By: Andrea Ross Metro. Published on Tue Sep 08 2015
Val Bate hit rock bottom before being diagnosed in 2004 with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
After her brother was murdered and her mother died of suicide, she became an alcoholic and lived on the streets. She struggled her whole life to overcome the effects of being born to a mother who drank while pregnant.
Not wanting to cause more harm to her family, Bate decided to leave her husband and two children.
“If I could put all my life in a nutshell, basically it was hell,” the 56-year-old said Wednesday, International FASD Awareness Day.
“I had a hard time in school, interacting with others, grasping reality, and I had poor coping skills. It was a mess.”
Being diagnosed with FASD in 2004 and seeking treatment is what saved her life, Bate said.
“Drinking during pregnancy does harm us. I’m serving a life sentence in my brain,” she said. “But I faced my truth, and I’m not doing too bad because I reached out to the right people.”
FASD includes a range of conditions that can result from a mother drinking while pregnant. Alcohol exposure to unborn children can cause lifelong physical, cognitive, behavioural and emotional issues. There is no cure.
And while it’s difficult to tell whether FASD is increasing or decreasing in Alberta, numerous resources are available to prevent the problem and help those living with it, she said.
Many, like Bate, are diagnosed later in life.
“Diagnosis is very hard, because it’s not like you can do a blood test and just know,” Dube-Coelho said. “You have to have confirmed alcohol use during pregnancy and the mother has to be able to talk about how much she drank during pregnancy.
“But we do know that with support, women who have been drinking during pregnancy can still have a healthy baby.”
The Alberta government funds 12 FASD support networks. A Parent-Child Assistance Program is offered in 25 communities across the province, and 80 per cent of women who complete the program go on to have planned pregnancies and healthy children.
Peer pressure, economic difficulty and unstable relationships are only some of the many factors that could lead a woman to drink while pregnant, Dube-Coelho said. But support for expectant mothers is key to preventing FASD, because women are less likely to seek help if they feel shamed or stigmatized.
“It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are in life,” she said. “You can still feel pressure to drink and therefore you need to have that support.”
Bate is celebrating 10 years of sobriety on Sept. 19 with a road trip to Vancouver. It’s a milestone she once wasn’t sure she would reach, she said.
“I’ve realized how many people don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want to put shame or blame on anyone,” she said. “But don’t drink the minute you find out you’re pregnant. Our lives are important, regardless of who we are.
“It’s terrible to live with this, but I’m one of the lucky ones.”