family life. I am free to come and go as I please. My behavior is still infused with autism… but this week, I am – for a brief moment – not disabled by my autism. 


This is a story about how masked neurodivergence transitioned from a quirk to a disability (for me) given the demands of familyhood. But even more so it’s a story about the power of combining mindset with knowledge. Because while I entered motherhood with a powerful vision, I was missing a crucial piece of the puzzle. I didn’t have the information I needed (about myself!) to even be able to begin to understand how to tend to my neurodivergence-infused needs. 


Now, I know my unique motherhood self care recipe. Equal parts guilt-free time for an intellectual and/or challenging endeavor, alone time out of the house where I likely blast my favorite music on 1-repeat through my headphones, and an extended moment in bed where there is minimal noise & no requests being asked of me. 


Because without consistent access to these things each week, my nervous system goes haywire and my dopamine levels drop dangerously low. I slip into a version of me that tries to control the world, or even worse — escape from it. Neurodivergence (for me) isn’t a burden in the way that most disabilities are. However, it can be disabling… especially so if we don’t know it’s there.


I’m at a moment in my journey (being recently diagnosed) where I feel I’ve gotten my whole life back. Because we’ve all been dealt a handful of cards, and I now have the name for an extra special one of mine.

And you know what – I’ve got this sneaking feeling being Autistic is actually going to be the card that makes that authentic, energized & ambitious motherhood vision for myself possible


 

This blog post was written by Kelly Snodgrass. In addition to being Mia’s mother, she is a fractional Chief of Staff for small business owners, a well-being coach & creative writer.


You can find more information on her website www.kelly-snodgrass.com

or via Instagram @iamkellysnodgrass

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