Imagine that you are a teenager lying on a hospital bed receiving an ultra-sound because your doctor thought that may you have some ovarian cysts.
Suddenly, the nurse’s eyebrows furrow as she hurriedly turns the screen away from view.
Naturally, you freak out. ‘What is it?’ you ask the nurse.
She tells you everything is okay, turns off the screen and leaves the room.
After what feels like a decade, the nurse re-enters the room and tells you that you need to meet with your doctor,
You are then told that you are about 15 weeks pregnant.
This happened to Monique Blakemore when she found out she was about to become a teen mum at just 18.
Decades later, at thirty-eight, Ms Blakemore discovered that she had Asperger’s syndrome.
When she looks back at this moment, she says it was difficult to apply what she learned in health classes to real-life when it came to monitoring for pregnancy symptoms.
“I had literally no idea … she’s [her daughter] turned out amazingly, considering that she was raised by a child,” she says.
Now, as an autism advocate and consultant, she says it’s widely believed that autistic people don’t have romantic relationships, which means talking about motherhood for autistic people marks a huge jump in people’s understanding.
“There is a tremendous stigma and discrimination against women with disabilities who are mothers – there are a lot of myths about autism that still need to be eradicated completely,.” she says.
“One of those myths is the lack of empathy – if you’re perceived to not have empathy, then how can you function as the nucleus of a family unit?”
Ms Blakemore says that while having autism can make some elements of motherhood challenging, research has found these difficulties can be overcome for their children.
According to an Autism Women Matter report, despite the lack of evidence to suggest that women who have an Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) aren’t competent as mothers, there have been reports from women and practitioners that these mothers may risk being misunderstood and judged on their ‘non-typical’ characteristics or preconceived misinformation about autism.
Ms Blakemore runs a tidy household with her husband.
Her loungeroom displays a textured rug and velvety lounges with wool cushions and weighted blankets.
Both of her sons have autism, so she says her home provides sensory input for the family as they co-habit.
“A home has to be a place of rest and recuperation – it must be authentic without external pressures,” she says.
“I think that providing that for my children has enabled them to navigate the world.”
But for Ms Blakemore, the outside world can be a challenge.
She says the most difficult thing when it comes to motherhood is dealing with the people who work with her family.
Her two sons attend different schools.
One welcomes meetings to discuss what the son’s results will be and provides an update on how he is going, which she says is wonderful as she gets a support plan that her son benefits from.
But the other school does not allow these types of meetings.
“The hardest part for me is the outside pressures from people who are supposed to be helping and often they don’t … when you don’t get the support it leads to a lot of mistrust and anxiety,” she says.
A comparative study of autistic and non-autistic women’s experience of motherhood found autistic mothers were more likely to report feeling misunderstood by professionals and didn’t know which details were appropriate to share with professionals.
Ms Blakemore says this is especially true when it comes to service providers, as they don’t have a great deal of understanding of what autistic parents’ needs are so they can feel supported.
She says she knows mothers with autism that won’t reach out for help as “they don’t want social services being called for all the wrong reasons.”
“It’s so easy to shut yourself up from supports because you have to weigh up the kind of benefit of having them come into your world against the harm that can be caused,” she says.
She says she’s learned to be a great mother and having an understanding of autism is incredibly useful for her and her children.
“I often have felt like I didn’t have a voice, so it’s quite important to me that my children know how to advocate for themselves,” she says.
“As a mother, you’re going to do everything you can to ensure that their life is a lot smoother than yours.”