Damaged Angels
A Mother Discovers the Terrible Cost of Alcohol in Pregnancy

Bonnie Buxton
Family - Parenting; Health & Fitness - Care Issues; Social Science - Sociology | Knopf Canada | Trade Paperback | March 2004 $24.95 |0-676-97638-7


An adoptive mother writes the book she wishes had been available -- sympathetic, up-to-date, useful, hopeful and highly readable -- when her family welcomed a little girl not knowing that she struggled with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

When Bonnie and her husband adopted Colette, she was three years old. Big for her age, she had walked alone at eleven months, had excellent verbal skills, a thick mane of curly blonde hair and a sturdy little body. They were thrilled with their gregarious second daughter, a great sister for six-year-old Cleo. But although Colette was bright and delightful, a litany of problems soon presented itself. By the time she hit first grade, her parents were coping with her frequent stealing and lying, and her learning difficulties, which necessitated special education. At the age of fourteen, she discovered drugs and sex; by eighteen, in spite of the love and support provided by her adoptive family, she was a crack addict living on the streets. After seven frustrating years of consulting numerous therapists, a TV item gave Bonnie the answer -- and sent her on a quest for diagnosis and help for her daughter.

In general, our society has little compassion for those thousands of individuals whose damaged brains lead them to crime, homelessness and addiction. Few realize that they behave as they do as the result of brain damage caused by their mothers’ drinking during pregnancy. FASD is Canada’s most common, most expensive, yet most preventable mental disability. FASD can be beaten, but as usual, education is key. This book is a tool that could help the 300,000 Canadians currently affected by FASD, and reduce the number of babies born with FASD in the future.

-- FASD is a new umbrella term that includes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE), Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) and Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS).
-- FASD is caused by women drinking alcohol while pregnant.
-- So-called "moderate" drinking can do considerable damage to the fetal brain.
-- Individuals with FASD may seem normal, but their damaged brains can result in learning disabilities, impulsivity, lying, stealing, tantrums, violence and aggression, inability to predict consequences or learn from experience, lack of conscience, and addictions.
-- FASD is the biggest single cause of intellectual impairment in most industrialized countries.
-- Research indicates that a high percentage of homeless people, and at least 25% of juvenile and adult offenders suffer from undiagnosed FASD. More than 50% of individuals with FASD will experience school drop-out, trouble with the law, addiction, and unemployment. More than 90% will experience mental health problems.
-- The general public, not to mention many professionals, know very little about either FASD or the fact that no amount of alcohol in pregnancy has been established as safe for the fetus.


"Bonnie Buxton’s book, Damaged Angels: A Mother Discovers the Terrible Cost of Alcohol in Pregnancy, is an invaluable contribution to the literature on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Ms. Buxton deftly weaves the story of her children and many other individuals together with the best opinions for treatment and intervention that are in the literature and being presented in work shops. This is a beautifully balanced story of family hopes and frustrations, and eventual successes and failures. It is a must read for anyone caring for a person with FASD or considering it."
Sterling K. Clarren, MD, FAAP, Robert A. Aldrich Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Genetics and Development, Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, Washington, USA

"Bonnie Buxton has written an extraordinary, lucid and gripping account of parents living with an FASD child from infancy into adulthood. She tells us why a diagnosis has made a difference. A diagnosis results in a paradigm shift in perspective in everyone’s attitude towards the person affected — one from seeing a person who is mean, defiant, lazy and uncooperative to a person with a neurological disability who needs a different and more specialized approach to care, education and treatment. Her analysis of the current state of supports for FASD individuals is a clarion call to the nation."
Dr. Albert E. (Ab) Chudley is a pediatrician, medical geneticist and clinician researcher with over 25 years of experience in diagnosing, treating and counseling FASD children, adults and their families. He is Head of the Section of Genetics and Metabolism at Winnipeg’s Children’s Hospital, Health Sciences Centre and a full professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Child Health and Biochemistry and Medical Genetics at the University of Manitoba

