A local community organization is spreading awareness about the dangers of drinking while pregnant by providing women with affordable and accessible pregnancy tests in two unlikely locations.
The FASD Community Partners of the Rainy River District held a small event at the Copper River Inn last Wednesday celebrating the launch of two coin-operated pregnancy test dispensers in the district. The launch coincided with FASD Awareness Week in the Rainy River District.
FASD Community Partners chair Tina Arnold explained that the dispensers are meant to give women the option to make sure they’re not pregnant before drinking, and they’ll be located in a spot where the privacy is available for them to do so.
“[The Copper River Inn is] going to put it up in the women’s washroom and it will be available for women to check to see if they think they may be pregnant,” Arnold said.
“So it’ll be available for them and that way they can think twice about their choices in drinking. We also are putting another dispenser up at the Back Alley Bar [in Emo], which will go at a later date as well.”
The dispensers are part of the groups efforts to raise awareness around Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, an “umbrella term which is used to describe the range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother consumed alcohol during pregnancy,” according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
FASD can lead to a number of developmental disabilities including growth deficits and damage to the central nervous system, which could include troubles with memory and recall, slower cognitive and auditory processing and poor judgment, among others.
Arnold noted that the FASD Community Partners have another initiative that is working in conjunction with bars in the district.
“We have coasters that are going to multiple locations in the area and the bars,” Arnold said.
“They’re just basically saying, ‘Over 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. Take a pregnancy test before you drink tonight.'”
Arnold explained that research has not yet determined a safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant, or a window during pregnancy where it is safe, which makes drinking any amount of alcohol at any time during pregnancy dangerous.
“A lot of people are not aware that drinking impacts the fetus and there’s not a known amount of when it impacts the fetus or how much, so we like to provide this awareness,” she said.
“A lot of us service providers have been touched with people that are also, that have FASD themselves or in their family or know somebody.”
At the launch of the dispensers, members of the FASD Community partners represented a number of different service providers in the area, including the Northwestern Health Unit, Canadian Mental Health Association, FIREFLY, Kenora and Rainy River Family and Children Services, Community Living Fort Frances and District, Fort Frances Tribal Area Health Services and the local correctional staff.
The FASD Community Partners have been working in the district since 2013, and Arnold said during that time they have been very active in spreading awareness.
“We have done a lot of awareness events,” she said.
“We go to events serving mocktails just to give an alternate choice to women, and show them recipes that they can have. We also have provided education to caregivers, professionals and that sort of thing throughout the years.
“We also support any caregiver initiatives that happen out in the district,” Arnold added.
“There is a diagnostic clinic that we will support if necessary.”
Having a pregnancy test dispenser where women go to enjoy drinks makes sense, and Copper River Inn general manager Leanne Danelisky said that the establishment was happy to help out when they were approached.
“We were given a letter asking if we would be willing to participate in the program,” Danelisky recalled.
“We unanimously agreed this is a very important cause to be involved with and we’re more than willing to jump on board with this.”
Arnold said that to cover costs, the dispensers will charge $2 for each test.
“We thought it was affordable for everybody to be able to do it, but people won’t over-use it,” she said.
“Plus there is a cost to us. We do our promotions based on donations, we have grants sometimes, so we don’t have actual funding that is attached to this committee. We just rely on donations, so that’s why we have to charge $2.”
Though she’s not expecting it, Arnold also said that in the event the machines collect more money than necessary to cover the cost of the tests, the excess funds will be put back into their awareness programs.