I realised I had undiagnosed ADHD when I became a mum

I realised I had undiagnosed ADHD when I became a mum

Becoming a mother is an immense life change, fraught with new challenges and responsibilities that can strain even the most resilient women. For someone with undiagnosed ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), the early stages of motherhood definitely heightened my undiagnosed ADHD for several reasons.

1. Increased Demands: Motherhood significantly increases the cognitive load with its constant demands for attention and multitasking. For an individual with ADHD, these demands can exceed their ability to organise and prioritise, leading to heightened symptoms.

2. Sleep Disruption: as a new mum, there was significant sleep disruption. ADHD symptoms can be exacerbated by a lack of sleep, as it impairs executive function skills, which are often already a challenge for those with ADHD.

3. Hormonal Changes: Hormonal fluctuations during and after pregnancy can affect brain chemistry and may intensify ADHD symptoms. These hormonal changes can affect attention span, memory, and mood. This definitely played a big part in my attention span, memory and mood.

4. Stress and Anxiety: The stress involved in caring for a newborn can be overwhelming, potentially increasing anxiety levels. New mums with ADHD often have difficulty regulating their emotional responses, and added stress can make symptoms worse.

5. Lifestyle Changes: The structure and routine that may have helped manage ADHD symptoms pre-motherhood are often upended with the arrival of a baby. Lack of structure can make it more challenging for those with ADHD to cope with daily tasks - but more importantly - the daily tasks of taking care of a newborn. 

6. Isolation: New mothers may experience isolation, which can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy or depression. As a new mum during the COVID lockdowns, this feeling was heightened. For someone with ADHD, the lack of social support made managing symptoms so much more difficult.

7. Lack of Self-Care: as a new mum, I prioritised my own needs last, which then resulted in neglecting strategies that may have helped manage ADHD symptoms previously, such as exercise, nutrition, or therapy.

8. Diagnostic Overshadowing: Symptoms of ADHD in women are often overlooked or misattributed to stress or the general expectations of motherhood, delaying diagnosis and support. I thought this was just the stress of motherhood and didn’t even know at the time that my ADHD symptoms played such a big role.

9. Cognitive Load of Parenting Skills: Learning and applying new parenting skills requires concentration and patience. Working full time is completely different to being a new parent especially to a newborn. It was super challenging to navigate with ADHD.

10. Expectations vs. Reality: The discrepancy between societal expectations of a "perfect mother" and the reality of motherhood can lead to feelings of guilt and inadequacy. For someone with ADHD, who may struggle more with organisational tasks and time management, this discrepancy became even more pronounced. I was able to manage organisational tasks at work quite well with my own systems in place. In motherhood, this required juggling between my son’s needs and not doing enough for him.

Once I realised that it was likely ADHD, it made so much sense to me and my guilt of executive dysfunction always 'dysfunctioning' meant that I could start to build strategies into my life, so that my symptoms of ADHD take over my life. What also helped me so much has been my amazing husband, who is so understanding of what I went through, and so supportive throughout this journey. 

My son was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and no surprise here, likely ADHD as well. Some thoughts for another day. 

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