No I'm not pregnant! Haha, but I do know several people who are. I recently watched a documentary sent to me by a reader called Moment to Moment: Teens Growing Up With FASDs [Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders]. On the blog I often talk about drinking and how it has affected my life, as well as the widespread consequences caused by addiction. I read a lot about the devastating effects of drugs and alcohol on bodies, the epidemic of overdosing, and the constant suffering experienced by the families of addicts. Something I don't see a lot about when I read about addiction is mothers-to-be who drink while pregnant. Did you know each year 2-5% of all babies born in the U.S. have been affected by their mother's drinking alcohol during pregnancy? I didn't. I also didn't know Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders is the number 1 cause of preventable intellectual disability in the U.S. These are only a couple of facts I learned from watching this documentary. The scary part is some women believe drinking during pregnancy has no effect and others are too wrapped up in their addiction to care. If you're one of them or know one, please take into consideration the devastating effects alcohol could have on your unborn child. Watching this documentary allowed me to see with my own eyes the long-lasting consequences.
Dr. Chasnoff, an award-winning author, doctor, and researcher, unleashes many alarming facts in the film. Besides the ones I've already mentioned, the most shocking to me, was when he explained that there is no safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant.Why? The BAC (blood alcohol content) in a fetus is just as high or higher than in the mother.
Let me explain first what Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders means. It's an umbrella term that includes several different mental disorders. People who are affected fall somewhere on the spectrum, showing little noticeable effects, to the other extreme where effects are quite severe and children have a hard time functioning on their own. The following disorders span the spectrum:
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome - this is the one mostly commonly heard of.
- Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder
- Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
- Neurodevelopmental Disorder with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure
How exactly does alcohol affect babies who are exposed to it in the womb?
1. Growth - Babies are born small and stay small all their lives. Their height and weight are low and generally mark under the 10th percentile.
2. Facial Features - Babies are born with a flat mid face feature. They often have small, wide eyes and a flat nasal bridge. They may have a thin upper lip, accompanied by a flat area between the nose and upper lip without the typical groove.
3. Brain - Babies are born with a small head at birth; this especially occurs in women who drink during their 3rd trimester. Children whose moms drink only earlier in pregnancy will have a normal size brain, however there is still a significant impact on brain development.
Most of all, prenatal alcohol exposure can deeply influence how the affected children process information. The goal of the documentary is to raise awareness of this little talked about spectrum of diseases. It also showed me the troubles teens who fall on that spectrum face. Many of these developmental issues are hard to physically see and unless medical professionals know for sure that children were exposed to alcohol during gestation, FASDs is hard to diagnose. Additionally, many of these affected children find themselves in the foster care system, the juvenile court system, and correctional facilities.
In fact, on August 7, 2012, the American Bar Association passed a resolution that recommended that FASDs be a mitigating factor in criminal adjudication and sentencing. This helps lawyers, judges, and the foster care system understand more about these disorders and raises awareness for those who work with at-risk youth. There's a chance that some criminals and other at-risk youth could be suffering with FASDs and be unaware. It may be a missing link that could explain unusual behavior.
When a child with FASDs grows up, there are 3 major areas of their lives that are impacted.
1. Neurocognitive functioning - The ability to relate cause and consequence; take part in executive functioning. The ability to think before you do.
2. Self-regulation - Thinking, behaviors, and emotions are difficult to control.
3. Adaptive living - Taking what you know and applying it to daily life. The ability to learn from experience is diminished.
Memory organization, time management, thinking abstractly, and daily routines - things we all take for granted every day are constant battles for children and teens with FASDs. During Moment to Moment I watched Alison, Brittany, Kara, and Jerry attempt to live their lives as best they could. It's heartbreaking and frustrating to watch the adversity these teens face because of the choices their birth moms made years before.
This documentary provides the first of its kind, understandable description, of acquired brain damage from prenatal alcohol exposure. It also conveys a strong message of hope, while reminding all of us, people with special needs require our compassion and care. For me, it brought to light an important side of addiction that often gets overlooked. If seeing these alcohol effects up close and personal doesn't allow you to look at your side of the street when it comes to unhealthy drug and alcohol habits, what will?
To find a screening near you of Moment to Moment: Teens Growing Up with FASDsClick Here.
To purchase the film Click Here.