I was in unbearable pain for hours while the nurses tried forceps and ventouse, but nothing could move her. Eventually, she was born by caesarean section after 36 hours of labour.
Her face and head were bruised black and blue, but she was perfect, fingers and toes intact, no problems with breathing, all the usual things that a new mum would check for, she was fine.
She developed normally until around the age of 12-18 months. We noticed that she seemed to be a late developer in her speech and understanding, but thought little of it - at 18 months she was counting the stairs as we went up and down. Then it stopped. We noticed that she didn't ‘hear' us when we called her name, and not even loud, sudden noises made her jump or look to see what was happening. Strangely, she would get excited and react if she heard a song on TV that she liked, even if she wasn't in the room.
It was all very confusing. I had heard the tiniest bit about autism, but to be honest, I can't remember what I knew back then. I kind of convinced myself that perhaps it was glue ear or she was partially deaf. Something I could easily understand. Something that could be put right with grommets, or helped with a hearing aid or sign language.
Eventually her father and I voiced our concerns to the health visitor, who had us referred to a paediatrician. I suspect that the health visitor had an inkling about what was going on in hindsight, the doctor went straight into what I now know was an autism symptoms checklist. I was there about an hour, with Charlotte playing on the floor with toys, the doctor's assistant playing with her, and I talked to the doctor. At the end of the hour she told me that there was no question about it, she was autistic.
My brain went into meltdown, I simply couldn't process this new information - my daughter has autism? What IS autism anyway? How can my child have something I know nothing about? I buried myself in books, whatever I could find from the library. Unfortunately a lot of them were either out of date or quite technical and I didn't really understand them. The only light in the tunnel was the fact that the doctor immediately put us in touch with the local special needs nursery, which Charlotte started at a short while later.