Nicole Branson Feature

My child has a permanent brain-based, physical disability and it’s my fault.

My first born was conceived with zero forethought. At 23, I was not planning on becoming a mother. I wasn’t really planning anything, just living my life. I was working as a nanny and waitress and I spent my evenings going to watch bands play with my boyfriend (now my husband) and drink. Although I do not have a drinking problem we went out at least 3 nights a week and were in line with the rest of our friends.


When we discovered I was pregnant, the shock was an understatement. As we processed this new information we formed a plan to have our baby. I stopped all smoking and drinking and started taking vitamins. I ate as healthy as I could afford to and spent the rest of my pregnancy falling in love with my baby. I was so excited to meet her. Feeling my crunchy hippy roots I wanted as natural of a birth as I could have. I found a natural birth center and met my midwives.

At our first visit, I was asked about smoking and drinking. I laid it all out for the midwife and she told me none of that mattered. “Whatever you do in that first trimester has no effect on the baby,” she said. And I believed her.

So when my daughter was slow to crawl, walk and talk we called her a late bloomer. When the speech therapist said, “She seems a bit off. Does she fall down a lot?” I felt furious. I experienced her as a perfect, gorgeous child. She didn’t fall down often and she wasn’t “off”. I thought she just needed speech therapy.

As my darling girl grew the “late bloomer” label always fit. She did well enough in school but struggled with anxiety and fitting in socially. We made many adjustments for her and all of our children through the years. We dabbled in homeschooling, held her back a year in middle school and sent her to an alternative high school with smaller class sizes and flexible teachers. It worked, she made it through school and graduated, but her self-esteem suffered greatly. As her peers were driving, heading off to college, living on their own or just working, my daughter felt the weight of not measuring up. She was nowhere near ready for such big life changes and she felt bad about it.

I am a big believer in following your children’s lead so, we talked about it being fine that she is developing at her own pace on her own timeline. We just had no idea why she was developing late in comparison to her peers.

When we finally figured out that she has FASD we were stunned, but grateful for an answer. I wish many things had been different in her life. I wish we had known about FASD before she was born. I wish she had been diagnosed early. I wish we had implemented the neurobehavioral model when she was young. I wish she had been given all the support she needed. I wish life was easier for her brain. I do not, however, wish her to be any different than she is.

In spite of the challenges her brain has, my daughter is incredibly kind, compassionate, empathetic, loving, and nurturing. She loves children, especially those who require more understanding and help. She has a job she loves, working with children with autism, and has plans to do something in the medical field. She is in a strong and healthy relationship with a boy who loves and understands her and intends to move in with him next year.

My daughter is a gift to this world and everyone who comes in contact with her. It’s my fault her brain has extra challenges because of my drinking, but I can’t live a full life filled with regret and guilt. I didn’t know what I didn’t know and in spite of my ignorance and lack of planning a beautiful being was created. She gave me the gift of motherhood and the gift of mothering her! I am grateful for this life with her. I am grateful for her, every day.