Dear Vera, Tomorrow our son, Toby, turns 13 years old. Do you ever think about him? Or miss him? Do you ever wonder how he is doing? Did you know he has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?
Twelve years ago, I met Toby in an orphanage. It was love at first sight and I vowed to take care of our curly-haired boy. Ignorance is bliss and the first year was magical, except for the not sleeping and not eating phase, which I assumed all babies went through.
When Toby was two, he started running in circles and into walls. His energy level was unending and he began hitting other kids. I assumed all two years old did this as well.
When Toby was three, he was still running, not sleeping, or eating, and he added biting to the mix. By then, I was exhausted, bruised, and worried. Several doctors, friends, and well-meaning family members told me he was fine, but I knew he wasn’t. I finally found a Pediatrician who told me the truth: Toby had full blown Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) because his birth mother drank excessively while pregnant. I had no idea what FAS was. According to the CDC:
- No amount of alcohol is safe to drink while pregnant
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders cover a wide range of birth defects
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are 100% preventable
Our rather expensive specialist told us FAS was incurable and unnecessary. She then told us that problem behaviors like biting, hitting, and cursing would be almost impossible to extinguish. He was only three years old. I fell apart.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Shattered All My Hopes And Dreams For “Our” Son
Toby's prospects went from being anything he wanted to probably not going to college to maybe never being able to live on his own. It's still too early to tell. I spent the next eight years dragging Toby to doctors, therapists, play groups, tutors, and counselors, trying to undo the damage you did. A doctor said I should pick my battles and that there are no battles. I was told I would have to accept all of his behaviors. My parents said I should spank him into submission. His teachers said there’s nothing wrong with him as they simultaneously complained about how he wouldn’t pay attention, listen, or do his work. Friends also said there’s nothing wrong with him. “He’s just a boy.” But none of their boys screamed at the sound of a vacuum or compulsively broke windows just to hear the glass shatter.
The Growing Years
Toby quickly became too big for me to carry out of the grocery store when he had a meltdown. He hated going to school and refused to brush his teeth. For years I was afraid Toby would never speak, but he began talking when he was nine years old. It turns out he is much smarter than the doctors said. He has learned to read, write, and tell time.
Your Drinking Has Affected Me Beyond My Wildest Imagining
I spent years researching his condition and crying about tantrums I couldn’t control.
I Am Learning:
- He is capable of far more than the experts thought. He packs his own lunch, folds his clothes, makes his bed, and opens the car door for me.
- To accept his past for what it is and not what it should have been.
- We are the perfect family for him and he is the perfect son for us despite all the hardships we have had to face.
One Last Thing
Toby has to overcome more challenges than any child should have to face because of your choice to drink alcohol while pregnant with him. Even though I struggle with anger and resentment I am also curious to know if his curly hair and gray-green eyes come from you.
If we do meet, I hope I will be able to fully embrace the idea that you did the best you could. Certainly, no mother wants to hurt her children. I want you to know that you gave me the greatest gift one person could ever give to another and Toby will be all right. You’d be proud of the amazing boy he’s growing up to be. Thank you for "our son."
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