What Life as a 43-Year-Old With FASD Is Like

A mom who drank alcohol throughout her pregnancy shares what her grown daughter's life is like today.

We recently reported on a study that found as many as 428 conditions are associated with FASD, or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. As if expectant women need any more reasons to put down that wine glass, now a mom named Kathy Mitchell is opening up about what happens to a child when you drink during pregnancy, as she did.

Mitchell's daughter Karli is no longer a child; she's 43-years-old, but according to The Washington Post, she has the developmental capabilities of a first-grader. Karli collects stickers and dolls, and wears Hello Kitty pajamas, much like my own 7-year-old does. She needs help to navigate everyday situations, like crossing a street, or recognizing danger, or even remembering to brush her teeth; again, much like my own daughter, who is in second grade.

When Mitchell became pregnant with Karli as a teen, she says she didn't know the risks of drinking alcohol. Back then, she heard people saying things like, "If you want to have a big fat baby, drink a beer a day" and "Red wine is good for the baby's blood." Mitchell had already given birth to a healthy son after drinking during that pregnancy, so when she became pregnant with Karli, she didn't change her habits, which included guzzling a bottle of wine and several beers each weekend.

As a baby, Mitchell says Karli seemed perfectly fine. The first sign something was wrong was when she failed to meet milestones like sitting up or rolling over on time. Other red flags included speech delays and trouble with fine and gross motor skills. Doctors struggled to diagnose the little girl for years, because, as Mitchell says, "No one ever asked me about my alcohol use." It wasn't until Karli was a teen that she received her FASD diagnosis.

"I adore my very sweet daughter," Mitchell says. "She's a forever innocent child. But not a day goes by that I don't ask myself, 'What if? What if alcohol hadn't been a part of my life?'" She adds, "In our family, though, [Karli] is a blessing. She brings joy to everyone she knows. It breaks my heart to think about why Karli is disabled."

The reason is simple: Her mom drank alcohol during pregnancy. Now, they both have to live with the fact that Karli has a severe form of FASD, which Kathy likens to wearing a scarlet letter. Incredibly, Karli may be the lucky one. Mitchell's alcohol and drug use during subsequent pregnancies resulted in one baby passing away at birth, and a second dying in her crib at 10 weeks old.

Mitchell, now the Vice President of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, is sharing her family's story in the hopes that other mothers-to-be won't make the same life-altering mistake she did. "I believe I would be a terrible person if I didn't do everything in my power to prevent this from happening to another child," she says.

I for one am blown away by the courage it took this mom to share her story, and applaud her mission to educate other moms about the dangers of drinking while pregnant. Message received, loud and clear.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.

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