Virginia Barton

Tears at illness born from the womb

Catholic Herald, 10 August 1990  


Review: The Broken Cord by Michael Dorris (Collins, £16.95)


142840Have you heard of FAS? Neither had I. The acronym stands for foetal alcohol syndrome, a non-reversible condition inflicted on the unborn by a mother who drinks alcohol to excess during pregnancy.

That bald description hardly conveys the physical and behavioural impairment to the innocent embryo which lasts a lifetime. Twenty years ago, the author of The Broken Cord became the first unmarried man in America to adopt a young child.

This is the story of that little boy, now grown to manhood, and the tragic effects of his natural mother’s alcohol dependency. Like his adopted sort, Michael Dorris’ origins are American Indian, and it is among the American Indians that the author has carried out his very comprehensive research into FAS.

But we should be under no illusion that the causes and effects of heavy drinking during pregnancy are restricted to the Indian (or indeed American) community. Research shows that there is an alarming increase worldwide of children born suffering from FAS.

It is not difficult to see why. According to the leaflet just circulated on NHS reforms, alcohol is more readily available than bread, and we could all cite examples of how much more widespread “social” drinking is than, say, just 30 years ago.

If Professor Dorris is correct, and his argument is very convincing, the only safe drinking during pregnancy is no alcohol whatsoever. He spells out the physiological reasons very clearly.

The Broken Cord is disarmingly honest, passionate and compassionate. One rejoices with the author over every battle won, not least with his affectionate but difficult son.


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