Have you ever started thinking about beginning a creative problem-solving exercise with the phrase, "What if…?" followed by any number of ideas, some serious, some fanciful? It’s quite surprising what can come out of that kind of brain-storming exercise like that. Because you are only floating ideas and not committing time or money to them, you can keep going indefinitely until some or one of those ideas has a germ of possibility. This process works because even off-the-wall crazy ideas can often lead to good ideas. The secret is not being judgmental too early in the process. Let your imagination go as long as you can and only then start discarding the ideas that are absurd or simply too unwieldy to cope with.
Bonnie & I do this a lot and, from time-to-time, really good ides do come to the surface and, if we are inclined, we follow-up on them. That’s what happened over ten years ago when we were locked into the house because of major winter snowstorms in Toronto and the snow banks in my driveway were already over my head. That was when we said, "What if on the ninth minute of the ninth hour of the ninth day of the ninth month of nineteen ninety-nine, we did something to remind everyone that during the nine months of pregnancy a woman shouldn’t drink alcohol."
Well, we tried that notion out on our FASD buddy, Teresa Kellerman in Tucson, AZ who warmed to the idea immediately. With Teresa’s expertise in developing websites and the mailing list we had developed over the previous two years, we managed to alert everyone we knew then who were involved in the field of FASD. That was February, 1999 — by Sept. 9 that year there were communities in countries around the world doing something to alert the public and the media about the dangers of maternal drinking in pregnancy.
We called it International Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Awareness Day which was soon abbreviated to FAS Day and now that we generally use the term FASD to describe the range of diagnoses caused by drinking while pregnant, we simply say FASDay. That year there were events in church basements, on city hall steps, in schools and many other locations in innumerable communities in at least 11 time zones around the world. It was all done through the volunteer efforts of local FAS groups and coordinated over the internet. We collaborated with Teresa to provide guidelines & ideas of what to say and how to attract the public and the media to the local events and the groups just did it, with flair and enthusiasm. My former employer, Consumers Gas contributed the design and printing of a multipage, 4-colour report with pictures and contributions from many countries. And when it was all over, as we reviewed the extensive media coverage, those FASD volunteers said, "Hey, let’s do it again next year!"
And so we did and so did they. This year was the 10th anniversary of FASDay and we have been told that there have been FASDay events in 24 time zones (maybe they mean all the time zones where there are people). In many communities, the volunteers took a page out of the NOFAS-UK playbook where Coordinator Susan Fleisher had invented the ‘Pregnant Pause’ event where the participants appeared at a busy railway terminal with signage and balloons under everyone’s shirt or sweater — men & women both — to suggest pregnancy. That event appeared on You Tube and we in Toronto did our version of the Pregnant Pause ‘freeze’ outside the Royal Ontario Museum at the busy intersection of Avenue Road and Bloor here in Toronto. APTN, the national Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network covered our event extensively and included interviews with other community FASDay volunteers across the country.
The same day, The Motherisk unit at Sick Children’s Hospital held their annual FASD research conference in Toronto which was also their tenth anniversary. Back in 1999, Dr. Gideon Koren and his chief assistant Susan Santiago had held the first FACE (Fetal Alcohol Canadian Expertise) conference here to coincide with the first FASDay. They have held this important research conference every year since then in different cities in Canada and the US.
This year they invited Bonnie & me to attend at the luncheon during the conference so that the then Ontario Minister of Children & Youth Services could present us with awards reflecting our work over the past ten years. Minister Deb Matthews has since become Ontario’s Minister of Health and we are pleased that she is a strong advocate for FASD issues.
There is more info and a photo available on the Best Start Resource Centre website (http://www.beststart.org/projects/index.html#fasd) – just click on Edition 7, October 2009.
So, have you asked yourself any ‘What if…?’ questions lately.