Sheena's Letter

Morgan Hill Times
April 14, 2001

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the only 100% preventable birth defect

No thank you, Mommy, I don't want to drink today.

"We are looking for a pregnant woman who drink and don't care if it hurts the baby." Did my ears deceive me? I turned and looked at the television. It was an advertisement for the Jenny Jones Show. Without another thought, I called the show.

"I just saw your commercial looking for women who drink while pregnant. Do you have any idea how devastating this behavior is? Are you going to have someone on this show who is going to tell these girls what Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is?"

I explain, "Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the only 100 percent preventable birth defect. It is a direct result of women drinking while pregnant. It causes life long permanent disabilities. It causes brain damage. It causes physical damage. It causes emotional damage. And it damages our society."

"I know. I live with it every day. I have a child who suffers from the abuse of alcohol. Sheena's birth mother drank and she lives like a prisoner for it. She will always need supervision. At 17, she can't date or drive. She will never live on her own."

My adopted daughter, Sheena, was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Her birth mother drank obsessively throughout the pregnancy. She was born six weeks premature and weighed only 4 pounds. Her heart was not strong enough to beat on it's own at birth. She suffered a minor stroke. Sheena was born drunk. She spent time in intensive care. Sheena was given medications to calm her tremors from the detoxification of alcohol. Sheena had permanent brain damage.

Sheena will never exceed a second to fourth grade education. For the entirety of her life Sheena will suffer from severe social delays and motor skills difficulties. She can't emotionally understand simple concepts in life. Sheena was robbed of a life free from disabilities while within the womb of her birth mother. For the rest of her life, she will be confined to her FAS world and pay the price of another's actions. She is innocent.

The Jenny Jones show employee takes my name and number. I figured that was the last I would hear from them. I wasn't what the commercial asked for. I am not drinking and I am not pregnant. I am simply a mother trying to break the silence. I was obviously wrong for this show.

Four days later my answering machine holds a surprise.

"We will be taping the show about women who are drinking while pregnant this Friday. We would really like you to come and share your story with us," the message says.

Sheena decides to write a letter to the pregnant women who are still drinking.

In Chicago for the taping, the hotel phone rings. It is Cara, a producer of the Jenny Jones show.

" I am looking at the pictures of your daughter. She is so cute. Her letter is so touching. We showed it to our executive producer. We want to use it on the show," she tells me.

Feeling gratitude, I reply, "Yes, this is her story. I'm just the messenger."

Perhaps all the hustle and chaos will be worth it. I am glad someone cares about the travesty of prenatal alcohol exposure. I drift off to sleep knowing that tomorrow is the big day.

While I am having my make up put on for the taping, I continue to hear the words of a pregnant woman proclaiming her rights to drink while she is pregnant, and we could all "sit down and shut up".

"It's my right and my body," she continues.

While they finish my make up two more women spoke with arrogance and show no sign or desire to care for their babies.

" I'm not keeping the baby, it's not my problem," one says as my stomach turns.

My time is here. I have Sheena's letter and am in constant prayer that I will not choke someone on stage. How can I send a message that I care about the unborn child if I have my hands wrapped around the Mother's neck?

I watch the TV monitors, the round bellies, the mouths bragging that it is their right to drink and not care if it effects their newborn. I am feeling anger, frustration and disgust. I'm no longer convinced that I can keep my anger out of the way to carry this vital message to the public about FAS and the devastation caused by such attitudes.

Jenny Jones ask me a few general questions that primarily addressed my daughter's academic weaknesses. They showed four pictures of my daughter and then flashed the letter my daughter had written to the pregnant woman up on a large screen.

Dear Moms,

I JuSt wanted you to know that if you have eny daughters out there. I wanted to let you know that what your daughters are doing is very unsafe and If they are pregnet it can kill them and there baby and it can put there body in a very messed up pasishin including there BabY. I know by experience because when my mom was Pregnet with me she did the same thing and I was born with fas and I also have a brother that has the same thing

Sheena 17 yrs

The room slowly hushes. The uncaring pregnant women grew very quiet. I read Sheena's letter. There is silence. Not one person in the room had a comment to make. The truth had been presented. We all sit in an eerie silence and my three minutes were finished.

In the last segment of the show, a doctor was allowed a few minutes to state the facts of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. I wondered could seven minutes of our time make a bigger impact than forty-five minutes of long-winded pregnant woman abusing alcohol. Did we make a difference? Did we change the course of a baby's life?

Three thousand miles and 10 hours later we arrived home. We had traveled over 6,000 miles and gotten less than five minutes of airtime. I had traveled on faith, hoping to educate people about the effects of alcohol on unborn babies.

I feel a sense of calm as say my morning prayer,

" God thank you for my sobriety today, 13 years ago, it could have been me that was on that panel bragging about how okay it was to drink while I was pregnant. Thank you God it wasn't me. Thank you God for those three minutes you gave me to try, even if I failed you and I didn't reach anyone, you let me try."

"Thank you for having enough faith in me to believe in me and trust me with a small child's life. If it matter's at all to you God, I am not ungrateful for the opportunity I was given to be the voice of a unborn baby who wants to say ' No thank you mommy, I don't want to drink today.'"

Nanette,
FASE mom to wonderful Sheena

Edited by Jodee Kulp


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