I had quite a surprise today. My Aunt Charlene called me from Topeka today to tell me that she is about to adopt a Russian toddler and wanted the family to know. Normally, I would be overjoyed by such news, especially considering that she never married or had a child. However, Aunt Charlene quickly went on to say that the child has fetal alcohol syndrome, but that the adoption agency did not think it was particularly grave because the mother supposedly stopped drinking when she found out that she was pregnant. I was bowled over. I did not want to be unhappy for Aunt Charlene or down on her for wanting to help an unfortunate child, but at the same time, I did not want to see her take on a child with overwhelming problems. I decided to do a little research to see what occurs with fetal alcohol syndrome.
According to the Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia, “Using or abusing alcohol during pregnancy can cause the same risks as using alcohol in general. However, it poses extra risks to the unborn baby. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it easily passes across the placenta to the fetus. Because of this, drinking alcohol can harm the baby’s development. A pregnant woman who drinks any amount of alcohol is at risk for having a child with fetal alcohol syndrome. No ‘safe’ level of alcohol use during pregnancy has been established. Larger amounts of alcohol appear to increase the problems. Binge drinking is more harmful than drinking small amounts of alcohol.” The article further states that “timing of alcohol use during pregnancy is also important. Alcohol use appears to be the most harmful during the first 3 months of pregnancy. However, drinking alcohol any time during pregnancy can be harmful.” For these reasons, any future mother who is having trouble quitting drinking during pregnancy should try to contact an alcohol recovery center
Considering that the child’s mother drank until she found out that she was pregnant is a worrisome piece of data. This is a key time for growth and development. The website kidshealth.org stated that “mothers who drink during the first trimester of pregnancy have kids with the most severe problems because that is when the brain is developing. The connections in the baby’s brain don’t get made properly when alcohol is present. Of course, in the early months, many women don’t even know they’re pregnant.” What, though, might be the child’s current problems and what might be in store for Aunt Charlene as the adoptive mother? I checked the Mayo Clinic Website and found a list of serious problems that FAS children suffer from: deformities of joints and limbs or fingers, heart defects, slow physical growth before and after birth, vision difficulties or hearing problems, small head circumference and brain size (microcephaly), poor coordination, mental retardation and delayed development, learning disorders, and abnormal behaviors such as a short attention span, hyperactivity, poor impulse control, extreme nervousness and anxiety.
It really did not sound like my aunt had any idea what the future would realistically hold for her and the little Russian child. She kept asserting that love and care now would make up for what the child lacked in her early development and that she could bridge the gap. However, the kidshealth.org website pointed out that “problems associated with FAS tend to intensify as children move into adulthood. These can include developmental health problems, troubles with the law, and the inability to live independently.” I know from witnessing the success stories from some of our Topeka drug rehabs
that even individuals with psychological and physical challenges such as a drug addiction can overcome their circumstances and go on to lead wonderful lives. I wonder, though, what it’s like to begin life with a potential setback, though.
I am sending this research to my aunt today, but wanted others to know about it. I don’t think its right for an adoptive parent to be uninformed and lead to believe that such grave problems as microcephaly can be handled with love and care. I do admire my aunt’s good intentions, but for her own sake and the sake of the child, I want her to know exactly what she is getting herself into. Hopefully, she can arrange for a competent medical evaluation of the little girl and that with the proper care and my aunt’s generous love, this child can grow up to be a successful adult.