Mother Who Drank Through Pregnancy Speaks About Her Journey to Sobriety

‘I was always drunk for the school pickup': Alcoholic mother-of-three who drank through pregnancy and abused her family speaks about her journey to sobriety

  • Sarah Colwell, 50, is now 18 months sober after decades of alcoholism
  • The Cambridge charity worker admits to drinking while pregnant
  • She also abused her police officer husband and family
  • Finally kicked the habit after humiliating night out with family
  • She now says that her relationship with her family is better than any drug

Family support: Sarah Colwell, a 50-year-old charity worker from Cambridge and mother-of-three, is now 18 months sober after decades of alcoholism (pictured with her daughter Maisie)

Sarah Colwell, a 50-year-old charity worker from Cambridge and mother-of-three, is now 18 months sober after decades of alcoholism.

Her addiction to drink saw her physically abuse her loving police officer husband Paul, 58, and emotionally abuse her first daughter Maisie, 25. She even admits to drinking heavily throughout her first pregnancy, often getting through several bottles of wine a night.

In October 2013, the morning after yet another drunken and disastrous night out with her family, a humiliated Sarah vowed to get her life back on track and has now kicked her habit.

Today, Sarah says that the relationship with her family is better than any high she ever found through drinking and here, with startling honesty, she shares her story in a bid to help other addicts like her.


Over the worst of it: Sarah pictured with her three children (l-r) George, Molly and Maisie and mother at home

Sarah and Chris ended up getting divorced two years later, Sarah’s drinking playing a significant part in that break up. Then, a single mother, Sarah says things went downhill.

She says: ‘I started a relationship with an actor called Dave who also liked to drink to excess, which was the opposite of what I needed. I was working in pubs at night – drinking all the time – then I’d take Maisie to school in the mornings, and the moment I got back, just after 9am, I’d start drinking gallons of cheap cider again.

‘I estimate I was drinking well over 100 units a week during those dark days, often much more. I was almost always drunk when I turned up at school for the pick-up, and pretty sure I was drunk first thing in the morning from the night before. I’d turn up to parents’ evening drunk, but when you’re drinking that much – all day, every day – you almost drink yourself sober.

‘Of course I was often late for any pick-ups, drop-offs and meetings with teachers, and certainly wasn’t in a fit state for much, but somehow I managed to avoid getting reported to the social services.’

She says she remembers one evening taking Maisie to the pub with her as she couldn’t find any child care.

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Researchers discuss FASD and criminal justice

Michelle Stewart (left) presented her research at the CanFASD meeting in Regina on Thursday. Photograph by: Bryan Schlosser , Regina Leader-Post

Michelle Stewart (left) presented her research at the CanFASD meeting in Regina on Thursday.
Photograph by: Bryan Schlosser , Regina Leader-Post

REGINA—Although many people living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) are not violent, that segment of the population still has a high incidence of involvement with the criminal justice system.

“We know that people with FASD are overrepresented — both as offenders, but also as victims — within the justice system. And, we know that in many places around the country, people with FASD are also overrepresented among those who are incarcerated,” said Amy Salmon, executive director of The Canada Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Research Network (CanFASD).

CanFASD was in Regina on Thursday for its annual general meeting and a discussion forum for researchers at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building.

Michelle Stewart’s research involves the role mental health disposition courts in Regina and Saskatchewan can have as an alternative justice practice for people with cognitive and intellectual disorders, including FASD.

“So, what we need, when it is possible, is a justice system that understands this person might not actually be purposefully doing the acts that they appear to be doing,” said Stewart, an assistant professor in the Department of Justice Studies at the University of Regina and CanFASD’s strategic research lead for justice issues (and interventions).

Alternative justice practices and courts can bring together other resources that can try and identify missing supports in the community and work together to help someone with FASD, she explained.

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David Swann says better screening for FASD needed before adoption

Calls for review of system after parents blindsided by undisclosed medical condition
Liberal Leader David Swann says adoptive parents need all medical information disclosed before adopting a child. (Doug Steele/CBC)

Liberal Leader David Swann says adoptive parents need all medical information disclosed before adopting a child. (Doug Steele/CBC)

Liberal leader David Swann says adoptive parents need to have all possible information about any medical conditions the children may have prior to adoption, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Swann says there needs to be a review of the policies dealing with medical disclosure in adoption cases.

