Some of the women have never had to deal with their children while they were sober.
The ultimate goal of a program in Brainerd aimed at chemical dependency in pregnant women and mothers of young children is to reduce the effect of brain and nervous system damage of fetal alcohol syndrome. Many of the women are American Indian, but the program is open to all races and is a mix of white, black and American Indian.
Kathy Sauve, lead case manager at the New Dawn Board and Lodge program, said for some women just knowing about FAS helped them to realize they were not crazy.
The women were living with symptoms of the syndrome as legacies of their own childhoods. Knowing about FAS also opened the door for them to examine the behaviors of their older children. And Sauve said counselors always try not to lay any guilt, but to move forward with recovery.
There are house mothers and house meetings. The idea is that residents learn how to resolve issues in a constructive way -- from dish duty to child rearing -- that arise from living together. Another goal is to provide a relaxed atmosphere inside the center.
"We want to create a nurturing, sober environment," said Mary Dial case manager at New Dawn. "We don't want them thinking this is an institution."
There are classes in positive parenting, a support group and a sexual assault group either at New Dawn or meeting in the community.
Some women arrive with only the clothes they are wearing. Prenatal medical check-ups are scheduled. And women learn about getting children on a schedule for things such as bedtimes.
Women come to the center on referral from county officials, child protection and chemical dependency assessors. And there are those who receive the word from what Sauve calls the "moccasin telegraph" and are self referrals. The program has 12 bedrooms and is currently full with a waiting list. The program is open to all women who are facing a chemical dependency while pregnant and mothers with children younger than age 5.
Women at the center have ranged from 15 to 42 with an average stay of three to four months.
Sauve said watching one mother has been like watching a butterfly emerge from a cocoon. The priorities in the young mother's life shifted from crack to her child.
"When she looks and holds her daughter -- everything has changed."
Another mother was anxious about delivering her baby. The child was her fourth, but it was the first labor she was approaching while sober.
It takes $1.2 million to raise a child with FAS. Sauve and Dial said they've saved the state $4 million with the two-year-old program in Brainerd.
The center's budget is $160,000 per year. The women who attend often have multiple needs for child care, for treatment and psychology testing, they may have child protection issues with courts. Being in the court system is often nothing new. It is an experience many had as children and one their mothers may have had as well.
The difference can be palpable from chemical addiction to swimming with their children at the YMCA. Life skills change. Trust levels emerge. Bonds develop between counselors and between other women in the program. It can be a slow process. Only two women were asked to leave the program because, as Sauve said, they could not get their stuff together.
"They are not used to anyone saying we care about you," Sauve said.
Others are learning boundaries for the first time and seeing examples of healthy relationships between individuals and parents and children. Some women have abuse issues to work through from relationships to a past as children who were abused and to a more recent time when they were abusers themselves.
"A lot of them have been caught up in the system all of their lives," Dial said. "That's all they've ever known. ... It's scary for them to take a deep look at themselves. Make a change for the better. And it's never too late."
Carol Rose, volunteer coordinator, said: "Many of these people, their mothers were never there for them."
"A lot of women are resistant to issues at first," Dial said. There are issues Dial understands as a recovering substance user herself. "There are two things we have in common here -- we are women and we are addicts and there is one goal, recovery."
For some women the program provides the first stability in their lives.
"They are learning from each other and that is a really positive thing for them because they are learning how to interact," Rose said.
Many of the women honestly want to remain sober and have enough skills. A lot of women do not want to return to a life in the Twin Cities. The center addresses both the cultural aspect of traditional American Indian women from a spiritual healer to a quiet place for reflection.
Sauve said the women often do not have a sense of community or one of what it means to be Indian. It is a mix of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
"You have to look at everything," Sauve said. "And their identity as Indian woman and their role as Indian women. That's a big part of the program and I think that makes a big difference too."
Goals for New Dawn include a transitional home for mothers in a two-step program that helps them recover and move out on their own.
Dial said a lack of education or a lack of wanting to know comes into play in regard to decisions made about drinking while pregnant. That lack of education about alcohol and its affect on unborn children extends to friends and family members who may encourage women to go out and party. Drinking while pregnant is not solely the bane of lower income women. One group that FAS activists point to as being missed may be found in the isolation of higher income women.
Women in that class distinction may be closet wine drinkers who indulge their desire for alcohol while pregnant, but do so within the confines of their homes.
Solutions include more education in the schools from early childhood through high school, Dial said.
New Dawn is the only program of its kind in the state. In many instances programs with American Indians are pioneering FAS- and FAE-related programs.
"They do a heck of a good job out there I'm proud of them," said Sen. Don Samuelson, DFL-Brainerd, who helped the program gain funding when New Dawn was threatened. "I'm very proud that we have it here in Brainerd and I have every confidence in the world that it will continue."
meets on Tuesdays
A fetal alcohol syndrome support group meets 11 a.m. Tuesdays at the Eclectic Cafe in downtown Brainerd. Child care is available.
A course on fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects will be offered free from 8:30 a.m. to noon, Sept. 26, at the Lakes Area Training Center. Instructors are Kathy Sauve, lead case manager, and Mary Dial, case manager at New Dawn Board and Lodge.
Participants will be told how to understand the difference between FAS and FAE, how to identify children and adults with the condition, how to work with individuals with FAS/FAE and how the community can help work together to decrease the number of children born with FAS/FAE.
For more information, call 828-2421.
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