When I was diagnosed with FASD at age 34, I vowed to use my experiences and hard-earned life lessons to help others. Read the previous part of my story here.
So, after this patron at the bar turned his face up at me and said the obligatory “oops,” I used my courage to explain the conference and tell them I had fetal alcohol syndrome. The response I got from him and three of his buddies was nothing I had not heard before: “My mom drank when she was pregnant with me, and I’m fine!” Then laughter erupted.
I must have had this look on my face, because the eldest man in the group came over to me and sat next to me. He looked at me and asked about my birth mom. I told him she had done what she knew best. She had drunk. I told him she had grown up in foster care and probably had many demons. He looked at me and told me she may not have known much, but she did know what was best for her daughter. I thanked him for telling me that. He then hugged me, wished me luck, and told me he had really enjoyed speaking to me. After that moment, I realized there are always going to be ignorant people. Among ignorance, there is always a beacon of awareness. With that, I paid my bill and retreated to my room to get rest for my big presentation the next day.
I awoke before my alarm went off. I got up, went downstairs, and mingled with the vendors. My presentation was in the afternoon, after lunch. I went to check out the amphitheater we would be presenting in. It was large, and a little chilly. I was going to be on a panel with a mom, an adoptive mom, and a teenager with an FASD. We all assembled, and the moderator, Marissa, asked us to tell out journey, and then asked us questions about our diagnosis.
The amphitheater had filled with about 45 people. As I spoke about my journey from birth to present, I made sure to look around the room. I saw heads nodding, smiles, winks, and sparks of hope as each person pondered their own situation.
I listened to the mom tell her story. It was one of not knowing the dangers of drinking while pregnant. Like my birth mom, she had struggles, and didn’t know how to overcome them at the time. So, she drank. She feels a tremendous amount of guilt for drinking, and how much her daughter has struggled in school and life because of the damage the alcohol did to her brain. She finally chose a sober lifestyle, and she eventually admitted to the pediatrician that she had drank during her pregnancy. She knew if she kept lying about it, her daughter would never get the help she needed. With her truth came the FASD diagnosis for her daughter. This mom went to trainings for children with an FASD. She met other mothers to confide in and to swim the turbulent waters with. I have great admiration for her strength and courage to keep her daughter and her fight for her and with her. She did make a mistake, one she can’t take back. But the decisions she has made since though have been positive and have had positive repercussions for her daughter. Her daughter is succeeding in school because her mom is there for her every step of the way.
The teenager with an FASD talked about her struggles with organization and her realization of her limits. She is 16, and she would love to drive, but she knows her brain would be too distracted and not be able to focus on the road. She has learned that she is able to succeed in school, cook and clean by herself, and keep up with her hygiene. She has a paraprofessional who has become more than just a teacher for her. This lady has taught her what she is capable of doing for herself. She is the poster child for HOPE with an FASD.
The adoptive mom on the panel explained her fears about her teenage son, who is becoming a man in age and hormones, but is emotionally still a boy. She talked about her fear about sexual websites he perused at school, and continued to at home when the school allowed every child to bring home a laptop to do their schoolwork. Her fears and her conversation with the audience made me realize why my emotional responses to events sometimes—well, many times—seemed young, childish, and impulsive. My brain is emotionally underdeveloped.
This panel discussion sparked a light that had started to flicker within me. I realized, facing that audience, that I want to tell my story to anyone who will listen. I was able to be an example of an adult with an FASD that is successful in life. I was able to speak about how unconditional love, a stable home environment, and routine are essential, and each are paving stones towards a successful life for one who lives with an FASD.
One of the lessons I took away from this convention is this: I felt like a round peg in a round hole. My quirks, my tendency to stare at people and not always read social cues . . . they fit in at the MOFAS convention. I didn’t get strange looks, people did not turn their backs or run away. They nodded in understanding, and they stayed to hear my story.