FAS/E in the Aboriginal Community, a woman's perspective

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Loewen, Christopher Joseph Wilbert
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Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARND) including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAS/E) are topics attracting much attention. Prevalence of alcohol abuse among some Aboriginal communities combined with the relative ease of on-reserve research funding have inextricably linked FAS/E with the Aboriginal Community. Given that children can only be affected by alcohol in utero, blame is often placed exclusively on the birth mother 1. Since the "discovery" of FAS/E in 1968, the medical field has conducted the majority of research. Although invaluable, it has done little to further our understanding of the socio-epidemiological aspects of this syndrome. The historical relationship between alcohol and Aboriginals, social factors, biased diagnosis and colonization all play fundamental roles in understanding the genesis of FAS/E in the Aboriginal Community. Interviews with an Aboriginal birth mother who drank throughout her pregnancies, her mother who attended residential schools and her daughter, provide a personal and intergenerational look at the malaise underlying FAS/E. 1The term "birth mother" is used in this paper to denote a woman who has given birth to a child affected by alcohol and/or who has consumed alcohol during her pregnancy. Although many writers use this term strictly for mothers who have given birth to a child affected by alcohol in utero, because my interest is more in discovering the determinants that would lead a woman to drink during her pregnancy than whether she gave birth to a child affected by alcohol, I use the term as stated above.