On May 23rd, 2008 we got her. As we were snapping in her car seat, my husband Jake and I looked at one another and took the deepest breath of our lives. It had been years of struggling with infertility, confusion, and frustration. Finally, we had her, our Quinny. She just happened to come from another human’s tummy. That is how we began our family. We adopted her from the two loving souls who created her. We fell in love with these two souls from the moment they asked us to be the parents of their not-yet-born baby.
The day we brought her home, the day we took that deep breath thinking we had just made it through the roughest waters, that new mama and daddy had no idea their little girl, who was intended to be theirs, always and forever, was coming home to them with damage to her brain. Damage cause by alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
About three months in, I knew something was not right. My sweet Quinn was in pain. Not from tummy aches or growing ouchies, she hurt when we held her, when we swaddled her, or when we stroked her. As the months went on, there were more and more red flags; horrific meltdowns (not from toddler fits, rather her soul melting down in pain), reactive anger, hurting herself when she was frustrated or confused during play with peers, sensory struggles, and hurting her playmates and baby sister (and then baby brother). Quinn’s brain seemed like it was getting stuck, and the harder we worked to unstick it, the more it created chaos, confusion and self-inflicted pain. Jake and I were desperate to find help. We were losing our child and in her place, gaining these behaviors that crossed the threshold from challenging to straight-up scary.
Around 18 months her development was on track, but her sensory and behavioral assessments were screaming deeper issues. Her pediatrician wanted to “wait and see,” giving us more typical parenting interventions to see if they would help. But I decided to fight. I was too scared of losing Quinn to this black hole swallowing her soul. And with the last nerve of self-belief I had, Quinn and I walked into the pediatrician’s office, in the middle of a melt down and said, “my child is in pain, you need to help us.” And she did.
We got Quinn into the Developmental Pediatrics Center where she was first diagnosed with autism, ADHD, and sensory processing disorder, and soon after, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. We learned that it is very common to be diagnosed with all of these disorders before the umbrella of FASD is seen. All this pain our child was going through and fighting, all the chaos and heartache our family was experiencing was because of alcohol. Alcohol drank by the woman I had grown to love and admire for creating a child that I adored so much. A woman I owed the world to; a woman who gave us the world.
So I did what most would do. I pouted for a few months. I cried “it’s just not fair.” I yelled “What the hell were you thinking, drinking?!” in my pillow at night, and on runs in the forest and underwater during baths. And then, one day, it hit me. She wasn’t thinking; she was surviving. Surviving a situation that scared the hell out of her. She checked out, freaked out, and made horrible choices. But these choices were not intended to hurt anyone, especially the child that was growing inside of her.
Once I saw this from Quinny’s birth mama’s perspective, once I felt her pain, her regret, and her agony, I forgave her. We forgave her. All of a sudden, when we took the shame away from her, we started to see Quinny’s barriers in a different light. We began to change our family’s life, outlook, routines, and traditions to fit her base needs. We started parenting in new ways, and seeing how Q’s brain barriers actually made our family stronger, more whole, and more settled. All of a sudden, what was once the scariest world to live in became the truest motivation for being our best selves. Jake and I became better parents than we ever thought we could to all three of our sweet babies. We had a stronger union, and a better life to give our children.
We also noticed that without Quinn’s barriers, we wouldn’t have the best bits of her, either. Her amazing perspective on this world, her incredible eye for detail, her relentless drive to touch people’s lives and make them feel love. We love her work ethic, her curiosity, hunger to understand and learn. She is exactly who she was intended to be. Our child’s story of how she was created, how she was chosen, how she overcomes insurmountable obstacles is more beautiful and more fulfilling than we could have ever imagined. And our love for her birth mom, the woman who created our first daughter, is bold, rich, and real. Everyone makes decisions that haunt them, strangle their self-worth, and challenge their values, but that doesn’t make us bad, it makes us human.
Today, we advocate loud and passionately for our daughter, and for those who share her diagnosis. So many kids with FASD appear to be typical kids, and because they show no physical difference on the outside, they are shoved to the margins, forgotten and judged by their communities, their peers, and the world. We believe in sharing their labels and empowering them not to fear it, but to see it as a road map to support them, and to help them get to where they are intended to be in this world. We hope to encourage all families who have a child like Quinn, to push hard for help among friends, family and pediatricians, before they think there is anything “wrong.” For our Quinny, we believe the more people who know and are educated on her barriers, the more they will greet her with empathy, love, understanding, and acceptance.
With that FASD label also comes the public admittance of a birth mom drinking while pregnant. Our society doesn’t shame a woman when their child is diagnosed with autism, but it absolutely shames a woman when her child is born with FASD. She is treated with hate, anger, and judgment. But just as loud as we advocate for love and empathy for our child, we too, advocate for love and empathy for the woman who created our child, and for ALL women who live with this insurmountable guilt and shame.
The women who decide to use adoption as their answer for a scary, unrealistic future should be lifted up, and empowered. They should never be forced to feel shame for their choice to leave the hospital with empty arms, or the choices they made while carrying. Shame is powerful and life-altering, and shaming a woman who is making the ultimate sacrifice to choose another to parent and nurture their child is like shaming an adopted child’s story, their creation, or their existence. Choose instead to educate more on the effects of alcohol. Choose to use the labels that name the child’s behaviors and barriers, but doesn’t define their path. Choose to see the human in all of us. Choose forgiveness. Choose empathy. Choose love.
Jill lives with her family in Yamhill, Oregon where she spends her days growing humans and organic vegetables. She and her husband Jake have three totally rad wee ones: Quinny Lou (7), Carter Roo (5) and Mr. Crew (3). Living with and instilling the principles that all deserve endless love, encouragement, yards and yards of kindness, gentle boundaries and belief. You can follow Jill and her herd on Instagram, and learn about their farm and CSA.