I Withdrew From My Friends When I Noticed My Son Was Falling Behind

by Kate Swenson
Kate Swenson

I am sitting here thinking about our relationship, and about how much I love you and how I rarely see you. We joke that it’s because life is so busy. We have jobs and babies, and though we always say we will find the time to get together, the chaos of life takes over. Someday, we will have more time. One of these days, we will actually get together and do something.

I’m not sure if that’s entirely true though — at least not for me. We are different. We are friends. We are family. I love you and your babies. But we are different, and we dance around it like it’s not true.

I want to say I am sorry. I am sorry that I don’t make plans with you. I am sorry that I won’t commit to doing anything. And mostly, I am sorry that I always cancel.

This morning, I woke up at 3:07 a.m. with Cooper. This is common in my world. Some days he screams at me. There are mornings when he kicks me. There are moments when I am so close to giving up it’s scary. And there are other mornings when I don’t know how I’ll make it through the day.

I could tell you all this, but I don’t. It’s not believable. I sound like a broken record.

So I cancel, or I refuse to commit to plans. I never give a definitive answer. I do this because every day in my world is extreme and different. And I need you to know the weight that I carry is bigger than me. It’s bigger than our friendship. And it’s completely out of my control.

I feel the strain between us too. God, I feel it. I miss you. I miss us. But most of all, I miss the friend and family member that I used to be.

I know that I am not the woman you remember. I am different. I used to be so much fun. I was up for anything. I know that many of you questioned if I had postpartum depression after my son was born. I heard the whispers.

Just to be clear: I didn’t have it.

I didn’t fit into your world anymore. I would like to say that it evolved slowly over time, but that is not true. It happened all at once.

It happened the day Cooper was born. Before that we were the same — college, wedding preparations, baby preparations. I was you. You were me. We were young. We were blissful. I was completely and utterly naive to the hurricane force that was going to soon control my life.

Then — wham — I was different. I had a label. I was an autism parent. I immediately carried it on my shoulders. The weight was more than I could handle at times.

When our children were younger, it was one thing. My baby didn’t sleep. Yours did. He never stopped crying. He was chronically ill with ear infections and constipation. I was tired. I couldn’t speak about anything besides how my child was not autistic. I saw how you started to miss me. I saw how I started to slip away. Don’t think I didn’t know it was happening. I was part of every second of it.

But I could pretend then. Our children were infants. Every mother we knew was exhausted. We would sneak away for a glass of wine and laugh about motherhood. We’d talk about the vacations we would take when they were older.

Then the differences started to show in my son. This was no longer just a bad sleeper or a difficult baby. This was more serious. The differences between our children hung in the air when I was with you.

We would trade stories of other mothers we knew who went through the same thing, and it turned out fine. They were fine. I was going to be fine. This was going to be fine.

You’d find a blog post or a news article about a late talker and send it my way. We both agreed it wasn’t autism.

Then, suddenly, I had a diagnosis.

My life quickly became doctors, therapies, and IEPs. I couldn’t relate to you anymore. And you most definitely couldn’t relate to me.

It was like I was in a movie. I watched myself turn invisible right before your eyes. I felt out of place. I felt irrelevant. But most of all, I felt jealous.

My child was different. Yours was not. Your child met milestones. Mine did not. Your child said her first word. Mine did not. Mine would scream and hit his head in frustration. Yours had a conversation with me.

You potty trained your child in a month. I frantically searched for size 7 diapers.

And then I completely slipped away into this new world.

I stopped calling. I withdrew.

That is the blatant truth. We can dance around it. You can say that you are okay with Cooper. I hear it all the time from friends and family. I know you love him. We all do.

But my son is different than yours.

And I want to say that I am so sorry.

It’s truly not you. You are a wonderful friend, and I love you. But I slipped away, and I don’t know how to come back.

I am sorry we don’t come and visit. The preparations for a visit to someone’s house are epic. Do you have a fence? Do you have WiFi? Pets? Do you care about messes? The list goes on. Snacks? Sippy cups? Milk? In a sense, I still have a newborn — a 60-pound newborn who can do some serious damage.

And I believe it when you say that you love Cooper, that you don’t mind the screaming and the pacing.

But I do, friend. I care. I care about parenting in front of you. I care that I can’t sit and talk to you because of Cooper. I care that I wake up at 3:15 a.m. I care that I got poop on your floor while changing my 6-year-old.

In the back of my mind, I wonder how long you will hang on. When will it be too much?

I want you to know that I wake up every day happy and with the best of intentions. And by the end of the day, sometimes I can’t see straight. It takes all my strength to respond to a day-old text message from you.

I will go on Facebook and see that you signed your daughter up for gymnastics. Or maybe it’s tee-ball this time. I guess whatever activity a 6-year-old does these days.

I will feel the pain in my stomach. I am over here researching special needs strollers for children. I am trying to figure out how I am going to pay for it and how I am going to be strong enough to bring it out in public for the first time. How do I find one that won’t stand out or make us look too different?

What you are doing isn’t wrong friend. It’s amazing. I am so happy for you. Your children are beautiful. You are beautiful.

I’m just not there.

I need you to forgive me.

I am letting you off the hook friend. Autism isn’t your world. It is mine.

I want to thank you for standing by me. And I want to ask you not to give up on me. Your children are going to continue to grow and thrive. There are times when I think Cooper and I will be in the same exact spot.

An absolutely amazing little boy and his mom.

Please remember us. We are trying so hard to fit into your world. And I love you.