Tuesday, January 19, 2016

They're dropping like flies... and mothers who drink

Like so many other people, I heard about Glenn Frey's death first thing this morning as I was doing my morning routine.  He's just the latest in a string of celebrity deaths this month.  I don't know what's in the air, but I hope that's the last dead rock star for awhile.  I could probably write a great tribute to Glenn Frey this morning, but my mind is on other things.

I just read an article about a woman who has a daughter about my age.  The woman, whose name is Kathy Mitchell, drank a lot of alcohol while she was pregnant.  Her 43 year old daughter, Karli, ended up with fetal alcohol syndrome and has the mind of a six year old.  Kathy gave birth to Karli when she was barely eighteen years old.  Karli was her second child; the first was a healthy son who also survived Kathy's penchant for boozing.  Kathy had three more children, two of whom died as infants.

Now 61, Kathy has turned her life around.  She quit drinking alcohol and abusing drugs.  She earned her GED and later became qualified as a certified addictions counselor.  She is now the vice president of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  She takes care of Karli and works hard to spread the word about drinking alcohol to excess during pregnancy.  I found her story very powerful and was glad to read that she had made something of herself after her troubled youth.  Then I made the mistake of reading the comments on the article run by the Washington Post.

People can be very brutally judgmental.  A lot of people ignore that Kathy has turned her life around and ask why she wasn't using birth control, especially since she could "afford" cigarettes and booze.  They say her story is "BS" and that young mothers in the 70s knew full well that alcohol consumption during pregnancy causes birth defects.  Other commenters accuse Kathy of having "recall bias", justifying her "stupid" decisions by claiming that she got erroneous information about drinking while pregnant.

I am inclined to look at Kathy's very young age when she became an alcoholic, got married, and became a mother.  She grew up in a family where drinking to excess was acceptable and normal.  She clearly didn't have a lot of guidance from her parents.  She made bad decisions.  What good does it do to insult and judge her now, given that she's made something positive out of her life?

It's true that Kathy's daughter will never be what she might have been had her mother not abused alcohol during her pregnancy.  But no one can change the past.  At least Kathy is brave enough to share her story with others.  If telling her tale saves one child from a similar fate as Karli's, isn't it worth it?  Why can't people just accept that and learn from Kathy's mistake instead of resorting to insults and judgments?

Kathy admits that she's an addict.  She is an alcoholic.  Her actions harmed her children.  Alcoholism is a disease that affects a person's judgment.  Kathy was also very young when she made her mistakes.  I, for one, am glad to see that she's evolved and become a better person.  I think it's worth celebrating that Kathy managed to raise her daughter and takes care of her every day.  A lot of people would not have bothered.

Aside from drinking too much while she was pregnant, Kathy also smoked, worked in bars, and didn't eat right.  Those were also contributing factors to the fact that she lost two infants and had another with fetal alcohol syndrome.  Her other two children, presumably in utero while their mother smoked, drank, and ate poorly, turned out basically normal.

I think that pregnancy is a bit like Russian Roulette, anyway.  No matter what you do, there is going to be a risk that you will end up with a child that has problems.  Of course it makes sense to do what you can to minimize the risks and take care of yourself if you are expecting a baby.  But the truth is, even if you do everything health professionals recommend, you could have a child who is unhealthy or abnormal.  And there will always be people around to judge you and go into holier than thou mode.

I suppose in writing today's post, I'm kind of a hypocrite.  I judge too.  I especially judge people whose actions have negatively affected me.  Somehow, I manage to have compassion for people like Kathy and inmates on death row.  I have compassion for pregnant women and mothers who face the scrutiny of the public.  I guess I should be glad this is something that is never going to affect me personally.

Anyway, I suppose I should get dressed since Bill is going to come home early and we're going to get my stitches out.  Afterwards, we'll probably do a little shopping at the Markthalle in Stuttgart.  Maybe we'll even have dinner.  Bill is supposed to go to Burkina Faso this weekend, but given what happened there a few days ago, the trip may be called off.  I have to admit that I kind of hope it will be.


  1. i'm not always willing to give expectant mothers a pass in terms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, but I don't see how a person could put so much blame on this particular woman. The link between maternal alcohol consumption and birth defects was known to some degree and was beginning to receive press if what I've read is accurate, but people certainly didn't know then all that is known today. Furthermore, the baby was presumably born slightly before the Roe vs. Wade decision was made by the U. S. Supreme court, and even if she wasn't, it would have been too late in the pregnancy for an abortion, never mind the pragmatic aspects of such that would have stood in the way. For that matter, women didn't know they were pregnant as early then as they often do now. Mitchell might already have done the worst of the damage before she even knew she was pregnant. Between Kathy Mitchell's age at the time, the lack of societal knowledge of the impact of alcohol on a developing fetus, and Mitchell's limitations in terms of choices she had make her not culpable. If someone had to be blamed for the tragedy, I suppose she would be the one, but why does anyone have to be blamed?

    From what I'm learning, there's a major element of luck [or lack of luck] in terms of fetal alcohol exposure and its effects. Some pregnant women consume far more alcohol than would be considered prudent by virtually anyone with the slightest level of concern or common sense and these women go on to deliver babies who experience no problems whatsoever, while others reportedly drink relatively little and have children who are affected. (I recognize that one cannot always take anyone's word concerning the level of consumption.)

    I'm a bit on the judgmental side where consumption of alcohol in pregnancy is concerned. I don't think it is my responsibility EVER to call any individual out for drinking while pregnant. The practice itself, however, I can condemn with a clear conscience. I can say there's no reason for anyone, with all the options available in terms of preventing or terminating pregnancy, to drink excessively while pregnant.

    Some would say "excessive" is too subjective a term, as medical science thus far hasn't defined precisely what amount is excessive, hence the recommendation in the U.S. for no alcohol consumption whatsoever in pregnancy. While I will choose not to drink at all when pregnant, I won't judge someone else for having a glass of wine a week, and I don't believe there's a shred of evidence that such is harmful. I'm convinced there is an extremely low level of drinking that no reasonable person could conclude would be harmful to a developing embryo or fetus.

    In today's world, I couldn't write off drinking enough alcohol to cause full-scale F.A.S. by an eighteen-year-old young woman with intelligence even approaching the average range. In the early 70's, however, it was an entirely different matter. And she HAS turned her life around. And she IS caring for her daughter. Jeez, sometimes people need to get off their high horses.

    1. Yeah. I think the high horse mentality is one of the worst side effects of the Internet. People feel very safe behind their computer screens. It's sad that Kathy experienced all she has due to drinking and drug abuse. But at least she's learned from her mistakes and taken responsibility. And she is using what happened to her and her children to help try to prevent it from happening to others.


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