TRIGGER WARNING: This is a first hand account of one birth mom's experience as she discovers that consuming alcohol while pregnant caused her sons to have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Some details may be overwhelming.
Anne shares a raw and powerful story of a birth mom who went from feeling “absolute, crushing anguish and unbearable grief” to helping save lives through her determination to raise FASD awareness through research, advocacy, publishing a book, training, speaking and forming the first FASD organization founded by a birth mom – in effect saving lives.
We delve deep with Anne as she relates how her doctor told her to “go and have a few drinks at the pub with your husband” to prevent an early labour - to raising two boys not knowing her drinking had caused Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, until one was diagnosed by a pediatrician with ADHD.
"In 2000, my youngest son was going through a tough time. He was doing things that were bizarre. Things that weren't ADHD."
She started to do her own research. And discovered Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Back then there were 124,000 hits on an internet search: compared to a Google return today of 19,100,000!
"At the time I was two years into my own recovery. If I was going to start drinking again, it was going to be then. My whole world fell apart. I understood what was wrong with him. It was a very difficult time. Mothers are not meant to do this."
She shares an intimate look into her journey of how she came to terms with the shame, and guilt and grief of the harm she had caused, yet how the social systems did not educate nor protect her and thousands of other moms by providing reliable information. How even after discovering what she did about Fetal Alcohol, professionals still dismissed her.
A meeting with Dr. Sterling K. Clarren, one of the world's leading researchers into Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, at a conference in Whitehorse in 2001 changed the trajectory of her life and gave her a reason for living and a purpose. In 2005 she published her first book: Alcohol and Pregnancy: My Responsible Disturbance. She realized more birth moms needed to speak out. And despite extreme shyness and introversion, she started to do just that. Also in that year she founded the Russell Family Fetal Alcohol Disorders Association, and is now one of Australia's leading parent advocates.
Anne reveals that despite all we know about pregnancy and alcohol, there is more stigma, blame and shame then there ever has been. And despite more awareness of the danger of consuming alcohol during pregnancy surveys show:
In addition to sharing her journey, she offers some practical advice to birth moms covering:
"While my boys have FASD, I believe maybe I've saved some lives because of it. It doesn't make it worthwhile, but it makes it bearable."
We hope this interview helps birth moms realize that despite judgement, stereotypes, lack of support – that at the end of the day, you can find a reason for going forward. It may not include all the advocacy Anne has undertaken - and that is okay. Just know you are not alone. And there are people and organizations out there that will help. (Links to Anne's organization and YouTube Channel below.)
We hope this interview helps others realize that judgement, shame and anger has never solved an issue – and it will never prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Let’s try lifting each other up with empathy, love and understanding.
Russell Family Fetal Alcohol Disorders Association:
RFFADA on YouTube:
To contact Anne: [email protected]