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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Never drink alcohol when you're pregnant

Karli, 43

Kathy Mitchell drank a lot of alcohol when she was pregnant and wants women to know they are playing Russian roulette with the life of their child.

She was a teenager and did what most teenagers did back then - drank lots of alcohol.  Her daughter, Karli, now 43, has the mental capacity of a child because she has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

She can't recognise social cues, is easily led, can't predict dangerous circumstances and doesn't understand sequence.  She can cross a street when the sign says "walk" but if the lights are out, she will step out in front of a car.  She likes to wear pretty clothes but can't remember to brush her teeth.

In 1964, when Kathy Mitchell was 10, her parents opened a restaurant and along with her other siblings, she helped out with the work.  By the time she was 12, she had been drunk more than once and her parents were too busy to notice. At 14, she was having blackouts.

In 10th grade, Kathy got pregnant and married her teenage boyfriend. The boy was healthy and she went back to waiting tables and tending bar.  Nine months later she was pregnant again and at 18, she gave birth to Karli.

When she failed to sit up on time and was slow to reach milestones, doctors told Kathy it was because of her chronic ear infections.  At one point, a doctor said she had cerebral palsy - they didn't understand Fetal Alcohol Syndrome back then.

Meanwhile, as her life became more dysfunctional, she gave birth to three more children and drank through each pregnancy.  Her third child, a girl, was born healthy but by the time she became pregnant with her fourth child, Kathy was addicted to heroin as well as alcohol and six months later, the baby, a boy, died at birth.

In 1982 she gave birth to her fifth child, a girl named Keysha.  The child stopped breathing in her cot at 10 weeks.  This tragic event brought about a complete mental breakdown and she was sent to a treatment centre to detox.

When she eventually got out, she moved back in with her parents, took evening courses, and learned the basic skills of mothering. She was 30 years old.  She eventually became a certified addiction counselor.

"I hadn't used crack cocaine while pregnant with Karli - I'd only used alcohol - so I wondered if alcohol could have been responsible for her problems - I'd never heard of that possibility before"

In 1989, Kathy took Karli, then 16, to Georgetown University hospital and tests confirmed that Karli had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

"I thought I would die from grief and guilt" she said.  "I knew I had to try to prevent this from happening to another child."

Today, Kathy 61, is vice president of the National Organization of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, a nonprofit that tries stop women from drinking while they are pregnant.  She hopes that going public about her own life will help other women to stop.

Australia has a problem with alcohol, it's legal and part of our culture and even though we are now aware that FAS exists, some women will refuse to believe it.