It was mid morning, April 14, 1989, in a maternity surgery suite at the University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona, where a tiny male child struggled for his first breaths of air. He entered the world early, after just twenty-six weeks gestation. Born premature, via a Cesarean section, this fragile baby weighed just two pounds and two ounces. Born to a birth mother who drank alcohol during his pregnancy, his prognosis was “iffy.” This tenacious, little fighter spent the next three months in the neonatal intensive care unit battling for his life.
By age three, this small African American boy had entered the Arizona foster care system along with his older brother and younger sister. Removed by Child Protective Services from their birth parents’ home, and unable to live safely in a placement with relatives, the siblings moved through several temporary foster homes, each child transferred with a single, black garbage bag of personal belongings.
Flash forward to the present day. That small premature child is now my adopted son, Joshua. He is almost twenty-two years old, and he is the fuel that feeds the fire of my desire to tell the world about the tragedies of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders is the term used to describe the physical, mental, emotional, social, and behavioral problems associated with prenatal exposure to alcohol. Alcohol is a teratogen, which means that it can damage the developing fetus. Alcohol can cause physical problems such as severe vision and hearing problems. It can damage the heart and other vital organs.
Alcohol can corrupt the developing brain and central nervous system. It disrupts the synapses so that the alcohol-affected person thinks differently from the way most of the rest of us think. Prenatal exposure to alcohol is the number one cause of mental retardation in North America.
And, as in the case of Joshua, alcohol can cause premature birth. It can also abort the pregnancy, or cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) after the baby is born.
Inspired by the multiple struggles of my son, I vowed to raise awareness of FASD, a preventable birth defect. In 2007, I wrote the 9 LIVES Trilogy, a series of books about the adoption of a young, special-needs child into the home of two loving and committed moms. These books won the Gold Level Mom’s Choice Award for a Young Adult Series.
In November 2010, I created a thirty-minute DVD titled, Birthdays Rock! A Presentation on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. This DVD is raising awareness of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders while opening minds and dialogues to prevent teen alcohol use and adult alcohol use during pregnancy.
I also completed two educational workbooks that are companion books to the 9 LIVES Trilogy. They are 9 LIVES: Learning Opportunity Guide, Teachers’ Edition, (Teachers’ LOG), and 9 LIVES: Learning Opportunity Guide, Students’ Edition, (Students’ LOG).
The 9 LIVES: Learning Opportunity guides provide home-schooling parents, middle-school health teachers, and teen leaders and mentors with questions, discussions, and activities which introduce a plethora of subjects that are relevant in the lives of the young adults in their care.
By reading the series, and taking advantage of teachable moments and learning opportunities as they are presented in the books, students explore such themes as: alcohol, drugs, pregnancy, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, tolerance, diversity, bullying, special needs, foster care, adoption, love, respect, cultural heritage, family, traditions, sportsmanship, self-esteem, volunteerism, and community.
The teachers’ edition provides middle-school teachers and home-schooling parents with a variety of methodologies including: group discussion, independent study, partner and group projects, films, Internet searches, interviews, practicum experiences, physical activities, guest instructors, and community service.
The 9 LIVES Trilogy, Learning Opportunity guides, and Birthdays Rock! A Presentation on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders DVD are available through the website Jancrossen.com.