By Esther Whitney (artist name: Doctor Doom)
Content overview: Discussion of difficult breastfeeding experience and unsupportive professionals.
This painting explores my experience of breastfeeding as an Autistic parent. I have used colour symbolism to represent the spectrum of intense emotions and sensory input I experienced. I had my first baby in 2016, I was extremely anxious, I had nothing to compare Motherhood to. I put a lot of time into researching the benefits of breastfeeding. I wanted to be able to provide my baby with the best start in life.
Once I began breastfeeding it became apparent that I was struggling, but I didn't understand why. I felt agitated and overwhelmed. At times I was extremely sensitive to touch, other times I didn’t feel anything at all and that meant that I didn’t recognise when I was hurt. The social interaction between my baby and me made me feel suffocated and I withdrew from others. Many had told me that breastfeeding was enjoyable and facilitated a bond between mother and baby.
Enjoyable is not a word that springs to mind when I look back on my breastfeeding experience. I would say it was more of a kaleidoscope of intense sensory input along with waves of many overwhelming emotions and social suffocation. Breastfeeding as an Autistic parent is complicated, but it is fair to say that a large number of Autistic people want to breastfeed despite the unique challenges we face.
I continued to push myself to breastfeed; I was determined to provide what I thought of as the most nutritious milk for my baby. I sought support and advice but this, unfortunately, led to misunderstandings and snap judgements made about me and my baby by professionals, which had devastating consequences. I was told many times to give up breastfeeding by professionals who I expected support and encouragement from. They were way too quick to recommend the bottle without any attempt to understand what I was experiencing as an Autistic breastfeeding mother. If perinatal services understood that breastfeeding is a very different experience for Autistic people, they would be able to provide accessible and relatable support for Autistic breastfeeding parents.