Autism and Birth- 8 Tips for the Nerodivergent Birth Worker
OOOOOOOOooooooo. This topic excites me. Mostly because I don't know anyone catering to autistic people in the birth world, and it feels exciting to write something I haven't read in a million places before.
Birth is such a nuance of a field to work in. You find it because it finds you. Through family, friends, or lived experience. For nerodivergent people- it can be an incredible special interest topic, it is so deep and wide and there is always more to learn and more to do. I am both grateful for that, and sad for it. As a human, I wish so much we didn't have as many things that need healing in birth culture. As a problem solving writer with an ever working mind- I enjoy the challenge that call me to rise up.
Like birth is deep and wide, so is nerodivergence. I am not here (not in this post anyway) to tell you if you should work in this field or not. This post is for those who are called to it, or who are already here. These are things that have helped me as an Autistic Birth Worker, and I hope they help someone else out there too.
Note: I am creating a mentorship program that will cater to a lot of these topics in greater depth. Stay tuned or reach out for more info.
Know birth. Dive in. Use that gift of hyper focus in this area to learn as much as you can about every type of birthing experience. There is no such thing as "oh well I don't serve in that area so I don't need to know" as a birth worker- you are responsible for knowing, for being comfortable with being open enough to let your guard down and learn. Birth is so fluid, one type of birth can so easily flow and change into another.
Know yourself. Know your limits, your needs, your accommodations, your patterns, your love language, how to refill your cup, how to rest, how to work. Get to knoooow yourself.
Know your birth client. Don't assume. Ask all the questions. Listen more than you talk. Learn how to hold space. The more you know, the better you can adapt to the energy they need in their birth space.
2. Be Comfortable
In this knowing of yourself, you need to maintain your comfort and take the responsibility of owning your own space without intruding upon others. Figure out what makes you comfortable. Find the right clothes to wear, the right oils to smell, the right fidget to bring in your pocket or wear on a chain around your neck. Bring safe foods everywhere, but don't eat them in front of the birthing person unless they invite you to. Bring your pillow with you in your car. In fact that brings me to my next tip.
3. Your car- is your safe space.
Personalize it. Spend money making it comfortable sensory wise. Lights, a portable fan, pillows and blankets. My car is decked out inside with collections and fandom gear from all the things I love. It smells like lavender from the plants I have hanging in my dash mirror. I have tiny pillows and plushies. I have a trash can. I have wipes, napkins, deodorant, q tips, extra clothes for emergencies and sensory emergencies. I am creating curtains so I can sleep in it without people peeking in. Your car is somewhere you will spend a lot of time. Driving, resting, waiting for the text or call. Make it comfortable, safe, and homey.
4. Know your sensory accommodations.
It is your responsibility as a birth worker to accommodate yourself, to communicate your needs in a way that does not change the birthing persons birth plan or comfort. This is easier in birth work than in other fields because you design your business around your needs and standards, and the right clients who will honor that, will find you.
I don't personally need headphones in birth situations, but if you do try something discreet like loop, to avoid confrontation with medical staff who might be less understanding than your clients.
If you are a photographer- consider the use (or non use) of flash. I do not use flash because of my own sensory needs, which made it mandatory for me to have high end low light equipment and the skills in which to document low light photography. Know your camera, know your lighting options.
Again, bring your own safe foods and comfort items. Make sure they can stay in your car or fit in a bag that can be put out of the way in case of a small birthing room.
Lighting is usually dim in a birth space with LED lights sometimes. In hospitals, the lighting is brighter and sometimes even harsh. Keep this in mind and adjust accordingly. We can prep clients on lighting needs for photography and sensory, but in the end the birth space is always a bit of a mystery until you arrive.
Be aware of smells that trigger you to the point of inability to function. I have an allergy to cinnamon so I ask my clients not to use any cinnamon based foods or products. You may be able to work with your clients to use products that are comfortable with both of you, (think essential oils, etc) however be prepared to bring your own safe smell oil or otherwise, to rub on your nose and block out other things just in case. A mask may help in this situation too and won't feel too out of place in this time of other precautionary mask use.