"This brave, relentlessly honest book seizes both the heart and mind from the very first pages. Bonnie Buxton tells a gripping human tale of one family’s struggle for integrity against monumental odds: the irreparable harm to her daughter by a hidden enemy and the willful blindness of parent-blaming ‘experts.’ Both harrowing and hopeful, it champions the lost children who are driving parents crazy through no fault of their own — and challenges the rest of us to reclaim them." —Rona Maynard, editor of Chatelaine


Bonnie Buxton is a journalist who has written articles for numerous Canadian magazines and newspapers. She and her husband, Brian Philcox, are co-founders of FASworld Canada, the Canadian nonprofit organization that works at building awareness around the world. They live in Toronto.

Table of Contents

1. Rogue Sunflower
Three-year-old Colette was a “golden child” — bright, determined, beautiful and funny. Who could resist? We fought to adopt her, not knowing it would be only the first of many battles for her — and with her.

2. Demon Angel
When our delightful preschooler morphed into a delinquent street kid, we sought a reason behind her learning and behaviour problems. What had we done wrong? A series of social workers, psychiatrists and therapists couldn’t provide an answer.

3. Crashing into the Iceberg
We discovered that the preventable birth defect that permanently damages 1 percent of infants in the industrialized world is now known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Like an iceberg, most of it lurks below the surface.

4. Diagnosis: An Excuse for Bad Behaviour?
Without diagnosis, individuals with fasd are often labelled “Lazy, stupid, does not try, poorly motivated, attachment disorder, psychopath.” But our attempts at having Colette diagnosed were fraught with barriers.

5. The Myth of the Safe Threshold
More than three decades of medical research have taught scientists that even small amounts of alcohol in pregnancy can permanently but invisibly affect the child’s learning and behaviour. Why doesn’t the public get the message?

6. Society’s Children
We were not alone. Messages poured in from a world of “crash-test families” — foster and adoptive parents in pain, who wrote, “You have my child.”

7. A Life Full of Misunderstands
They are “stack attack victims,” born with fetal alcohol damage, growing up undiagnosed in dysfunctional families. Three adult survivors share their painful but inspiring stories.

8. “From a little girl, I was sad inside”
Women who drink in pregnancy are often the targets of blame, but most female alcoholics were themselves abused as children. Meet four mothers who damaged their children by drinking.

9. They Come Without Cookbooks
Each infant or child with FASD is as unique as a snowflake, but parents around the world experience some common characteristics and problems — along with an alphabet of acronyms such as ADHD, RAD and ODD.

10. “This mask I wear — can you see through it?”
When youngsters with FASD hit puberty, the hormone-caused heavy weather of adolescence often turns into catastrophic hurricanes such as school drop-out, delinquency, addiction, early pregnancy and running away.

11. A Lifetime Sentence
During their lifetimes, about 40 percent of individuals with FASD will experience “trouble with the law,” and about 25 percent of incarcerated offenders have FASD. People with FASD are also more likely to be victims of crime. Here are some crime stories in which FASD may play an invisible role.

12. The Puzzle of Pain Felt Around the World
Alcoholism is the child of despair in aboriginal communities everywhere, in slums and tenements in North America and the United Kingdom, in shantytowns in the Caribbean, Africa and South America, throughout the countries of the former Soviet Union — and in upper-class families throughout the world. Meet five international FASD fighters.

13. Marvels, Miracles and Dancing at the Mall
Certain parents have eyes that dance when they talk about their children with FASD — children who have become poets, artists, dancers, musicians, athletes or, simply, fine human beings. These Superparents inspire the rest of us with their patience, wisdom and humour.

14. The Spinning Kaleidoscope
Like childbirth fever, smallpox and polio, FASD can be beaten — but money alone is not enough. The task requires awareness of the effects of prenatal alcohol, by top members of government as well as individual members of the community, along with the application of strategies developed over the past three decades.

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Updated: August 21, 2016