So I’m reading. Researching. Trying to figure out how to be the best parent I can be to children who have special needs (one with celiac disease, three with FASD). So I’ve taken notes on all kinds of on-line workshops via www.fasd-cmc.alberta.ca and some interdisciplinary sites (for teachers rather than parents). I’m going to an international conference in early March and I want to be somewhat read-up on some of the research out there.
Right now, I’m taking notes on Trauma and FASD. And if there is one thing I’ve learned from 3 or 4 conferences/workshops with Diane Benoit, is that unresolved trauma is bad. Very bad. The first two workshops I attended with Dr. Benoit were OVERWHELMING for me (one was a two day conference and I left thinking I should never ever have kids because how on earth could I ever be a good parent and not traumatize my own children?) but the more I’ve parented and sought HELP, the more I’ve understood what she means and sought the “resolution” for my own personal traumas that sometimes freeze me (probably more often than I want to openly admit on facebook) as a parent and I start acting like a 4 year old or a tween instead of the parent of such!
SO, anyway, I’m reading through some slides from a workshop that was delivered earlier this month, that of course I didn’t attend, I could spend my life going to workshops – but I do actually have to parent and USE this information – which, in all actuality, IS the hard part – putting it all into practice.
I came across the following information that kind of blew my mind:
Study of Birth Mothers of 160 children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Of the 80 interviewed:
• 100% seriously sexually, physically or emotionally abused
• 80% had a major unaddressed mental illness
• 80% lived with men who did not want them to quit drinking
Astley, S. J., Bailey, D., Talbot, C., & Clarren, S. K. (2000). Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) Primary
Prevention through FASD Diagnosis II: A comprehensive profile of 80 birth mothers of children with
FAS. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 35(5), 509-519.
And that stopped me in my tracks. That is not saying that 100% of the people who are abused WILL have kids with FAS, but of those who DID have children with FAS (which is the full-blown diagnosis of all the criteria) 100% had experienced SIGNIFICANT TRAUMA. And people with undiagnosed mental health issues (especially) turn to drugs or alcohol for self medication. And if these people had experienced any trauma – it’s like a circle that does not end.
And, other research indicates that those with FASD…
Streissguth et al. (1996) longitudinal study. N= 415 individuals (6-51 years) with FASD.
1.) More than 90% had mental health problems
2.) 49% had inappropriate sexual behaviors
3.) Over 60% had disrupted school experience
4.) 60% had been in trouble with the law
5.) 50% had been confined (incarceration, inpatient mental health or substance abuse programs)
6.) 35% had alcohol and drug problems
7.) 67% had experienced physical or sexual abuse, or were victims of domestic violence
8.) 80% were not reared by their biological mother
So why am I going on about this? Because sometimes I get angry that people could be so selfish. There is a growing number of studies showing that many of the undiagnosed children (ones whose parents are not government involved) are the ones from upper middle class home with mothers who are at least college educated and professionally involved. People that we see edified on TV going out to drink their socks (or panties) off on the weekends. Something like 50% of pregnancies are unexpected pregnancies. So if you do the math, and most people don’t realize they are pregnant until they are close to 6 weeks (and at that point significant cell development is happening and alcohol exposure IS damaging these cells) and 50% weren’t trying to get pregnant (therefore unlike Ken and I were for 6 long years) – there is going to be a significant number of upper/middle class kids with some effects from prenatal alcohol exposure. Granted, women in this group will typically have prenatal care, stop drinking and have good nutrition and so *probably* the effects will be less than the groups that tend to get more attention. I am not particularly sure of how they picked these particular birth mothers for this study, but I do wonder if they were children who were in foster care or already significantly involved in government programs – rather than the kid in the classroom with excessive ADHD/oppositional defiance whose mom helps in the class and drives for field trips every week.
There is another area of growing research that adds to this: it has recently been found (in the last decade or so) that CORTISOL (one of the stress hormones) can cross the placenta. Big deal, right? No. If a mother is undergoing undue stress and her cortisol levels stay high (domestic violence, 5 children- 3 still in diapers in a 2 bedroom townhouse) that the cortisol can be AT LEAST AS DAMAGING as alcohol to major parts of the brain! We know that when we are under a lot of stress our bodies sort of shut down (or become hyperactive and autoimmune disease can result as well). While I was pregnant with Claire, and really stressed out with a number of things that I could not control (and yet was still responsible for taking care of) I tried to go off my antidepressant medication – which really made me crazy – eventually I was reassured by a psychiatrist that staying on my low dose antidepressant was much better for the baby (whose body wouldn’t need the medication and not use it) and that the cortisol pulsing through my body was much worse for my unborn baby than taking the medication would be. It was slightly reassuring – but I knew, in the back of my head this was true (I just needed a practitioner to tell me, not a researcher).
I am going to read-on in this trauma/FASD study to see if it addresses my next question, which is, if a mumsy has these high levels of stress while she is pregnant – will the alcohol she drinks have a greater affect on her unborn baby? Will her child be more likely to present with FASD than, say, the upper middle class mom in a stable marriage with a steady professional income who didn’t find out she was pregnant until she was 6 weeks along and then stopped her social drinking?
Anyway, what I’m thinking is that in order to fully break this cycle of brain damage and mental health – what do we do as Christians, as neighbors, as fellow moms and dads to help support those we know who are in ugly relationships, who maybe drink too much (maybe they are self-medicating?) who maybe had issues as teens and are trying their hardest as adults to raise great kids – but are really struggling? And, who are just plain ole moms who are coping with the everyday stresses that the world puts upon them, the unrealistic expectations that she puts on herself, and those who are pregnant trying to do everything right – and feeling the stress of not being perfect or “not knowing” what the “RIGHT” thing to do is.
And, as a mom with past trauma, raising four children, all with the amazing ability to make me forget myself and laugh, and love – and fight tooth and nail for what is best for them, how do I break this cycle for them? How do I become a better mother? A better listener? A better role model? More patient? More firm? More prepared? I really DON’T want my kids to be in that 90% who have mental health problems (and it’s more likely for those who have IQs over 70). I DON’T want my kids to be in the 60% who have trouble with the law, or the 50% who are incarcerated or 49% engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior. BUT how do we KEEP this from happening? Who can help us?
SO, I know I’m just babbling here, that it’s not cohesive, it’s not actually very readable. I happen to have a quiet house (two girls are sleeping, the rest are with Dad at Taste of the World) and I have been wanting to ask for this for a LONG time…
Please pray for us. Sometimes I wish I could write a prayer letter to send to all those who already love us and pray for us – as those who we support overseas (and those we support here who offer support overseas) – so you know what to pray about and HOW IMPORTANT it is that you DO PRAY FOR US. I have to be somewhat vague here – but at the same time, we are very open with the children about the adoption, about why they live with us and how much we love them. They all have had to undergo the long assessments for a diagnosis with FASD, but most of them have also had to do food sensitivity testing with our naturopath (which isn’t so “mortifying”).
If you would like prayer updates via www.scatteredgraces.ca or facebook or email, let me know. And if, every so often you wouldn’t mind telling me that I’m not “The meanest momma in the whole world,” that would be pretty great too, even if I don’t appear to take it to heart at the time, I assure you it is being “treasured” in my heart.