At the ninth minute of the ninth hour of the ninth day of the ninth month, nine bells will ring to signify the nine months of pregnancy when it's crucial that a woman not consume any alcohol.
That happens today. It's Sept. 9, a good day to pause and think about how a disability that's 100 percent preventable can be so pervasive in our community and in our culture.
Did you know that alcohol does far more damage to a fetus than heroin or cocaine ever could? How could that be when alcohol is such an accepted part of our culture?
Did you know that there's no safe amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy? That means, not even a glass of wine at a dinner party, a beer with friends at a picnic or a romantic sip of Courvasier on your anniversary. Nope. Not even a drop. Sounds prudish and extreme, but why take a risk with a precious life that's just beginning? And the really scary part about that? Lots of women don't know they're pregnant for the first couple of months, and that's when some of the worst damage can happen.
So the message gets even more extreme: If you think you could get pregnant, don't drink. It's a hard sell. I know. But think about this: The possibility of having a child with learning disabilities, behavior problems, poor judgment and impulsiveness, difficulty with relationships and brain damage that can't ever be fixed is it worth the risk?
Something we get asked a lot is whether men can cause FAS. They can't. Only a pregnant woman's drinking can cause it. It's the alcohol directly hitting that developing brain that messes things up. That means we women shoulder the burden of this disability. But men, if you are willing to share the load, don't drink when your partner is pregnant. Be supportive and help her to stay sober. It might be hard for her to not have a drink if you're drinking. It's your baby too, and you want to do everything you can to make sure that child is healthy and whole. If you have a friend or relative who's pregnant, be a support to them and help them to abstain from alcohol during their pregnancy and while they're nursing. If your friend or relative can't stop on their own, assist them in getting the help they need. The sooner they stop drinking, the less risk there is for that little baby.
Some women continue to drink even when they know they are pregnant. This speaks not to moral failure, weakness or lack of love but to the power of alcoholism. It would be rare for a mother to not want the best for her child. But she may wake up in the morning thinking, "I cannot drink today because I have this baby inside me," and by noon, is sitting there with a drink in her hand, wondering how she got there. Alcoholism is a cunning and baffling disease.
Take a moment to pause this morning at 9:09 a.m. Take nine deep breaths. Ring a bell. Say a prayer. Give thanks. Hug your kids. Have a big drink of water. And if you happen to be in Kenai in the morning, be sure to drop by the Erik Hansen Scout Park on the bluff in Kenai at about 8:45 a.m., and we'll be there to ring the bells with you.
We're having a ceremony to commemorate International FAS Awareness Day. The Heartbeat of Mother Earth Drummers will be there, and Bonnie Nichols will have some music for us. We'll ring the bells then, and you can join us right after for a free community breakfast at the American Legion Hall just down the block.
Deb Evenson, FAS educator (and great storyteller) will be there to give us a few words of wisdom. I'll see you there.
Vickie Tinker is the coordinator of Frontier Community Services' FAS program. For more information on FAS, call 262-6331.
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