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use or abuse of alcohol during her pregnancy. This led the hospital staff to view her as a liar and to see this as further proof that she was an unfit mother.

In fact, the hospital staff had no information at the time to indicate that Brenda (when sober) could not care for her child effectively, or that she had rationally understood that drinking during pregnancy could hurt her baby and yet continued to drink anyway. Denial of alcohol use and potential harm is common in those dependent on alcohol.

The hospital staff was helped to see that both the mother and the child were their patients. The recognition of FAS in the baby was an opportunity for positive intervention with his mother. This was a moment, if handled appropriately and supportively, when she might be ready to confront her alcohol dependence, thus improving her health, maximizing her ability to care for her child, and preventing fetal damage in future pregnancies.


Dorris M. The Broken Cord. New York: Harper and Row, 1989.

Dorris M. Paper Trail: Essays. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.

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