Growing up I always thought I would be a certain type of parent. I remember thinking “I am never going to do that,” or “I really want to be a parent who does that!” Once I was married, my husband and I would talk about what kind of parents we wanted to be and what we wanted to do. Early on in our marriage we made the decision of adoption to build our family. Shortly after, we started the Adoption Education Program, which would prepare us for an adoption of a special needs child through the Ministry of Children and Families. They talked about the two main issues children would have; drug exposure and FAS, or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Everything they said made sense, we understood, and we tried to prepare ourselves for what it would be like to possibly raise a child with FAS. I don’t think anything could have prepared us for what it would look like in reality.
One of the first things I noticed was that my parenting choices were no longer based on my preconceived conceptions. Our eldest son, Mathieu, had been exposed to prenatal drugs and alcohol. At night, when I thought I should be rocking my new baby to bed while singing a lullaby, I was instead holding my child tight, swaddled in a blanket, as he shook and screamed from over stimulation. Rather than have a simple doctor’s appointment to see how he was doing, I was forced to drag my son into the room, kicking, screaming, scratching and biting, as everyone around me glared at me like I was the worst parent in the world. When company would come over he would run and hide in the closest corner, and if approached would have a complete meltdown.
With my second son, the challenges intensified. He couldn’t be left alone for even a second, for fear that he would escape from the house, turn on the stove, or some other life threatening action. I couldn’t cook, couldn’t go clean my room, or even change the diaper of another child, without fearing he might be halfway down the stairs already. It became a game to see how fast I could perform daily tasks. Until my second son was around 3 years old, we also never left the house for social visits. Not even to our parent’s house. I recall people thinking we were antisocial, or other such things, but no one else had a house set up for all the safety concerns that surrounded my son. Even though he wore a protective helmet, one wrong move could have left him seriously injured or again loose from the house. I never thought that a simple task such as going to the bathroom would become impossible unless someone else was home. I never imagined myself crying at the playground because kids would run from my son and refuse to play with him because his maturity level was that of a 2 year old rather than a 4 year old.
Yes, parenting a child with FAS was definitely nothing like I would have imagined it. But I also never realized how one tiny little smile could melt my heart so much. How one visit to the doctor, scream-free, could feel so uplifting. How the ability to go to the bathroom would bring such freedom, or how seeing my son come home with three stickers because he sat through all three circle times at preschool, could bring me such joy. I never thought that toileting at the age of 4 ½ would feel like the worlds greatest victory, or that the love my children have for each other would be so comforting.
It is still true that parenting a child with FAS has its challenges, often leaving one feeling alone and with no one who understands. Many people think my children are just naughty or I am a bad parent. Unfortunately what people don’t realize is that FAS is an actual medical problem, causing brain damage resembling a victim from a car accident. That FAS is life long, and without cures. That children with FAS don’t understand cause and effect, and aren’t acting badly on purpose, but just don’t understand that what they are doing is wrong. Increased awareness is still needed, so people can become familiar with all that FAS encompasses and how to relate to these children and their families. But in the meantime, despite all its difficulties, I wouldn’t change my experiences for the world. I would adopt a child with FAS again in a heartbeat and I can only encourage others that it is manageable and ultimately God is going to get you through any challenges thrown your way!