Erica B. is a 31-year-old from Minnesota living with FASD. She was born to a single mother struggling with alcoholism and grew up with a wonderful adoptive family. She currently holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Human Development and Family Science from the University of South Dakota and holds a graduate certificate in Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Counseling. Erica is currently studying to take the CSAC-A exam and is working as a nanny for one-year-old twins in Arlington, Virginia.
Brianna Montgomery: Welcome and thank you for participating in this interview with me today. I am excited to learn more about you.
Erica B.: Thank you for interviewing me.
BM: First question, how does having FASD affect your life?
EB: It has changed over the years. When I was younger there were a lot of school-related issues and some behavioral issues. As I got older, I grew out of a lot of those problems and I’m not in school, so clearly school isn’t affecting me right now. Now I’ve noticed that I have trouble staying organized and keeping myself from getting distracted. When I need to start a big project like cleaning the house or running errands I have make sure that I have everything written down, otherwise I will forget things. A lot of these issues are helped by my husband, Brian who is always there to keep me on track.
BM: That’s great to have help. Tell me a little bit about your husband. How did you meet him and what effect has he had on your life?
EB: We actually met through Facebook right before I moved to Washington, DC to intern with NOFAS. We kicked it off really well right away and emailed back and forth for several months and have been together ever since.
BM: That’s wonderful. When did you get married?
EB: We just celebrated our two year anniversary in August and we got married in California.
BM: Congratulations! That’s great. What does your husband do?
EB: He is a lawyer.
BM: Wonderful. You said that your husband has been instrumental in helping you deal with FASD, what other skills have you developed to help keep you on track?
EB: I would say that the most important skill that I have learned is to ask for help. That took me the longest time to learn. I was always too afraid to ask for help and would struggle. I was discouraged because the teachers and professors didn’t know how to help me in a way that I needed. I never really did that well in school until I came out to DC and got my Graduate Certificate in Substance Abuse Rehabilitation from Northern Virginia Community College.
BM: What made that program different and why did it work for you?
EB: Because I really enjoyed what I was doing and I’m passionate about it.
BM: Do you ever talk with people about having FASD or educate others about the disorder?
EB: Yes, I speak at conferences and give free presentations because I want people to be educated about FASD. Everyone that knows me knows that I have FASD. It’s not the first thing that I bring up though. In addition to speaking engagements, I also used to read various articles on the disorder and look at the comments on the articles. I was finding there were still a lot of people that thought that drinking during pregnancy was perfectly okay. So I started to make comments myself and educate others about FASD, but I got myself frustrated because people just weren’t getting it. No matter what I would say it just wasn’t going through, so I stopped trying to educate people that way.
BM: It’s understandable. There are still so many people that think it is okay because of the conflicting information that they are receiving from the media and other sources.
EB: It is amazing to me how many doctors are still telling women it is okay to drink, especially in the early stages of pregnancy. I read an article one time that made me really emotional because a woman was just disputing that it really is unsafe to drink during pregnancy. So I called my dad and I asked him, why are doctors still telling women that it is okay to drink? He couldn’t understand it either, and he’s a doctor. I think medical students need to be taught about FASD in school.
BM: Totally agree. We have been working with medical schools here at NOFAS for some time (as you know), but it would be great to make sure that all of the medical schools have an FASD education program in place.
EB: I agree.
BM: So tell me a little about your background, I know you are originally from Minnesota and you went to school in South Dakota, tell me about your experience in the Midwest.
EB: I majored in Human Development and Family Science at the University of South Dakota.
BM: What made you want to move out to DC?
EB: I wanted to work with NOFAS and prevent FASD.
BM: I heard that you worked on Capitol Hill. Tell me a little bit about your experience working there.
EB: I worked in the Media office for Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota. I did a lot of communicating with the various media sources and making sure that everything got where it needed to go.
BM: That sounds great. I know that you are close with the Daschle family. What has your relationship with them meant to you?
EB: I still keep in touch with them and see them at the NOFAS benefit every year, but obviously they are very busy. They mean a lot to me.
BM: Have you ever thought of going back to work on Capitol Hill or running for political office?
EB: At one point, I really wanted to run for office but I decided against it. Working on the Hill kind of soured me against it because of some of the politics I’ve seen. What I saw was heartbreaking and it ruined it for me. I feel now that I can do so much more on the sidelines.
