Mom warns others against drinking during pregnancy

August 15, 2012 2:47:03 PM PDT
In June, a controversial study from Denmark made the case that a pregnant women could safely drink up to eight alcoholic drinks a week. They made this determination by testing their children at age 5. But Houston doctors say that's asking for trouble. Difference in genetics affect how women process alcohol.

We have the story of a young Houston man who has fetal alcohol syndrome and what his life is like. We also talk to his mother, whose only drinks were before she knew she was pregnant.

Everything is harder for 30-year-old Nicholas. He volunteers at the pantry at the All Saints Church. But it was hard for him to learn what to do. It was hard for him at school, too, because he was born with fetal alcohol syndrome.

"I'm kinda not as smart as other people are. I have difficulties in some areas," he said.

But Nicholas tries hard and he walks several miles each way to get to the church.

Nicholas has worked as a volunteer at the All Saints Pantry for six years. But his dream is to have a paying job. His disabilities can be traced back to two nights of binge drinking, before his mother even knew she was pregnant.

"He was 15 years old when I told him the reason that he had intellectual disability and developmental delays. And I was really scared because for so many years I felt so guilty and I felt so ashamed even though when I drank, I didn't know I was pregnant. But the guilt was still there," said his mother, Mercedes.

And what was her son's reaction?

"He just reached over and hugged me and said 'Mom, I won't tell anybody,'" Mercedes said.

"I have been taught to try and have a positive attitude all the time," Nicholas said.

Now Mercedes is on a mission to warn women after a Danish study came out saying a few drinks during pregnancy might be OK.

"I completely disagree with them," she said.

So do Houston doctors who say the study doesn't apply to all women.

"People with different genetic backgrounds metabolize alcohol differently," Dr. Laurie Swaim said.

And Dr. Swaim says there's another problem with the study.

"What they didn't look at were a number of other possible effects of alcohol, including miscarriage, still birth, poor growth," Dr. Swaim said.

Texas Children's Hospital Developmental specialist Dr. Sherry Vinson works with children who were born with fetal alcohol syndrome.

"Be very aware that before you even know you're pregnant, one frat party could do your child in," she said.

Mercedes has finally moved past her sadness and guilt. She's now warning other women that alcohol still robs children of their potential and trying to give Nicholas the best life she can.

Meanwhile Nicholas is hoping for his dream job.

"I would like to have a job at the airport as a baggage handler," he said.

He doesn't know if it will happen. But now, he takes life in stride, finding joy in each day.

Another thing we were surprised to learn: A baby is exposed to alcohol longer than the mother. First through the blood, and then doctors say they continue to be exposed to diluted alcohol in the amniotic fluid.


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