“I always dreamed of being a mother; they told me that autism would stop me”

When Terri Loughman was diagnosed with high-functioning autism in her twenties, she was told she wouldn’t make a good mother.

By the time she reached adulthood, Terri had experienced more trauma than most people in her entire life, and severe mental health issues had plagued most of her early life.

Her autism means she finds it hard to recognize other people’s emotions, and doctors feared she wouldn’t be able to make a proper connection with a newborn baby.

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But after years of fertility issues, in 2021, Terri and her partner Nikki welcomed their baby daughter Riley into the world.

At first, Terri, now 39, feared that the doctors might have been right. She struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, fearing that she would not be able to provide the care her daughter needed.

But thanks to the incredible support she received from an organization in Manchester, she and Riley now have an incredible bond.

Terri now wants to share her story to bring hope to other women with mental health issues and to show why the help of Sure Start centers across the country is so vital.

Terri and her partner Nikki with their 16 month old daughter Riley (Image: Terri Loughman)

“I was formally diagnosed with autism in 2012 and my psychiatrist used to say that I couldn’t have children because of my mental health problems,” she told MEN.

“In 2014 they assigned me another support worker and she told me that with the right support she thought she could be a mother. My partner does not have any mental health problems and she had the right to be able to have a child.” also.

“Autism is a spectrum and everyone falls differently on that spectrum. I’ve always wanted a baby since I was a teenager, but never thought it would be possible.”

In October 2021, Terri became pregnant with their daughter after the couple underwent IVF. Her fertility journey took over eleven years, during which time she experienced further trauma, including the loss of several friends to suicide.

Riley was born in October 2021 (Image: Terri Loughman)

After Riley was born, Terri realized that being a mother was not going to be easy for her. “Being autistic, I didn’t realize that she had been living in a bubble,” she said.

“When I had my daughter, all my routine and everything I knew just disappeared. I started to spiral into depression and not bond with my daughter, and I was really struggling to the point where I wanted to take my life.”

“I was referred to early help outreach services through the Sure Start centers. I think if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here now.”

Sure Start centers provide help and advice on child and family health, parenting, money, training and employment across the country. The centers have been widely praised for helping to give children ‘the best start in life’, but funding has been cut in recent years.

Terri was assigned her own community worker named Becky, at a Sure Start center in Manchester, who helped her build a bond with her daughter.

Terri has now formed a strong bond with her daughter. (Image: Terri Loughman)

“At a time when I felt lost and it was hard to adjust to change, she was reassuring, supportive, and giving me time to work on things, helping me learn skills to care for Riley and myself,” Terri said.

Through Sure Start, Terri was able to participate in the classes, and Becky and the team helped her adjust so she was comfortable being alone with her daughter.

“I started to feel like I was getting back into a routine and this is crucial for someone with autism,” she said. “Actually, I’ve also made a couple of friends.

“Becky’s genuine and caring character has helped me stay afloat when I felt like I was drowning and being able to attend the groups has given me a safe place to go with my daughter.

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help and support

Samaritans (116 123) samaritanos.org operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write how you feel, or if you are concerned about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at [email protected], write to Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK, PO Box 9090, STIRLING, FK8 2SA and visit www.samaritans.org/branches to find your nearest branch.

To support people feeling suicidal, worried about someone or grieving about suicide, visit http://shiningalightonsuicide.org.uk

CALM (0800 58 58 58) thecalmzone.net has a helpline for men who are depressed or have hit a wall for whatever reason, who need to talk or find information and support. They are open from 5 pm to midnight, 365 days a year.

Greater Manchester mourning service Greater Manchester Bereavement Service can help find support for anyone in Greater Manchester who has suffered a loss or been affected by a death. No one needs to feel alone while dealing with their pain. www.greater-manchester-bereavement-service.org.uk

Children’s line (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. The calls are free and the number will not appear on your phone bill.

PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a volunteer organization that supports teens and young adults who are feeling suicidal.

Beat Eating Disorders: Beat provides helplines for adults and youth that offer support and information about eating disorders. These help lines are free to call from all phones. Adult Helpline: 0808 801 0677, Student Line: 0808 801 0811, Youth Line: 0808 801 0711. www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk

Anorexia and Bulimia Care: ABC provides ongoing care, emotional support, and practical guidance for anyone affected by eating disorders, those struggling personally, and parents, family, and friends. Helpline: 03000 11 12 13. www.anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk/

students against depression is a website for students who are depressed, moody, or suicidal. Bullying UK is a website for children and adults affected by bullying. Studentsagainstdepression.org

For information and links to charities and organizations that can help with substance abuse, visit https://www.supportline.org.uk/problems/drugs/

“I could have ended up in the hospital or taking my own life, but now I love my daughter and have feelings for her which can be very difficult for people with autism.

“She doesn’t know that I have mental health issues, but if those services didn’t intervene, my daughter might not be thriving like she is now.”

Terri, who lives with her partner in Hulme, recently went back to work part-time, something she never saw as a viable option due to her autism and caring for a young child.

“I do two hours a night at a lawyer, which isn’t much, but for me it’s a big step,” he said. “The plan for the future is that the Sure Start center is going to see if I can start volunteering there.

“They gave me the hope I needed. I feel so much love and happiness for my daughter. I am no longer just a mental health patient, they have given me hope.”

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