Friday, August 31, 2007

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Last night I was rereading a book I picked up somewhere while I was in college. It’s a collection of essays called “Paper Trail” by Michael Dorris. I stumbled upon the book in college, but it stuck with me because several of the essays were about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). The author, Michael Dorris, adopted 3 children who were all, to greater and lesser degrees, affected by this syndrome. His is a sorrowful and almost hopeless story of life with these three children whom he loves deeply, yet can do so little to help.

For those who don’t know, FAS is the result of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. It is unknown how much alcohol must be consumed in order to injure the fetus, but no amount of alcohol during pregnancy is considered safe. FAS children can have an array of physical impairments, but the most alarming aspect of FAS is how it affects the ability to reason and make choices. Dorris explains it this way:

My grown son has a full range of physical disorders: seizures; curvature of the spine; poor coordination; sight and hearing. But his most disabling legacy has to do with his impaired ability to reason. FAS victims are known for their poor judgment, their impulsiveness, their persistent confusions over handling money, telling time, and in distinguishing right from wrong.

While it is estimated that 8000 babies are born each year with FAS, another 65000 are estimated to be born with Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE). (These stats are from Dorris’ book.) Though FAE children are not as severely affected as those with FAS, they can still exhibit many of the mental symptoms that make good decision making almost impossible. Dorris says,

Our older children, now all adults or nearly so, often cannot function independently, cannot hold jobs, tell the truth, manage money, plan a future. They have all at one time or another been arrested or otherwise detained for shoplifting, inappropriate sexual conduct, and violent behavior. Despite all our efforts to protect them, they have periodically come under the influence of people who, for instance, worship Satan or take advantage of them physically, mentally, and/or financially. They maintain no enduring friendships, set for themselves no realistic goals, can call upon no bedrock inner voice to distinguish moral from amoral, safe from dangerous.

Why write about this here? Because it struck me in rereading this essay that some of the children and teens (and adults, for that matter) we know at Contact have likely been exposed to prenatal alcohol. How much of their poor decision making skills and impulsivity is the result of normal childish behavior, and how much is linked to the alcohol? We’ll never know. But it made me wonder… and it made me sad. They probably wouldn't be diagnosed with FAS or FAE, but still, it seems logical to me that there could be consequences to the drinking, or smoking or drugs their mamas did while pregnant. Our kids seem to have so much in life already stacked against them – dysfunctional families, low-performing schools, lack of good healthcare – and now this – alcohol in the womb before their first breath. It is a discouraging thought, to say the least! Yet when we look at this, Bob and I, all we know to do is try to keep fighting the odds. Some days it seems we’re pouring water into a bucket full of holes. Though I know and believe that God can heal the most wounded of souls, the most dysfunctional of families, it all too often seems only a miracle akin to the parting of the Red Sea will cause these kids lives to really change. I have to remind myself that faith moves mountains. (But why oh, why does it seem like we have such big mountains here in Tulsa?!) So we, like each of you in your neighborhoods, continue going about the business of not losing faith. We keep praying for these children and teens, keep trying to help them make better choices, keep teaching them about God’s love, keep giving them second chances, keep having faith that something we’re doing is making a difference. Please pray for these children and all children in the world who start out life with so many disadvantages. And pray for us too, that we will not lose heart in a world that tries to steal our faith.

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