Bring extra socks. If you know, you know. If you don't- you'll thank me later.
Bring back up outfits, and outfits for different temperatures, aka layers. Birth rooms are either freezing or i'm working so hard i'm sweating. Neither are fun if you are dressed wrong or don't have the option to change and add or remove layers.
There are a ton more, but you know you best so find what works for you.
5. Know your communication accommodations
Personally, I struggle with memory and with auditory processing a bit, so when communicating with my clients on anything important I do one of two things. In our first meet up, I like to have a zoom call so I can record the conversation. You could also do an audio recording on a phone. I let my clients know this upfront, that way I can play back the content afterwards. If they are not comfortable with this, I take extensive notes. I prefer handwritten notes but you might type faster or be more comfortable with taking notes on a phone or computer as you chat. Talk to your clients about this too so they don't feel self conscious. In situations of conflict, need, or importance, I make sure all communication is written. This gives me time to process, and respond compassionately. It also gives me peace of mind when there are miscommunications, to reference the written material or help my client understand where I was coming from. I don't have to do this often but it is nice to have when I do.
I stress the importance of communication to my clients, and while a lot is in written communication I make sure to do lots of face to face or voice to voice time also so that we can hear each others tone of voice, and find comfort in each others presence.
6. Say no.
In birth work we talk a lot about how a no, is a no. Our clients are allowed to say no. It is their body. But you are allowed to say no as well. Say no to an extra ask, say no to someone who is not a good fit for you, and say no when someone is pushing for a yes and you need to put up a safety boundary. Your needs are important, and it is easier to say no to a client and trust your intuition, then it is to heal form something you had bad feelings about from the start. Value your time and energy, only give away time and energy when you have the time, energy, and money to spare. If you don't learn to say no, you will burn out my loves.
You have choices, and you are allowed to make them. In every situation.
If everyone is resting, if you are offered a chair or a couch or a seat of any kind- accept it. Birth is unpredictable and sometimes long without forsight. Rest with your clients. Find ways to sleep in their space if you need to, or take a break to go to your car and sleep.
If you do leave, be sure to designate someone very specifically (other then the birthing person) that you can trust- to text you and call you or come get you if there are any changes.
Time out of a birth space can help you recharge and give the parents time to connect, which often is the magic tool to solving a progression issue.
If you need rest- take it.
This goes for before and after the birth too. Get a really solid system of contact so you know that you phone is charged, off silent, and prepared to ring loudly when you are needed so you can sleep without worry. Have a back up system in place or a secondary contact person.
I also find it helpful to designate a specific ringtone to each client. I rotate between "walking on sunshine" "put down what you are carrying" and "dance magic" or something that reminds me of the client specifically. I have different tones for each client due in any season which makes it easy to know who is contacting me and avoid mistakes of location. Saving their address, back up numbers, emergency info, and birth plan notes all in their contact on your phone is also a great time saving idea.
It is also vital, to take time off. Get a good back up system. Get a good childcare system. Take. Breaks. I take a month or two off every year. It is vital for anyone planning to be in birthwork for more than a short time. Have back ups for child care too! Don't be afraid to use extra childcare time after a birth so you can rest before jumping back into wearing the parent hat.
Give it to yourself, give it to your clients, give it to the staff or team. Everyone is human and makes mistakes.
Grace in abundance,
contracts that are solid,
and plans for every situation.
Time before responding to any message to consider response options.
Introducing yourself to the birth team and working with them to make them feel comfortable at the beginning of your work there, can go a long way.
Be patient with yourself when you mess up, because you will. Give grace. Accept grace. Ask for help. All the things we tell our birth clients, also apply to ourselves. <3
I could write on this topic forever, if you have questions or want to talk specifics just reach out. <3 Being a birthworker is a beautiful profession, and can be such a rewarding job if you take care to accommodate yourself and build your business in a way that gives back to you.
- Your Birthkeeper