This article is part of our Summer 2020 Breaking Barriers. This installment focuses on parents of loved ones living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) coming to grips with the realities of this unexpected, difficult, lifelong disability that was unknown two generations ago. If you'd like to read more stories from this issue, please subscribe to Breaking Barriers. Editor’s note: Author’s name withheld upon request; all names have been changed.
The first thing Jenn said about her son Greg is, “We waited 12 years for him. He was such a healthy baby.” Seven-month-old Greg joined Jenn, her husband, and their two-year-old adopted daughter, and completed the family.
Although he adjusted well to life within the family, Greg lagged behind developmentally. School posed a great challenge for him—the academic work, making friends, and adjusting socially. He did not get along with his teachers. Greg frequently displayed bouts of rage. In addition, he was caught lying, stealing, and setting fires. Physically, he was dealing with issues as well. He underwent surgery for tremors, but it was ineffective.
The family had always been active in their church community, but Greg dropped out of the youth group in his teen years. When this happened, no one in the group reached out to him. Jenn understood that her son’s behavior was the root of the rejection he had experienced so many times before, but she was still pained by the reaction, or lack thereof, from their Christian community.
After getting married and having his own family, Greg was subsequently rejected by his wife and their two children. In addition, his own sister and her family have chosen to discontinue contact with him. As parents, Jenn and her husband have suffered from years of guilt, as well as the sting of small-town disapproval on their son’s account.
Jenn is now an elderly widow. Greg is a middle-aged man. Although he successfully held a job for two years—a personal best—that job has come to an end, and he’s applied for social assistance. Jenn still manages his money for him and tries to warn him about his drinking.
In the 1970s, a doctor said that Greg’s actions could be the result of his mother’s prenatal drinking, but no further information was available. Nothing ever came of the comment. However, Jenn has just started attending a support group for prenatal alcohol-affected families. After 47 years of parenting, she has told her family’s story for the first time in public.