• STV
  • MySTV

I quit drinking when I learned about baby - but damage was done

Today marks foetal alcohol spectrum disorder's 20th global awareness day.

Hellen Fernie stopped drinking as soon as she learned she was pregnant - but at 21 weeks the damage was already done.

Her 14-year-old son, born despite Hellen being told she couldn't have children, was diagnosed with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) last year.

It can cause hyperactivity, learning difficulties and growth problems and occurs when alcohol in the mother's blood passes to her baby through the placenta.

Today marks the syndrome's 20th global awareness day and Hellen is determined to stamp out the stigma faced by birth mothers of children with FASD.

Hellen Fernie wants more support for mums.
Hellen Fernie wants more support for mums. STV

Hellen told STV News: "I was in a bad place, I was drinking... I found out I was pregnant at 21 weeks. I stopped drinking as soon as I found out, but obviously the damage was done.

"A lot of FASD kids lash out with the frustration because of the way their brain works, it's not like our brain, it's like spaghetti junction. They can get psychosis behaviours, I was at the stage that I was getting assaulted on a regular basis.

"I want the birth mums to come out of the shadows, for the best interest of their children, to give them what they need.

https://stv.tv/news/scotland/1438597-new-support-for-170-000-scots-children-damaged-by-alcohol/ | default

"Don't be ashamed - you're human, you made a mistake, we're all human. But it's what you learn from that mistake, it's how you change it."

Ailsa Clarke adopted her six-year-old son when he was a baby. He has just started school and is doing well.

But she worries about what the future holds for her son and others living with FASD.

Ailsa, who has taken a career break from teaching to focus on her son, said: "It's a combination of anger, worry, in fact extreme anxiety, because the more you read about it, the more you realise that if you don't get early diagnosis, the secondary disabilities are crippling and potentially life-ending.

"It can end in suicide or prison or homelessness, or drug and alcohol addiction, and the cycle going round again.

Ailsa Clarke worries about her adopted son's future.
Ailsa Clarke worries about her adopted son's future. STV

"The behaviours overlap with loads of different conditions. This is neurological - this is brain damage, this is a brain injury."

FASD is thought to be four times more common than autism - but it's believed to be drastically under-diagnosed.

Earlier this year Adoption UK set up its FASD Hub, offering support and advice about the condition for adoptive families in Scotland.

It is now extending the service to birth parents to ensure everyone affected by FASD is included.

The charity says that since the hub was set up in June, it has had a large rise in the number of calls to its helpline.

https://stv.tv/news/features/1414118-born-different-living-with-foetal-alcohol-spectrum-disorder/ | default

Within six weeks of its opening, it received 40 queries from parents seeking advice about handling FASD and its varied symptoms.

New clinical guidelines for FASD were recently published in Scotland, but there are still concerns that there is no clear path for ongoing support and treatment.

Health professionals are keen to stress that the condition and its causes do not discriminate against age or class.

Michelle Kirkpatrick is in a joint role with NHS Lothian and the Edinburgh Council, leading a team which supports pregnant women and new parents who battle substance abuse.

Her "PrePare" team also trains teachers and foster carers to better handle challenging FASD behaviours.

She said: "The problem with alcohol is that it's legal, it's acceptable, and it's everywhere. If you've got a grey message, then you've not got women having a clear understanding of what's ok for them and what's not ok for them.

"The bottom line is, if you want to drink, don't get pregnant, and if you want to get pregnant, don't drink."

Download: The STV News app is Scotland's favourite and is available for iPhone from the App store and for Android from Google Play. Download it today and continue to enjoy STV News wherever you are.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check. That e-mail's already in our system. Please try again.
ShowHide
Forgot password?
This field is required. This must be at least 6 characters long. Did you enter your details correctly?
If you've forgotten your details then use the 'Forgot password?' link.
Need to reset your password?

We'll send a link to reset your password to

We've sent you details on how to reset your password

Please check your email and follow the instructions.

Forgotten your email address?

Have you forgotten the email address that you previously joined with? Don't worry, by emailing enquiries@stv.tv we can help.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This must be at least 6 characters long.
ShowHide
This field is required. This must be at least 6 characters long.
You must be over 16 to join STV.
This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date
We need this to check that you live in an STV region.
This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid postcode
Would you like us to email you about our great shows and services from time to time?
We'll only send emails we think you'll like (see example) based on information you have supplied and shows you have watched on STV Player. For details on emails and advertising, see our STV & You page.
Would you like to receive emails from the Scottish Children's Lottery about draws, instant games and competitions?
We support the Scottish Children's Lottery (SCL), which is managed by our colleagues at STV ELM Ltd. You can find out more about the SCL on its website, including its Privacy Policy.

By continuing you agree to our Terms of Use, and understand our Privacy and Cookie Policies.

Upload Profile Picture

Please make sure your image is under 2mb in size and a valid JPG, PNG or GIF.

Are you sure?

Unfortunately, you'll be unable to access our premium content. We’ll be sorry to see you go, but if you change your mind you can rejoin us at any time.

Please verify your STV account

Please verify your STV account using the email we sent you. If you have lost the email, we can send you another one, just click the button below.

Thanks

We've sent you a new verification email.
Please check your email and follow the instructions to verify your account.

Welcome to STV
Thanks for joining us.

Oops!

Sorry, you must be at least 12 years old to place a vote for your Real Hero.

Please review our Voting Terms of Use for more information.

Oops!

Sorry! It seems that you are using a browser that is incompatible with our voting service.

To register your vote please copy the below URL in to your regular mobile browser. We recommend Google Chrome, or Safari.

http://shows.stv.tv/real-heroes/voting

Oops!

Sorry, you seem to have already voted in this category.

Thanks for voting

Now share your vote with friends on your social network

Share on twitter Share on facebook

Cast your vote

Please register or sign in to continue.

Cast your vote

This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date

Cast your vote

Please fill out this form to cast your vote. As you are under 16 years old you will not create an STV account. Why do we need these details?

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check.
Location This field is required.
Parental Consent This field is required.

That's you. All that's left is to click the 'Submit Vote' button below. By doing so, you confirm that you and your parent or guardian have read and accept our Voting Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Cookie policy, and that the details you have entered are correct. We'll look after them as carefully as if they were our own.