“On PAP Smears and Being Enough”
I went out to dinner with some really awesome mom friends this past week. We alternated between kidding around and talking seriously about special needs parenting.
At one point, one of the women confessed that she had not had a PAP smear since her son (with autism) was born, seven years ago. Stunned, I revealed that it had taken me the same number of years after A was born. I was very fortunate that the test results had been fine. But he had been so seriously ill, and every day such an intense roller coaster, that my own health seemed such a low priority.
We segued into jokes. On the subject of how much we hate having our pictures taken, we devolved into crassness:
Q: What’s your best side?
A: The side that finally got a PAP. *predictable cackling*
One mom talked about how to facilitate healthcare appointment access for special needs moms. Perhaps being accompanied by someone who could watch our kids while we saw the doctor? I used to do this informally for a couple of friends before I became a mom myself, but some of us really don’t have the same support networks, and the realities of autism life tend to thin the herd.
We talked also about accessing mental health services, which can be similarly complicated scheduling-wise, but is worth it. Besides individual counseling, there are of course parent support groups. I don’t know about other autism parents, but I tend to prefer online groups, mostly because I become easily impatient with overt sentimentality, being preached at by peers (this includes general prosing on, and religious proselytizing), and unexamined barriers of race, class, access to community resources, and other such factors. I can quietly unfollow online groups that talk almost exclusively about CBD oil or the evils of vaccines, and stick with groups that suit my style. I left one group where people were posting pictures of their kids’ rooms after they had engaged in bouts of feces-smearing. It’s not that we never have to deal with that, but I do not want to look at anyone’s documentation of same.
The biggest difference between layperson support versus professional is in the productive quality of the latter’s listening, not to mention that confiding our baggage to friends is not always confidential or fruitful. Few of us benefit from being told how to live and think and respond, from having others’ narratives written onto ours. We thrive in having our best selves reflected back at us; in having our words and impressions sifted through for the gems of our own wisdom; and in being supported with unwavering respect for what we have conquered, and continue to battle.
There is a lot of guilt in special needs mothering. We are always trying not to center ourselves. But we have to be able to speak without reserve somewhere, and without unintentionally triggering others, of the impact on us, of how it radiates out to alter all our norms and relationships.
I am very grateful for the friends and family who have never made me feel unsafe to speak my mind. Whatever parenting magazines (and their racial majority-centering) might have to say, we all bring our own personalities, cultural norms (and potential rebellions against said norms), and instincts to how we interact with our kids. Safe spaces are so because we all honor one another for the messy, delightful people in front of us.
We are enough, you and I.