Devastating Denial


Perhaps the most mind-boggling paradox of the human condition is our unwillingness to accept facts that could prevent us from a future of despair. Preconceived notions and inherent privileges are our drugs of choice. An excellent example of this and one with which I am intimately familiar is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Prevention educators have been telling us for years now that as little as one drink during pregnancy can cause irreparable harm to a developing fetus. The gold standard prevention method of FASD is to stop the consumption of alcohol at the same time you stop using birth control to achieve pregnancy. In fact, genetics research tells us that abstinence from alcohol must be the objective for both partners: the potential mother and father.

In spite of this information, there are too many potential parents who intentionally ignore the warning. Without pointing fingers and naming names, I have seen the effects of this among my own family. In each case, the parents were heavy drinkers of legal age with average education attainment. Both sets of parents had access to medical care. Both already had one healthy child. The economic status of one was poor, while the other was middle class. One of the mothers worked in the medical field, and the other had studied social work in college. Both mothers stopped using birth control but continued drinking until they became aware of their pregnancy.

Both children were born with slightly below average APGAR scores. Both babies were uncharacteristically quiet and slept more than average. They were both slightly below average weight, and one required an emergency bowel surgery a few weeks after birth. The other will need to have corrective eye muscle surgery within the next couple of years. Neither could keep up with developmental standard target measures, and both remained delayed throughout infancy. The older one could not catch up during early childhood and is currently receiving special education, physical and occupational therapy, and behavioral intervention services. Although it’s too soon to tell how the younger one will fare, there are “gut feelings” that more problems may arise.

Both sets of parents knew the risks involved in drinking while trying to become pregnant but didn’t worry about it the second time around. They both deny the possibility that consuming alcohol during conception may have contributed to their child’s problems. Alcoholism has become a constant part of their lives. In addition to these stressors, they have also faced economic and marital troubles. They have a difficult time meeting the needs of both of their children. Sadly, their story is played out in families all over America.

I know the reality of it stings but it’s true that people could do better for themselves and their families in nearly all situations. We have the information to make appropriate choices, yet we don’t like to do so. It’s comfortable doing whatever we feel like doing. But when we settle for mediocrity, we choose to compromise our children’s future. That is simply not acceptable.




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