Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
From rock bottom and back: 'Sniff mom' wants to help others
She made national headlines 15 years ago as the pregnant "sniff mom" social workers took to court to sober up until the baby — her fourth child — was born.
Two earlier babies were permanently disabled because of her glue sniffing and were made permanent wards of the state.
Today, she's a single parent to five children, and a steady stream of social workers are still a part of her life.
"My case is like a hot potato," she smiled. "I keep getting transferred to another worker."
She slipped back into obscurity after her healthy son was born and she sobered up -- for awhile.
Now single, sober and religious, Miss G hopes her story will inspire others.
"I know it will help somebody. There is hope. Your family can be restored if you follow the right path," said the woman, wearing glasses and a crisp white blouse.
"I've got nothing to hide. I want to show what God can do," said Miss G.
"Look at him today," she said pointing to her healthy, handsome son.
"They said 'he's going to be in a wheelchair, he's going to be a vegetable'."
The son she was carrying when Justice Perry Schulman ordered her to get treatment in 1996 is in high school.
He wins awards and does public speaking on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Miss G, whose real name has never been made public, agreed to speak with the Winnipeg Free Press and have her photo taken on the condition we not publish her name or the name of her son.
"Look at me today," she said, holding a sleeping two-year-old on her lap in her spotless, Pine-Sol-scented North End home. "God does a good makeover."
But it takes time. After her son was born, she had a daughter who is now in her teens. Two younger sons attend a school program geared to FASD kids. Miss G said while she was pregnant with them, she was in an abusive relationship and smoked pot and drank. She has a two-year-old daughter with congenital lung problems.
They're together though, in a safe warm home, a scenario few, including Miss G, could have imagined 20 years ago.
She remembers the first time someone offered her a rag to sniff in the lobby of the Bell Hotel on Main Street. After awhile, she was working the streets. Life was tough. A john dumped her at a Jarvis Street scrapyard and nearly ran her over. She looked up and there was a pack of dogs snarling at her, licking their chops.
She had two seriously disabled children before Child and Family Services learned of her third pregnancy while she was working the streets and sniffing.
But she never meant to hurt any of the babies she was carrying.
"It was a matter of not caring," said Miss G.
"I was under the influence... in a different world. I wanted to stay there. I wanted to die, to escape reality." She had no intention of becoming the poster mom for fetal alcohol syndrome prevention, right-to-life or pro-choice movements. But they all latched onto her case before it reached the Supreme Court of Canada.
She survived the substance abuse and black-outs and suicidal thoughts because of God, not the help of social workers or the justice system, she says.
She blames all the "commotion and neglect" she experienced growing up for her sniffing gasoline, then solvents, when she got older and moved from the reserve to Winnipeg.
"My mom died in 1985. I was 11. Dad gave me up for adoption an hour after the funeral. Just like that, he handed me over like a little pup."
She said she cried all the time then moved back home but never felt welcome. Miss G said she was the youngest of a big family and felt neglected. She sniffed gasoline and often got kicked out of the house until she moved to Winnipeg. There, she lived with a relative who treated her like Cinderella and introduced her to Main Street.
"I met sniffers in the lobby of the Bell Hotel. They offered me that rag and I took it."
After that, she said she went to Main Street every day to get high and drunk. She had her first baby at 16. She had two more, but couldn't care for them either. Her fourth child was the charm.
Today, Miss G's son has dreams for the future.
"I want to be a gourmet chef or a physicist," the boy says. "Math is my favourite subject."
"We've come a long way," Miss G said, looking at a photo of herself in Chatelaine magazine, skin and bone and requiring assistance to walk.
"I can't believe that was me."
The higher courts overturned Schulman's decision, but by that time, Miss G had entered a chemical detox program and sobered up for the delivery of her baby. When he was born, she was allowed to take him home but was closely watched all the time.
"It's totally understandable. They didn't trust me."
She bristles at comments from people who say women who've damaged their unborn children should be sterilized before they do any more harm.
"That's not right," she said. "Maybe it looks like there's no hope, but we don't know what the future holds."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2011 A3
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