Pregnant pause

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On writing about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

When I started researching Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder for the feature in this issue [of Minnesota Women’s Press],
it turned out there was a lot I didn’t know.

Opinion: Pregnant Pause

When Sara Messelt of the Minnesota Organization of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (MOFAS) told me that that well-educated, middle-class women are the least likely to quit drinking when they become pregnant, I was shocked. And then her colleague, Jennifer Stieve, mentioned how often MOFAS encounters pregnant women (often at their “Pregnant Pause” social and educational events) who think that “the occasional glass of wine” is just fine. When Stieve said how prevalent that attitude was among women who frequent online chat communities, I had to check it out for myself.

It was even worse than Stieve had said. Not only was the “wine is fine” attitude widespread among those who posted on the three chat boards where I lurked, but on all three boards, the women who dared suggest that maybe you ought to nix that glass of Chardonnay till after the baby’s born were denounced as holier than thou. A typical comment: “You should be ashamed of yourself for implying that having an occasional glass of wine makes someone a bad mother!” The woman who evoked that response had posted, almost meekly, “It seems as though it might be best not to drink at all, since scientists don’t know if just a little harms a developing baby.”

Why don’t more women know about the dangers of mixing pregnancy and alcohol? It goes back to their doctors, some of whom don’t know much themselves or buy into the myths that it’s an “inner city” problem. “Clinics should be at the heart of this,” said Dr. Lydia Caros, one of the foremost local experts on FASD.

Caros is hopeful that when women learn the truth about drinking while pregnant, they’ll choose to stop. Both Caros and Messelt agree that along with education, there is a need for more support for women who need help to quit drinking. So why isn’t there a hue and cry?

“Public health stuff is unbelievably slow … glacier-like,” said Caros, pointing out how long it took to get the word out about smoking during pregnancy and the dangers of lead-based paint. “It’s happening … with FASD. But it’s very slow. And lots of babies are being damaged in the process.”

Referring to the advertisements that caution people about the dangers of “excessive” drinking, Caros commented, “‘Please drink responsibly’-does anyone know what that means?”

For Further Info: Read our Oct. 3, 2007 feature story on FASD at www.womenspress.com/FASD