I am a birth mother of a child with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and this is my story.

I conceived my daughter at the age of 30. She is now 16. Only seven weeks after ceasing the birth control pill, I discovered I was pregnant. It never occurred to me to stop drinking alcohol as soon as I stopped using contraception.

I am an educated, professional woman. My pre-pregnancy lifestyle was to drink between 4 and 6 standard drinks of alcohol socially at weekends. I didn’t know alcohol was a teratogen, a poison that could cause harm to a developing baby before a pregnancy was even confirmed.

Prior to 2009, the National Health and Medical Research Council deemed it ‘safe’ to drink up to 2 standard drinks per day and no more than 10 per week during pregnancy. I asked my midwife about alcohol in pregnancy and was told moderation was fine.

My daughter was born as a healthy, full term baby. She was a good weight and she continued to meet all of her developmental milestones within acceptable timeframes. She had quite a few issues with feeding and sleeping and was a very unsettled baby but, despite my exhaustion and frequent visits to child health nurses, there was never cause for concern because she continued to thrive developmentally. As a mother, I knew something wasn’t right, I just didn’t know what.

It was when my daughter turned 11 that her academic challenges started to really come to the fore. Suggestions from the school led me to ask our GP for a referral for further assessments. Each assessment highlighted an area of brain impairment, but with no answers. I was never asked if I’d consumed alcohol during pregnancy, you see. As an educated white woman from a middle-class background, I didn’t fit the stereotypes that most of society believe to be true (which are actually incorrect).

By pure chance, I came across information 3 years ago which alerted me to the fact that any amount of alcohol during any stage of a pregnancy can cause damage to a developing fetus. My daughter looks like a typical 16-year-old. She isn’t small for her age, she doesn’t have a small head or facial features. Until then I had no idea that less than 17% of children with FASD have the characteristic facial features!

After a tumultuous 3-year journey, my daughter now has a diagnosis of FASD and ADHD. She also experiences high levels of anxiety as a secondary condition, due to the struggles she faces at school and in managing routine day to day tasks. She is aware of her diagnosis. Sometimes she gets angry with me. She struggles every day to try to live the same life that her younger brother lives with ease.

Our daughter is resilient, she is strong, she is determined. The sensory challenges alone that she experiences every morning when she wakes up would be enough for many people to decide not to get out of bed. She is given negative labels and constant reprimands daily to “listen, stop talking, try harder, pay attention” by people who don’t understand her lifelong disability. Our daughter is our hero.

It is important to note that 50% of pregnancies in Australia are unplanned and 60% of pregnancies are exposed to alcohol. I think my story is just the tip of the iceberg and everyone needs to know the potential risks.

 

All of us at NOFASD are grateful to this strong woman for sharing her story. It is a story which is occurs far too frequently, as many are not aware of the risks of prenatal alcohol exposure prior to becoming aware of a pregnancy. It is our hope that, as awareness of FASD increases, there will be less shame and blame experienced by the families impacted by prenatal alcohol exposure. 

If you have been impacted by FASD and would like to speak to someone confidentially, please contact NOFASD here or call 1800 860 613. 

Further reading:

CJ Lutke, an adult living with FASD, recently shared her reflections about her birth mother in a blog titled A Journey to Healing

A young woman who learned about the realities of FASD earlier this year wrote a message to young women with no plans on getting pregnant anytime soon, titled FASD is My Problem Too

The National Health and Medical Research Council‘s newest guidelines (still in draft) now recommend that “women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol”.

Learn more about FASD, or find out how you can get involved in sharing this important prevention message.

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