When Baby S first came to us, she was just a tiny dot. Premature, with no prenatal care. It wasn’t until her first paediatric appointment at 3 months old that her disadvantages became fully apparent, with a likely diagnosis of FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders).
Was she still so tiny because she was premature, because mum smoked and took drugs, because she drank throughout pregnancy, or all three?
We knew there would be health issues relating to mum’s pregnancy, and the paediatrician had talked of Baby S having possible learning difficulties, behavioural problems, along with feeding, walking and social issues.
What would her future hold, how badly would she be affected? The following three months had me analysing every movement and I pondered on every missed milestone. I had enrolled her in baby groups such as Baby Sensory to help her social skills and aid her development of core and fine motor skills. Other babies, some several weeks or months younger, were sitting or rolling before her, and Baby S continued to be the tiniest baby in every baby playgroup we attended.
FASD dominated my bedtime reading and I became a Google expert, as well as joining a FASD support forum (I belong to a therapeutic parenting support forum to help me deal with J’s trauma and I found the knowledge in the group, as well as the support, to be helpful).
However, I found the constant comparisons with other babies stressful and I can image how stressed new mums must be having every milestone celebrated and raved about when your baby is a few weeks behind.
When Baby S was 6 months old, I stopped it all. I stopped reading every article about FASD, I stopped scrolling baby websites, and I reminded myself that babies develop at different rates, regardless of their start in life.
I found myself just smiling at mums in the playgroups that said “oh isn’t she small?” and changed the subject. As a foster carer and not a mum, people would often ask me questions about her background and I found stock phrases such as ‘it’s complicated’ helpful.
To the persistent mums, I was truthful and told them it’s confidential. Regardless of the interest in her background and the questions about being a foster carer (which I am always happy to answer), we continued to go to playgroups and she loved them all.
There are groups which can encourage babies and toddlers to develop their core motor skills or encourage general socialisation and we went to 2 or 3 a week, making friends and playmates.
At her 12-month health assessment, all my health worries came back as she scored so low in the gross motor skills section there was talk of walking concerns, physiotherapy, and referrals. She was already under a specialist for her eyes (FASD children can suffer from a variety of eye problems and Baby S has the early signs of sight issues) and it looked like she would have a physiotherapist as well.
3 months on, and Baby S took her first steps this week.
At 15 months old, she falls bang right in the middle of normal. Most babies start walking between 10-12 months, some earlier at 9 months and some as late as 18 months old.
Perfectly normal babies can even decide they can get exactly where they want to go by crawling and don’t take their first steps until they are 2 years old.
Baby S is still the smallest and lightest in all the groups we attend, she’s still not saying any recognisable words, but now I don’t worry. Baby S is going to do things at her rate and in her own time.
We have an appointment with the paediatrician next month and they are likely to give her an official FASD diagnosis. Is this a bad thing? It’s definitely sad that she’s been affected by her mum’s heavy drinking whilst she was pregnant, and having a label is something that will stick with her and be on her health and school records.
It will affect her possible adoption, should the courts decide that is best for her, but the diagnosis will also open doors for Baby S to support that can help her fulfil her potential such as a 1:1 classroom Teaching Assistant and counselling.
FASD diagnosis or not, Baby S is more than a foster child, more than a child with FASD; she has a delightfully engaging smile which charms everyone around her. She’s sociable and able to focus on a task.
Her future may be uncertain, but there is definitely a bright outlook, full of opportunity.