His call follows a report by CBC news that a Calgary couple were unable to deal with behavioural problems in their two adopted daughters as a result of undisclosed fetal alcohol syndrom disorder (FASD).

“Very clearly this is a fundamental right of parenting, to know as much as is possible before they launch into a major life commitment,” said Swann.

Swann says it’s critical for parents to have the information, not only because it affects their capacity as parents, but also because of the need for transparency in the process.

Irfan Sabir

Human Services minister Irfan Sabir says adoptive parents have ongoing support from his department. (Terry Reith/CBC News )

“It’s about honesty and fairness to the parents,” he said.

‘It’s a concerning situation,’ says minister

The province’s minister of human services, Irfan Sabir, said the department passes on all the information it has about a child’s medical condition prior to adoption. But he acknowledges there is some concern that this is not always the case.

“It’s a concerning situation because these parents are doing a very important job and they are making a difference in the lives of the kids, and we will make sure that the parents’ concerns are addressed, [that] they are provided with the information they need to make an informed decision.” he said.

Sabir added the department has ongoing support for adoptive parents.


FASD Documentary – Call me Mental – 3rd Video Series

This short documentary on FASD features several people associated with MOFAS, the Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  The video was created as part of a collaboration called Call Me Mental, which is composed of artists and clinicians who want to change the attitude toward mental illness.  This video showcases the challenges of living with an FASD through the personal stories of Alex and Martin.



Re-blogging on EFAN

Originally posted on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder:

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 3.17.26 PM

Communities across Canada are becoming increasingly aware of issues related to pregnancy, alcohol and substance use, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and child health and development. In many communities, the needs of pregnant women with substance use issues are of particular concern as they often intersect with issues such as poverty, unsafe or inadequate housing, violence and abuse, food insecurity, and other health and social issues. Many people are asking questions about how to support women and their babies/young children so that they can have a healthy and safe start in life.

In the early 1990s, several communities began to develop integrated responses to addressing the needs of pregnant and parenting women with substance use issues. These early programs included Sheway in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Breaking the Cycle in Toronto. Nearly 20 years later, the research evidence clearly supports this type of program as an effective way of addressing the needs…

View original 118 more words

Adopted daughter with FASD shares her struggles

This is a letter written by Stephanie Smith, whose real name is being held to protect her identity.

Her adoptive parents say they found out late in the process that she, along with her sister, had fetal alcohol syndrome.

Adopting FASD children needs to be more transparent, says Alberta couple


This 15-year-old girl was adopted by a Calgary couple after their three children had moved away. They say they found out she had FASD too late in the adoption process. (Chris Franklin/CBC)

I knew my life was different. Nobody seemed to understand, except for my family and my three BFFs.

Yes, I knew that I was slow in school, and understanding what my teacher was trying to explain, but I never knew I was slow because of a life-changing disability called FAS.

My mom had tried to explain to me what FAS was, but I never exactly understood it. After my mom explained it I would beg for her to repeat what she just said because I never really understood and I wanted to understand what was going on in my brain. But when my mom explained what causes FAS I caught on and immediately understood it.

After my mom explained how FAS works over 600 times I finally kind of understood it. I have brain damage caused by alcohol while I was still a fetus. The brain damage caused some parts of my brain to be undeveloped.

Now that I’m 15-years-old, and my mom has been talking to me every day about FAS since I got adopted (which was when I was 10-years-old), I finally have an idea of how my brain works. No, I probably never fully understand about FAS, but I think I’m content on what I know. 

In the beginning, I thought having FAS was a pain in the butt and that I wasn’t allowed to do anything. But in truth, I knew I couldn’t go on the internet because I had “stranger danger.” My mom was protecting me from harm.

At first I didn’t [accept] that. I was unable to do things other kids and teenagers could do. But after a while I forgot about it and moved on. Most people don’t think I have a disability because I don’t usually act like I have one and I certainly do not look like I have one.


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