There Needs Be No Blame


Many mothers of children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) suffer from alcoholism.  Others may abuse alcohol without realizing the danger this poses the unborn baby.  Almost all mothers of babies with FAS were subjected to physical and/or sexual abuse, and about half are believed to be affected by FAS or FAE themselves.  Most mothers who drank during pregnancy, unless they are in recovery, will deny that they drank or downplay the amount of alcohol they consumed.  This is understandable because of the guilt they carry, the shame and blame others confer on them, and the denial that is a major symptoms among those who abuse alcohol and other drugs.  Blaming the mother is counterproductive to finding healthy solutions to prevent FASD.  Blaming the mother also shows a lack of understanding about the nature of alcoholism.  Here is a letter from the mother of an alcohol-affected child as she responds to comments by those who want to blame the birth mother.


Alcoholism is hideous, and denial is a chief symptom.  This is a disease process in which the only outcomes are recovery, insanity or death.

Not that we are not all sad and very, very taxed in caring for each child exposed prenatally to alcohol; and not that the daily and hourly taxes my son pays for his damages are not beyond my ability to fathom and not that we blame moms-to-be who cannot get treatment beds or who are totally unaware of FASD.   In 1995 or so the march of dimes believed still that only half of all women in their child bearing years had even ever heard of FASD.


But having had death in my own family due to alcoholism, I really have to share that this is a pervasive disease that takes over every domain of life.  However gradually, however non-suicidal the person may appear, this disease is a downward spiral, a slow suicide.

If any one has survived the viewing of the academy award winning movie "Leaving Las Vegas" -- starring Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue -- it shows the relentless road to death for the active alcoholic who has no more fight left in him for health.  Even the humor and some of the facial expressions of the cage character remind me exactly of my brother.  It is very difficult to watch, but incredibly realistic.

I had a brother who died of drink at 28 years of age, who had been drinking since 15 when he caddied at the country club in town and got access thru the guys he worked for as well as thru the at-home liquor cabinet.  I saw how even his successes of becoming an Evans Scholar in golf and being accepted at Purdue University in Indiana were lost to the cause of his next drink.  He partied until he had barely any strands of internal organs where his waist should be.  He peed in the corners of his own apartment.  He refused to let my sister call him an ambulance.  He refused to let my parents commit him for mental health or CD treatment.  He said, "A-As are assholes" (one of his more famous quotes).  He drove alone from Indiana to Atlanta, Georgia, to be a golf shop pro, and when his car was found with the motor running by the side the highway, it was towed and he was marked up as missing.  Four or five weeks later, my dad flew down there with dental records and asked the sheriff’s department to search further, like 600 yards instead of 300 yards.  Of course then they found his remains.  He had disrobed probably due to fever and disorientation as a result of a bladder infection that was being treated with antibiotics, while drinking while driving (beer only- as if it weren't harmful).  Foul play could have been a factor, but we will never know.  Later they sent the actual ashes home in a plastic bag in a little wooden box which my mother opened while she was alone at home.  She was already berzerk with grief and the arrival of that package threw her over the top again for weeks to come.   My brother’s drinking masked almost every other family member’s using.  All family members were drinking at the time except me, and I was doing my weed of choice at college (true confessions).

We certainly suffered the insanity of alcoholism down to every single family member.  We have numerous family members 15-20 years into sobriety now, although the next generation is getting placed on surveillance with random UA’s due to dui or stupider things (no plates, no license—duh).  But you gotta love ‘em.  They weren't asked whether they preferred to be born into an alcoholic family tree. Not that anyone wouldn’t want to walk away and no longer be alcoholic.  That is just now how this particular disease process works.  It is a killing disease, and you have got to want to recover for yourself alone.  There is no way to control it, cause it, or cure it.  It just is.  There needs be no blame.

In working in the field of FASD, I try to remember that the same thing that hurt the mama also hurt her baby.  There are articles that cover the actual spirals of addiction to alcohol.  When it happens to individuals, the details are really horrendous.  When it happens to the unborn, the exposures are really, really awful also.  Alcoholism is a hideous disease, and denial is a chief symptom.




For a better understanding of alcoholism, read the article published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:


For a better understanding of birth mothers of children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, read the summary of research on birth mothers conducted by Dr. Sterling Clarren:


Related articles on this topic can be found here:


For more information on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, see the web site for the FAS Community Resource Center: