©South Bend Tribune -- June 15, 1999
Mulligan Stew: Child with fetal alcohol syndrome proves truly challenging
By LINDA MULLEN
Tribune Staff Writer
The first time I met my daughter Kasey, she was 5 years old and in a foster home.
I asked why the foster parents didn't want to adopt her, because she had been in their home for more than three years. The answer I received was a fumbling, mumbling "oh well, Kasey is just ... Kasey."
Now I know.
Only after the adoption was final and the Indiana Department of Health released Kasey's prenatal and infant medical history was she diagnosed as having fetal alcohol syndrome.
Her birth mother admitted to doctors that she did drink alcohol during her pregnancy with Kasey, but records didn't say how much.
She also said she smoked marijuana occasionally during pregnancy.
Because I am a kind person, and because it keeps me from using up too much energy on hatred, I choose to believe that Kasey's mother did not know the damage she was doing to her unborn child.
She probably was unaware of the lifetime of pain she was creating for her daughter, oblivious to the work she was creating for Kasey's caregivers.
Kasey was in the hospital for 10 days when she was born. It was suspected that she was a "coke baby," born addicted to cocaine and/or other drugs.
She went through several foster homes shortly after her first birthday, because she was such a difficult baby.
By the time I got Kasey, she had been on several drugs, for hyperactivity, depression, sleeping problems and "failure to thrive."
Foster parents said that Kasey often dug through trash for food. Her mother had left her home alone, even as an infant, and Kasey apparently learned this as a means of survival.
Much to my horror, she practiced those survival skills even after beginning school. At ball games, she'd run her hand underneath bleachers and pick at the gum stuck to them.
Under the bleachers, she'd also retrieve crumpled bags of popcorn and scavenge for leftovers.
Whenever we're missing food, the first place I look is under Kasey's bed. Yesterday, I found a pound of raw, ground turkey in her closet.
I've found gallons of milk in her closet and empty peanut butter jars under her bed. You could see how she scraped it out with her fingers.
One night, I heard her in the kitchen at midnight and found her at the refrigerator. Her head was completely tilted back and she was squeezing a full stream of chocolate syrup down her throat.
Five years ago, Kasey would chew her food, but often would refuse to swallow. I suppose those nightly drinks of chocolate syrup, with no one watching, helped her grow. She still does that, sometimes.
Unlike the craving for chocolate, consuming any alcohol during pregnancy should be avoided. The old wives' tale about a daily glass of wine is wrong. Babies with fetal alcohol syndrome have been born to these mothers. Your doctor is wrong if he is still giving this advice.
FAS can be found in all races and all socioeconomic groups, and the costs (for medication, treatment and education) for one FAS child is estimated to be $2 million over a lifetime.
It can cause physical handicaps, mental retardation and severe behavioral problems.
When Kasey was 4, she spoke only two words: "mama" and "snack." At age five, she finally began speaking in sentences. Her first sentence I remember was said when she was brushing her hair. She said, "Oh Mom, I look a fright."
Kasey wakes up wild, having had no medication for more than eight hours. Twice she has climbed up on the breakfast table and kicked off everyone's full cereal bowls.
She also got a thrill by shoving forks into electrical sockets, just to watch them blow out of the walls. One morning she was so exhilarated over her hamsters, she squeezed one to death.
To keep her safe, when she wakes up (time determined by sunlight), I give her four pills and send her back into her room or to the family room in the basement for 30 minutes.
She plays video games until the medication is in her system.
For a long time, her room was absent of toys, because if they were in there, she played all night and didn't sleep. Once I put a small desk and chair in her room. The next two mornings, I found the chair in bed with her.
Actually, Kasey is learning better behaviors and social skills. She's also finally learning to read.
One of the most important things that I've taught Kasey and her siblings is about alcohol abuse.
Kasey is living proof why no one should drink during pregnancy. Kasey is still "just Kasey," but now she's mine and I'm happy about it.
She truly is "100 proof."
Linda Mullen can be reached in the Plymouth bureau at (219) 936-2920 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FAS Community Resource Center