Today, September 9th, is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FASD) Awareness Day. FASD Awareness Day takes place around the world with communities traditionally pausing at 9.09am, the 9th minute of the 9th hour of the 9th day of the 9th month of the year, representing the nine months of pregnancy. I’m feeling like this isn’t happening in enough communities, so I’m turning on a bright light in my corner of the world.
What is FASD? I’ll let the CDC explain.
Different terms are used to describe FASDs, depending on the type of symptoms.
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS): FAS represents the most involved end of the FASD spectrum. Fetal death is the most extreme outcome from drinking alcohol during pregnancy. People with FAS might have abnormal facial features, growth problems, and central nervous system (CNS) problems. People with FAS can have problems with learning, memory, attention span, communication, vision, or hearing. They might have a mix of these problems. People with FAS often have a hard time in school and trouble getting along with others.
- Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND): People with ARND might have intellectual disabilities and problems with behavior and learning. They might do poorly in school and have difficulties with math, memory, attention, judgment, and poor impulse control.
- Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD): People with ARBD might have problems with the heart, kidneys, or bones or with hearing. They might have a mix of these.
FASD became deeply personal the day our family received the phone call that a precious, 6-week old baby girl needed placement. The next day, the “bonus baby”, our Emma Rose arrived, and so did our new way of life. It would take at least 3 blog posts for me to explain the details of our life, especially the first few years. Suffice it to say, we were blessed with just about every Early On service available and multiple physicians from multiple specialties. My words of “I will never take a fetal alcohol baby. I will never take a Crack baby” became, “She’s a fighter. She will overcome. We will do whatever it takes.” Here is the humbling thing:
God has a way of turning our “nevers” into “forevers”.
It’s then about our embracing and celebrating them instead of resenting them. Oh, the blessings we would miss if we had it our way! One look into those endless eyes, one diaper change, one feeding, one night in our crib, one snuggle and there it was….she was ours!
I wish I had kept a journal of all the people who were instrumental in her early years so she could read the stories of love poured into her and prayers poured over her. Countless stories of our oldest daughter always being the second mom and being my backup caregiver. Our oldest son swaddling her tight and rocking like a mad man while he watched Monster Garage until she could finally relax to sleep. My Mom weeping over her, holding her stiff little body while she screamed in pain while Mom prayed for her healing. My husband and I never feeling more in God’s will than when bonding with, loving, and nurturing our wounded baby. Our neighbors loving her always with unconditional love and acceptance even when finding this child, unannounced, in their house. (She was an escape artist in spite of alarms on doors!)
So, today, on FASD Awareness Day 2015, I honor my very brave and strong survivor daughter by exposing a piece of our family’s fabric that sometimes looks pretty tattered and worn. We aren’t always good at the challenges FASD offers but today, I honor her by being a voice.
Some who live with FASD were basically “pickled” throughout their prenatal period by alcoholic moms, and in the past we have focused on those easier to diagnosis, well-documented cases. Now, we must be proactive in our education of women. We know so much more! NO time is a safe time to drink. A college student’s ONE-TIME weekend of binge drinking can result in a child with FASD. Physicians used to look at kids with certain facial characteristics and make an FASD diagnosis based on whether or not those were present. Now, we know that those facial characteristics are found in a very small portion of kids who still have FASD. The damage to the brain in the quickly dividing cells of an infant happens at all stages of pregnancy, and oftentimes, Momma doesn’t know she’s pregnant when she partakes. Alcohol, the great toxin:
Of all the substances of abuse (including cocaine, heroin, and marijuana), alcohol produces by farthe most serious neurobehavioral effects in the fetus.”—Institute of Medicine Report to Congress, 1996
Alcohol can trigger cell death in a number of ways,causing different parts of the fetus to develop abnormally.Alcohol can disrupt the way nerve cells develop, travelto form different parts of the brain, and function.By constricting the blood vessels, alcohol interferes withblood flow in the placenta, which hinders the deliveryof nutrients and oxygen to the fetus.Toxic byproducts of alcohol metabolism may becomeconcentrated in the brain and contribute to thedevelopment of an FASD.– FASD Center for Excellence.
So, what to do if you’re pregnant and have consumed alcohol? Be honest. Tell your OB/GYN and then tell your baby’s pediatrician after his/her birth. If you are making an adoption plan for your baby, tell your caseworker. It is imperative that they document the information. Here’s why…..getting a diagnosis of FASD is incredibly time consuming and difficult without Mom’s honest admission of alcohol use. Children go years without the proper treatment and worse off, the proper education, discipline, and care. Love your baby unconditionally by making that a well-documented part of his or her medical chart so that if problems do arise in the future, your baby will have the benefit of a quicker diagnosis and hence, appropriate services.
So, on this FASD Awareness Day, I wanted to educate in general and be a voice for individuals and families with FASD, and I wanted to be a cautionary voice to women. If you are struggling with FASD yourself, I want to leave you with God’s voice straight from HIS heart to your’s, to our Emma’s heart, to every man, woman, teen, and child who was traumatized by alcohol or other substances before birth. God has a love letter for you! Read Psalm 139. Below is my very loose paraphrase from verses 13-16.
I created your inmost being; I know exactly how your mind works even when others don’t. I know your heart.
I knit you together in your mother’s womb: I planned you even if she didn’t.
Praise me because I fearfully and wonderfully made you and I don’t make mistakes: You are an exquisite masterpiece. I adore you.
You weren’t hidden from me as the toxins took their toll. I knew this was happening: Trust me enough to be okay with not understanding the whys.
I saw the consequences of her choices: Know that I cried. Hating her will destroy you. Choose forgiveness.
From the beginning of time, I have had big, amazing plans for you regardless of your beginnings. Rely on me, hold my hand. I’ll walk you into the future.