In January of 1999, while digging out from Toronto’s mind-boggling snowstorm, Bonnie and I realized that on Sept. 9, a lot of 9s would come together. What a way to remind the world of the dangers of alcohol in pregnancy. “What if, on the ninth minute of the ninth hour of the ninth day of the ninth month of 1999, we tell the world that a woman should avoid alcohol during the nine months of pregnancy.”
Because FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) is the most common, most expensive, yet most preventable mental disorder in the industrialized world, we knew that this condition needed to be brought to the attention of professionals, parents and opinion leaders. Health Canada acknowledges that FASD affects at least one in a hundred live births in North America. Many knowledgeable clinicians and diagnosticians, like Sterling Clarren, believe the number could be as high as 3-5%! This makes FASD bigger than all the “Diseases of the Week” put together. According to Toronto Public Health, the cost of supporting Canadians with FASD is about $6.2 billion annually.
So, how would we get this message out to the rest of the world? Bonnie phoned our colleague, the brilliantly creative Teresa Kellerman in Tucson, a pioneer advocate, who had the communication smarts to make this idea take off. Thus, Teresa created the ‘how to’ web pages and we created a symbol – the FAS Knot. And the rest is history.
That first FASDay (officially Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders International Awareness Day), thanks to the internet, there were over 80 communities who joined us in their own unique ways. Volunteer groups from towns and cities across Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Europe were among those original supporters.This year, the 16th FASDay was observed in over 42 countries representing every time zone around the world.
Support groups, NGOs and government youth and health agencies are working together to bring the message of hope, joy and love to parent and professional alike. A few years ago, NOFAS-UK under the direction of Susan Fleisher, created a flash mob event called the Pregnant Pause. volunteers gathered at London’s Victoria Station, wearing balloons under their shirts and took on freeze poses for 90m seconds at 0909 on September 9. FASworld has adopted this great concept for five years now at our own Pregnant Pause event in various locations in central Toronto.
Our latest FASDay event was the Pregnant Pause Scramble at Yonge & Dundas Streets with close to 100 men, women and children wearing our blue and white “Pregnancy & Alcohol Don’t Mix” t-shirts with balloons strategically stuffed inside. From 0845 to 0915 we strode through this busy downtown intersection whenever the the all direction scramble light allowed with our “Baby Bump” placards held aloft.
This year’s FASDay coincided with our major collaboration with the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) which has adopted the FASworld Baby Bump Campaign by featuring its message in each of their 647 stores across Ontario. We are convinced that this partnership has enabled us to garner coverage by the print and broadcast media for the first time in 15 years. The LCBO went all out to train their staff in every store so that they would understand the purpose behind the Baby Bump Campaign and to reassure their clientele that avoidance of alcohol during pregnancy was an official policy of the world’s largest distributor of beverage alcohol.
The Baby Bump Campaign has proven popular with other organizations as well. MOFAS in Minnesota has licensed the campaign for a saturation program in their state using outdoor, print, mall and broadcast promotion to great effect. We are convinced that this positive and upbeat approach to communicating the importance of avoiding alcohol in pregnancy is adaptable in most languages and has a life for many years to come.
Could this be the end of the beginning? After all, we only wanted to change the world, one baby at a time.
FASworld Canada is the Canadian affiliate of NOFAS (National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) based in Washington DC and was this year’s recipient of the NOFAS Leadership Award.