Dreaming for Extinction: FASD and Generational Trauma

May 17, 2014
Brandi Friesen Thorpe |

Now, as I am quite sure is realized, I am by no means a fulltime blogger. What do I do with the rest my time? Well, I am studying for my masters degree, and I work with a restorative justice program.  My study and my practical work inform one another in ways that are gifts - and yet I still have a dream that what I study and what I work with will one day no longer exist. 

 I am a community support worker with the Touchstone program, run through Initiatives for Just Communities. This means that it is my job to be in the community supporting the participants with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Personally I think this job has many challenges and gifts. As an academic and a researcher, I see that it is a gift to walk along side people who have manifested generational trauma and display such resiliency. Many of the participants allow us into their worlds full of challenges that they were born into, not worlds they choose.

As an academic, I have studied generational trauma and recovery in many many contexts, including cultural, communal and personal contexts. How FASD plays into this has given me a unique perspective on the work I do with Touchstone. FASD does not often occur only because of one wrong choice from a mother drinking during pregnancy. It often is a result of negative coping mechanisms that play out because of individual and/or communal traumas.

In Seattle a study was conducted on a group of 80 birth mothers of FAS. Consider the gravity of these statistics.

  • 95% percent of the birth mothers had been physically or sexually abused during their lifetime.
  • 94% reported they did not want to reduce their use of alcohol because it helped them cope.
  • 72% revealed they did not want to reduce usage because they were currently in an abusive relationship.
  • 77% were active holders of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  

Consider what the statistics listed mean: the majority of birth mothers in the study reported trauma occurring in the relationships around them. More information from this study shared that many of the woman were afraid there would be no one to take care of their children, revealing that their community supports were minimal if not non-existent. Trauma was already existent in the lives of the mothers before their children were born with permanent brain traumas due to drinking. 

My understanding of FASD is that it takes a community – both to prevent FASD in the future, and to support those who carry FASD as a reminder of the choices that came before them. I have the privilege of supporting some these folks in our program. They are strong, resilient, funny and beautiful people – but they do struggle because they sustain a trauma that occurred when they were only a fetus.

While our participants had no choice in their injury, they have all chosen to keep going, and have chosen to let Touchstone support them in their journey. It is gift to be in these relationships, and one not to be taken lightly. 

The question in all of this is one I have for the church, and one I haveno answers for yet: How can we the church reach out to communities who hold and induce trauma? How can we help create safe and nurturing communities where drinking during pregnancy isnt an issue because women are naturally taken care of and loved? My heart hurts for women who find themselves in communities where they are only hurt, and know nothing better.

I can only dream, and work towards the dream, that one day FASD will never happen again.  Please, dream with me. 


For those interested in knowing more about the Touchstone program, see their website. http://www.initiativesjc.org/index.php/touchstone 


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