When Tanya Weinmeyer talks publicly about the long journey that finally ended in a diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD) for her son, she has one overriding message: No amount of alcohol is safe to consume during pregnancy.
Weinmeyer will be the keynote speaker at the Community Baby Shower hosted by Carver County Public Health. The free event focusing on healthy pregnancy and healthy families will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 27, at the Chaska Community Center, 1661 Park Ridge Drive in Chaska. Weinmeyer will speak at 10:30 a.m. in the CCC Theater.
“My biggest goal in speaking to groups is to state over and over again, ‘There is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy,’ ” Weinmeyer said. “FASD is not something that only happens to people who are chemically dependent or poor. It can happen with social drinkers, or to people who didn’t know they were pregnant the first two months of their pregnancy and drank alcohol during that time.”
As many as 8,500 Minnesotan babies are born every year with brain damage caused by prenatal alcohol exposure, according to the Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (MOFAS), which is partially funding the Community Baby Shower. FASD is an umbrella term that describes the range of conditions and disabilities that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. FASD cannot be cured, and the damage to the brain is permanent.
“All children with FASD present differently,” Weinmeyer said. “It’s a very wide spectrum.”
Weinmeyer and her husband adopted their son, Alex, from Russia when he was 10 months old. They were told Alex’s biological mother had taken drugs and his father was an alcoholic, but there was nothing in the paperwork that indicated the mother had consumed alcohol during the pregnancy. The adoptive parents were told their son had a permanent brain injury disease, Static Encephalopathy NOS (Not Otherwise Specified).
That diagnosis was, however, only the first of many. As they made the rounds from one specialist to another, the labels attached to their son kept changing and adding up. The Weinmeyers were told their toddler had ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), which he does have, but a diagnosis of bi-polar at age three and a diagnosis of autism were eventually disproved.
In some cases, babies born with FASD have abnormal facial features, but that is not always the case. If the mother was not drinking during that particular fetal developmental stage – those three days the facial features are being formed – the baby will not have that abnormality but will have FASD from alcohol consumed at other times during the pregnancy. Alex does not have the facial abnormalities, nor does he have the lack of empathy characteristic associated with children who have FASD. Those two factors initially ruled out FASD as a diagnosis for Alex.
It wasn’t until Alex was seven years old that a teacher who had worked with FASD students told the Weinmeyers she thought their son had the disorder. One more set of tests – this time the University of Minnesota Autism Clinic – ruled out autism and ruled in FASD.
“That was the turning point for our lives,” Weinmeyer said. “That’s when we started reading and educating ourselves about FASD and changing his environment.”
Now, as a 10 year old, Alex realizes he has FASD. He struggles with math and writing, but he reads above grade level, has an aptitude and interest in electronics, and he is well-mannered and sensitive to the needs of others. Weinmeyer firmly believes her son has strengths that will make it possible for him to contribute to society.
While the family has worked hard to help their son, they cannot totally erase the effects of alcohol use during pregnancy. Weinmeyer said no other drug does as much permanent or devastating damage as alcohol use does during pregnancy. It is damage MOFAS calls “100% preventable” by following the 049 message – Zero Alcohol for Nine Months.
“The Community Baby Shower will reinforce the 049 message and other health messages aimed at parents and parents-to-be,” said Public Health Manager Marcee Shaughnessy. “We’ll have a resource fair and lots of activities for family members – chair massages, pregnancy belly painting, and story time and face painting for children.”
The first 200 women or families will receive a SWAG bag full of goodies, and all guests will receive complementary light refreshments and alcohol-free “mocktails” to reinforce the importance of having an alcohol-free pregnancy.
In addition to Weinmeyer, the event will feature four other presentations. Laurina Tofteland and Kristine Beuch will speak on breastfeeding at 11:45 a.m. in the CCC Theater. Kris Huinker of the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Nutrition Program will speak on prenatal, infant and child nutrition at 12:30 p.m. Dr. Lorene Rutherford of Lakeview Clinic will speak on infant and child safety at 1:15 p.m. Lisa Weir, representing Eastern Carver County School District 112 Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE), will speak at 2 p.m. on positive parenting.
For more information, visit the Carver County Public Health website on the event at www.CarverBabyShower.com.
National Infant Immunization Week
Each year, thousands of children become ill from diseases that could have been prevented by basic childhood immunizations. Countless more miss time from day care and school because they are under-immunized or inappropriately immunized.
National Infant Immunization Week is April 20-27, 2013 and celebrates the critical role immunizations play in protecting our children, communities, and public health. Vaccines are among the most successful and cost-effective public health tools available for preventing disease and death. They not only help protect vaccinated individuals, but also help protect entire communities by preventing and reducing the spread of infectious diseases. Most parents choose the safe, proven protections of vaccines. Giving babies the recommended immunizations by age two is the best way to protect them from 14 serious childhood diseases, like whooping cough and measles.
Parents are encouraged to talk to their child’s doctor to ensure that their infant is up-to-date on immunizations. Carver County Public Health provides immunizations to residents who do not have health insurance that covers immunizations. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, contact (952) 361-1329.