BM: I can understand that.
EB: I’m very belief oriented and I feel like the political climate right now would not allow me to actually change things for the better. Everything is so negative. No one seems to have respect anymore like when I worked on the Hill.
BM: Okay, off politics now. Tell me about your goals and aspirations for the future.
EB: Personally, I would like to start a family. Professionally, I would like to work for a non-profit and do more volunteer work. My main goal is to work with families, mothers and children and those dealing with substance abuse issues and domestic violence.
BM: Those are great plans and you have the background to accomplish them. What activities do you enjoy doing?
EB: My husband and I love to travel. We go on cruises every year.
BM: That’s cool. Where have you gone?
EB: All over the place. We have been to Mexico and the Caribbean several times. This November we are going on a cruise to Jamaica, the Bahamas and Haiti.
BM: That sounds fun. What do you like best about cruises?
EB: I like that you can visit multiple places at once and I actually really like being on the boat. Everything is provided for you.
BM: That is a nice feature. Have you travelled anywhere else via cruise or otherwise?
EB: I have travelled to Italy, France, Holland and Spain with my family. I also had the incredible opportunity to travel to Bosnia during the Kosovo crisis with my dad when I was younger.
BM: Wow. What was that like?
EB: My dad went because he was the Director of Medical Services for the American Refugee Committee and he decided to take me with. My mom was very against it because it was so dangerous, but I went anyway. We each had our own soldier with us because we were walking through landmines and minors like me were susceptible to getting kidnapped.
BM: That’s a crazy experience to have when you are so young.
EB: That experience definitely stayed with me. It changed how I viewed the world and war. I would actually like to go back to Bosnia now and see how it has changed. Things are more positive now.
BM: Definitely. Are there any other places that you have travelled or would be interested in travelling to?
EB: I would love to visit some of the Scandinavian countries because that’s where my heritage is. I am mostly Swedish and partly Norwegian and Danish.
BM: Tell me more about your family. Do you have any brothers and sisters?
EB: I have one biological sister that was adopted by a different family but we were raised in close contact. I am very close to my biological family. In my adoptive family, I have a 21-year-old sister and an older brother who is a Cambodian refugee that my parents brought over when he was 17. His entire family died in the war in Cambodia.
BM: That’s awful, but wonderful that your parents brought him to a safe place. Where are your brother and sister now?
EB: My brother lives in Minnesota with his wife and two daughters. My sister is in the process of going to veterinary school, but right now she is working and living in Minnesota.
BM: What do your parents do?
EB: My dad is a doctor and my mom is a homemaker and volunteer tour guide at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. They live in Minneapolis.
BM: It sounds like you have a very interesting and diverse family. What other interests do you have?
EB: I love shopping. I like shoes and clothes. My husband and I really enjoy going to movies.
BM: What kind of movies do you like?
EB: Mostly big-name, action movies like Transformers and Harry Potter.
BM: What is your favorite film?
EB: I have a lot. I like Harry Potter, Unstoppable, anything with action and suspense.
BM: Do you enjoy reading? If so, do you have a favorite author?
EB: I really enjoy reading on my iPad. I like Harry Potter, the Shopaholic series, and suspense books.
BM: Do you have a favorite TV show?
EB: I like 19 Kids and Counting, Extreme Home Makeover and shows that aren’t on the air anymore like Golden Girls, Friends and The Cosby Show.
BM: Any other interests?
EB: I enjoy crafting, puzzles and gamesâ?¦especially video games.
BM: What video games do you play?
EB: I’m big in to World of Warcraft.
BM: Fun. What other games do you like?
EB: I like any game that I can play on my iPhone or iPad and I really like board games because I can interact with people. I also enjoy any game that I can play on the Wii.
BM: Sounds fun. One last question, what is the most important thing that you want people to know about FASD?
EB: The most important thing is that it is completely preventable if you don’t drink; not only during pregnancy but also during breastfeeding. That’s ultimately the only point that you need to drive across. Also, people with FASD need proper supports in order to thrive, so that is very important as well.
BM: Very true. Thank you so much for speaking with me. It was a pleasure learning more about you.
EB: Thank you.