Damaged Angels: An Adoptive Mother Discovers the Tragic Toll of Alcohol in Pregnancyby Bonnie Buxton
Part heartfelt memoir, part practical guide, Damaged Angels recounts Bonnie Buxton's struggles to raise an adopted daughter whom she didn't realize was afflicted with fetal alcohol disorder. Her book also offers guidance to parents who have children with FASD. By the time Bonnie's daughter Colette hit first grade, her parents were coping with her frequent stealing and lying, and the necessity of special education. At fourteen, she discovered drugs and sex; by eighteen, she was a crack addict living on the streets. After many frustrating years consulting numerous therapists, a TV news story gave Bonnie the answer she was looking for and sent her on a quest for a diagnosis and help for Colette. Damaged Angels can aid and comfort all those affected by FASD the most common cause of intellectual impairments in most industrialized nations and reduce the number of babies born with this disorder in the future. The most important book on fetal alcohol disorder since Michael Dorris's The Broken Cord, Damaged Angels is a book for every parent, practitioner, and teacher working with a child with FASD.
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Damaged AngelsAn Adoptive Mother's Struggle to Understand the Tragic Toll of Alcohol in Pregnancy
By Bonnie Buxton
Carroll & Graf PublishersCopyright © 2005 Bonnie Buxton
All right reserved.
I have read that the oscillation of butterfly wings in Brazil may set off storms in Texas.
--Janette Turner Hospital, The Last Magician
We are all interconnected -- our lives profoundly influenced by small events that may have happened years ago, involving people we may never know. Back in April of 1979, a woman addicted to alcohol, whom I have never met, became pregnant with her third child, continued to drink throughout her pregnancy -- and whirled my life into an unending orbit of love, grief, despair and hope.
This woman is the reason why, one frosty December afternoon in 1997, my rusting seven-year-old white Chevy station wagon, which should be heading home to Toronto's Beaches, is drawn instead towards a seedy downtown district. At the shabby Queen-Jarvis intersection, I see five young street guys with squeegees, and slow down for a closer look. The car behind me honks. I peer at the squeegee kids as I drive past. The blond "guy" in the black toque is my eighteen-year-old daughter Colette. I drive around the block. Watching for me, she hops in with the wide, infectious grin that captured my heart when she was three.
That heart-melting grin makes me forget just how much money she has stolen from me to buy drugs, and how many lies she has told me in our years together. I don't care that she has tried every street drug going, or what she is doing with her body in order to survive. We head happily towards the nearest McDonald's. She'll have a hamburger, fries and Coke; I'm overjoyed to have fifteen minutes with my dropout homeless daughter, and listen to her tales of life on the street, sanitized for Mom.
My husband, Brian Philcox, and I have known Colette since she was ten months old. In June 1980 we had adopted our older daughter, Cleo, aged nearly three. She had been in the care of a wonderful foster family, the Newbiggings, and we had stayed in contact with them. Shortly after Cleo came to live with us, Colette was placed with the Newbiggings as a foster child. A chubby baby with big hazel eyes, a cute snub nose and a mop of curly blond hair, Colette had been taken into the care of the Children's Aid Society at age eight months because of parental neglect. Over the next two and a half years, on visits with the Newbiggings, we enjoyed Colette's spunky personality, and Cleo loved to play with her.
When Colette was nearly three, the social work agency and the courts decided that her birth parents were unable to become fit parents, and she became available for adoption. Big for her age, she had walked at eleven months, and now had a thick mane of waist-length curls. Despite numerous minor health problems in infancy -- skin rashes, a mild heart murmur -- she was a bright, energetic tomboy, and her foster mother worried that potential adoptive parents might be looking for a feminine child they could dress up in ruffles and ringlets. Inge, her social worker, who had been Cleo's worker as well, had a long list of applicants to choose from, and selected a couple with two school-aged sons who wanted to complete their family with a daughter.
On January 13, 1983, Colette's third birthday, Brian, Cleo and I went for a "goodbye visit," taking a present. Colette, in red overalls, was sporting an odd hairdo -- one side long, one side short. When I asked what had happened to her hair, she grinned impishly, "I cutted it."
I was sunk.
When we left, she clung to us and sobbed. We hugged her goodbye, saying we'd see her soon, knowing we were lying. As we drove morosely home, Cleo, then five, broke the silence. "Why can't Colette come and live with us and be my sister?"
Brian and I explained that Cleo had always said she didn't want a sister or brother, and anyway, Inge had found a wonderful home for her. "But she could come here and I would share my room and my books and my toys," Cleo persisted.
After Cleo had gone to bed, Brian and I talked about Colette -- each of us confessing we had felt a huge pang that she was going out of our lives. Who else would understand a fearless and energetic little girl who preferred trucks to dolls and was crazy about dogs and horses? Besides, she and Cleo had always played so well together. Behind Cleo's back, the discussion continued for several days.
Brian and I were both in our early forties. We had met while working in advertising in Montreal. He was unlike any other man I'd ever known -- constantly cheerful, funny, a wonderful cook and an expert at ironing, sharing my interest in language, books, good food and travel and, most importantly, a guy with a huge heart. Since his early twenties, he had quietly been an international Foster Parent, supporting various families over the years. He wasn't just Mr. Right -- he was my soulmate, my best friend, the person who could send me into howls of laughter at a joke nobody else would find funny, the man whose physical presence never failed to cheer and comfort me, the man I was bound to by Krazy Glue.
But could we cope with a second child? We'd been together thirteen years before our childless serenity had been shattered by Cleo's two-year-old charm, tantrums, feistiness and irresistible humour. Now, three years later, we had almost paid off the mortgage on our large old house in Toronto's beautiful Beach area. Brian was a senior executive in marketing communication, and I was a freelance journalist. We certainly weren't wealthy -- but we managed to pay the bills and do lots of travelling. Could we make room in our lives and our hearts for another strong, energetic, curious little girl? Would we always kick ourselves if we didn't make the move? The answer seemed to be yes.
I took a deep breath and called Inge, the social worker. "Brian and I have been talking about this ever since Colette's birthday," I said. "If for some reason the adoption falls through -- (oh, God, what am I letting myself in for?) -- if this happens, we'd like to adopt Colette."
Inge reported that Colette's visit with her prospective parents had been a disaster. Taken to McDonald's, Colette had walked all over the seats and never stopped moving, much to the couple's dismay. Inge realized they were all wrong for Colette. "In fact, I've always felt she belongs with you and Brian," she said. "But you'll be getting me into big trouble. I've got twelve couples who have been approved for a little girl, and you and Brian aren't even in the pipeline."
Excerpted from Damaged Angels by Bonnie Buxton Copyright © 2005 by Bonnie Buxton. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
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.
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A thoroughly researched book on the real problems of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. It not only relates the problems of FAS but also provides some needed answers. An update to the Broken Cord, it is a must read for any family who has a child whose behavior is uncomprehensible and whose lack of judgment is always getting them into trouble.