Not many women will admit to drinking alcohol while pregnant for fear of being judged, stigmatized, shamed, and blamed. Tiffany Morgan wants you to know she drank alcohol while pregnant, she did not drink while knowing the effects of alcohol to her unborn child. Tiffany drank because she was told, drinking a glass or two of wine will boost her iron. She was also told that her baby is protected because it’s in that sack of fluid. Tiffany is sharing her story so to raise awareness about the risk of drinking while pregnant.
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Tiffany Morgan gets a big hug from Ny-Ana, her 8-year-old daughter, after she got off a bus after summer school in St. Paul on Wednesday, June 29, 2016 where her mom met her to walk her around the corner to their home. Ny-Ana has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder and Tiffany is working with the Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to educate mothers about the dangers of drinking while pregnant. (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)
Sometimes bystanders are curious when they see Tiffany Morgan’s 8-year-old daughter have a meltdown at the playground. The conversation goes like this:
“Why is she doing that?” asks the stranger.
“She has FASD,” Morgan explains.
“It’s fetal alcohol syndrome.”
“What is that?”
“I drank while I was pregnant with her.”
Morgan has become accustomed to sharing her most private pain — if it helps someone understand her daughter Ny’Ana’s disability or raises awareness about the risks of drinking while pregnant. The 41-year-old St. Paul woman has become a spokeswoman for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, the term given to the cognitive and physical damage that can result when a woman exposes her fetus to alcohol. The effects, which range from mild to severe, are a major cause of developmental disabilities and increasingly seen as a large public health problem, yet one the American Academy of Pediatrics calls “vastly under recognized.”
It’s also 100 percent preventable, but it’s not something most people feel comfortable talking about, said Ruth Richardson, program director at the Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (MOFAS). And that’s making it hard to deal with the problem.
“Until we shed the shame and the stigma about this issue, there are going to be secrets,” Richardson said. “And that’s going to make it hard to understand its scope.”
Obstetricians are not always sure how to talk to women about drinking, and pediatricians might never ask about it, she said. Schools might be unaware of children who have disabilities caused by alcohol.
And few people understand the complex reasons women drink while they are pregnant. They might drink before they know they have conceived. They might have addictions or be ignorant of how alcohol could affect a fetus.
“No one sets out to hurt their baby,” Richardson said.
MOFAS, which was formed in 1998 to support foster and adoptive parents of children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, recently started helping mothers like Morgan share their stories to raise public awareness.
“Tiffany really connects with the women,” said Catie Triviski, who coordinates the organization’s chemical health programs. “It’s so hard to process that you could have caused harm to your child. There’s so much shame that it can prevent women from even talking about it. And I know there are other women who contact her for support. She helps them know they aren’t alone.”
‘I DON’T REMEMBER THEM ASKING, DO YOU DRINK?’
Morgan grew up in Evansville, Ind., the second of five children in a tight-knit black community where, as she put it, “if you got past your parents, you didn’t get past your neighbors.” Her mother is a retired school teacher. Her father, who passed away in 2009, was a mechanic. He also drank heavily. Morgan didn’t know about that until she was 16 and was called to a hospital emergency room after her dad almost died of complications from alcohol withdrawal.
She kept to herself as a child, reading Nancy Drew mysteries and “Little House on the Prairie.” After high school, she tried to enroll in the Army and was told she was pregnant during the routine health exam. She said prenatal visits with her doctor didn’t touch on avoiding alcohol.
“I don’t remember them asking, do you drink, or when do you drink, or how much do you drink?” she said. “I just remember hearing ‘your baby is protected because it’s in that sack of fluid.’ ”
Morgan said her doctor told her to drink a couple of glasses of red wine to boost her iron. She wasn’t a drinker then. So, instead, her grandmother cooked up iron-rich collard greens.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Edmonton and Area Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network.