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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A sufferer's advice: 'Get help'

Mom knew the risks, but couldn't stay the course

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NORWAY HOUSE -- As a single mom with a social work degree, a good job, beautiful kids and a supportive ex, Adelaide Muswagon seemed to be doing OK.

On the surface, she seemed to have it all together.

But deep down, it kept running off the rails. Muswagon drank while she was pregnant with her youngest son and Ethan was born with a number of challenges. While he looks perfectly healthy, Ethan was slow to learn, and had frequent temper tantrums and bouts of crying. She drank to deal with the stress.

Eventually, she became a weekend binge drinker. Then the weekends turned into four- or five-day benders.

"Today, I regret taking that first drink," Muswagon said, clear-eyed and sober in an interview. "I can't change things or take them back. I already harmed my child. I just want to tell others, 'if you do get pregnant, don't drink.' " Muswagon feels ashamed, but knows she isn't alone.

"Get help for yourself," she said. A mother can't help her child if she can't help herself, said Muswagon. She hopes that by sharing her story, others might not be so quick to judge, but will offer support and encouragement instead of shame.

"It took a lot of courage for me to get some help," said Muswagon.

"I know behind my back I was called an alcoholic and druggie," said the mother of four.

"But they didn't know what I was going through."

The Norway House woman was raised by her mother's sister, who she believed was her mom. When Adelaide turned 11, she learned the shocking truth. The drunken "auntie and uncle" who never attended family functions because they were too busy drinking were actually her parents.

"At first I was angry. I hated my parents for giving me up. Why are they giving me up? Who are my siblings?"

Muswagon learned she had eight siblings.

"My parents were -- and still are -- alcoholics," she said. She knows her mother drank during her pregnancies, and Muswagon suspects she herself may also have some fetal alcohol effects.

"I wouldn't doubt it," she said, adding she has a hint of some of the physical and mental characteristics. "I tend to have outbursts for little things." When things are a challenge, "I push it away."

Often, she can identify with her son Ethan.

"I see myself in him when I was younger."

But as an educated adult who learned in university about the impact of alcohol on the fetus, she was supposed to know better and do better.

She had three kids at home, including Ethan. He was about five years old and starting school when a psychologist, a speech pathologist and other specialists came up with a diagnosis. He had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

"I was in denial at first," she said of her son's disorder and her drinking that caused it. "Every weekend I'd think 'I'm going out and having a good time.' " But she didn't have a good time. Muswagon hit rock bottom.

She lost her job as a CFS worker. She got caught driving impaired.

"I didn't know where to turn. My life was so negative. I was still using alcohol and drugs. I thought it was helping me. It was only producing more negative emotions."

She thought about suicide.

"The turning point for me was I almost lost my kids," said Muswagon. CFS was preparing to take them. "My family means the world to me. I didn't want to end up alone," she said.

She swallowed her pride for the sake of her kids and herself.

"For the longest time I felt bitter towards the agency," she said. "It took me a long time to forgive and approach them for help."

Now she sees their role in a new light.

"I'm thankful they snapped me out of my state of mind," she said. "As a whole family, we got counselling." Ethan, who sports a Justin Bieber hairstyle, gets extra help and therapy in school.

"I plan to return to the workforce," said Muswagon. "I'd like to work with families or addictions, something where I can interact with people.

"I want to help other women going through what I went through. I want to give them encouragement.

"I know there are negative attitudes towards women like me. There needs to be understanding where we're coming from and why we're doing things, how a person feels."

Muswagon said it's been months since she went on a bender and she is still receiving counselling.

"I'm still working on me."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 26, 2011 H4

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