12.3 – Alaska IV
The first thing I remember Mr. Hale telling us was that we would be dealing with several children who had “fetal alcohol syndrome” at the Native church. He explained that FAS was common among native Alaskan children, as alcoholism was common among the parents. I learned that FAS caused hyperactivity, poor impulse control, lack of judgment, and delayed development, plus some mild physical problems. At this point I was about halfway through my summer as a missionary, and on one hand I was beginning to feel confident about dealing with kids, but on the other hand this sounded intimidating.
Abraham was my challenge. He went from pretending to be choking to death in the middle of class, to crawling under the table to get away from us, to refusing to speak or move. I remembered Bryce, who was in fourth grade with me. (tumidus) I’ve always related to and enjoyed the difficult ones. The anti-social ones. I learned to sit still with him under the table at times, and to give him piggy back rides other times. He also taught my my own limits, and that often, there simply isn’t anything I can do to help a person. That is a hard lesson, and many more of these posts will reveal me re-learning that same lesson.
The FAS problem fascinated me though, and as I went to the next church, and the next couple of weeks, I used the free time I had to study this as well as angels (based on the conversation with Mrs. Seale (Alaska III). I’ll get to the angels later, but on FAS, I learned that it is caused when alcohol enters the bloodstream and reaches the fetus through the placenta. Because a fetus, being more than just an organ or excess tissue of the mother’s body, metabolizes alcohol slower than the mother’s body, the baby has higher blood alcohol concentration and that interferes with oxygen delivery. Lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain causes permanent brain damage quickly, just as it does for an adult who grossly overdrinks.
The problem is that a mom doesn’t have to “overdrink” for the fetus to suffer the effects of overdrinking – due to the lower metabolism. Often, all this happens in the early weeks, or first trimester, of pregnancy when a lot of moms don’t even see themselves as having another human present so much as having “extra tissue” in their body, so they feel free to drink like normal.
I can’t honestly say this did not impact my view of abortion. To this day I wonder if Justice Blackmun would have written the opinion he did in 1973, had he understood the above. Unfortunately, Drs. Jones and Smith were discovering Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Seattle in the same year that Norma McCorvey was being urged through the Texas and the Federal court systems as Jane Roe, in her suit against Henry Wade, the prosecutor who could have charged her had she tried to have an abortion. Science has progressed since ’73.
I enjoyed my time with Abraham at the Native church, and I’m glad I met him.
My next stop would be some solitary time in an old mobile home in a trailer park that I would soon discover to be ruled by fear.
Funny how much you can be changed by trying to help others change.