On a dark street near the outskirts of a prairie community, at age 13
Janet Christie had her first taste of alcohol with a friend. It would be a life altering moment. At 21 she bore Cole. She didn’t realize at the time that because she had continued drinking during her pregnancy, her baby’s entire life would be severely impacted. Their story is one of turmoil, trauma, terror, and ultimate victory. For anyone contending with difficult circumstances, especially alcoholism and its consequences , they are a beacon of hope. Janet is telling their story because she wants women to be aware of the crushing toll that may be exacted if they drink while pregnant.
In a phone interview from her home near Victoria, she permitted me to enter some of the dark inner recesses of a past that is not pretty. “After I had that first taste of alcohol,” she said, “life was never the same again. In the beginning it was fun. Then it was fun with problems. In the end, it was just problems.”
Janet grew up in a church going family. Photos indicate she had stunning looks. There were positives, but they were over powered by her thirst for alcohol. Partying took over her life and Cory, her boyfriend, had a similar wild streak. He was 5 years older and had plenty of money. For them the well of alcohol had no bottom.
Janet was 18 when they got married. She became pregnant with Cole 3 years later. Intuition suggested to her alcohol might be harmful to the baby. “My doctor told me the placenta would not permit alcohol to pass through,” she said. “His words didn’t convince me entirely, but I had no control. Also, we were having serious difficulties in our marriage. Alcohol helped me cope. ”
She experienced great relief when Cole entered the world with no apparent complications. “He appeared totally normal, a beautiful lovable baby. I soon decided he was very bright, maybe even a genius,” she remembers.
The marriage ended abruptly and suddenly she was alone with Cole and her addiction. Fearing he would be taken from her, she didn’t seek help. “I wished I had never taken that first drink,” she said, “but how was I to know it would rock my world and catapult me through the gates of hell?”
When he started school, Janet’s consternation level soared, but she didn’t understand yet that by drinking during the pregnancy, Cole had also been catapulted through those same gates.
“My son, who I believed was brilliant, had great difficulty learning the alphabet and numbers didn’t make sense to him,” she said, a tremor in her voice. “I knew something was very wrong when he failed grade one. With each increasing grade, life became more difficult for him. Other students told him he was stupid and he reacted by fighting. Teachers accused him of being lazy and not trying. Not being able to learn like the others, he became disruptive in class. Teachers made him sit on a chair in the hallway. He couldn’t tell time until he was 10, so frequently he was late for school. A number of schools expelled him.”
“At home it was equally difficult,” she said. “He became so frustrated and angry, he punched holes in the walls. In one apartment his fists went through to the outside. We were evicted. He thought he must be stupid.”
Janet admits she was rarely in a state to give Cole constructive direction or provide supervision. By his 12th birthday, her life was rapidly spinning out of control and consequently so was his. “He was hanging out with older guys and doing drugs. I had lost my job and rarely left the apartment except to get basics, mostly cigarettes, milk and booze.”
One morning she awoke and the smell of cigarette butts and the empties scattered on the kitchen table made her stomach churn. In a rare lucid moment, she became frantic. “Suddenly I needed to know where Cole was. I wanted to know if he had come home last night. Was he ok? My son had become a crack addict. I knew I would lose him if I didn’t make a radical change. In desperation, I appealed to a recovery support group. That day my healing began.”
She hesitated, gathering courage. I wondered if there were tears. “For Cole it was almost too late,” she said. “A week into my sobriety, the phone rang in the darkness of the night. A voice at the other end told me Cole was in a closet in a crack house and the police had a gun to his head.”
Janet called government services, institutions, universities, vainly seeking help. One worker told her, “you created the problem. You fix it.”
“Finally when Cole was 20, a paediatrician diagnosed him with partial FAS. I was then able to explain to him that his problems were my fault. He forgave me long before I forgave myself.” Her voice faltered for a moment as she recalled this scene.
“With the diagnosis, I had a better understanding of my son. He needed someone to believe in him, be patient with him, love him and help him.”
Now 36, Cole has a siding application business. He is in a relationship with a woman who is understanding and helps him manage his affairs.
Janet finished by offering this advice, “I wish to say to women who have been drinking and find themselves pregnant, stop. The brain is vulnerable the entire 9 months of pregnancy, and the moment you stop drinking is the moment the damage stops. If you can’t stop, get help. Today. Contact your nearest alcohol and drug service (1.800.663.1441). There is no shame in asking for help. You have no idea the power each drink has to affect the rest of your life and your baby’s life. Forever. FAS is FOREVER.”