Yolanda Ross is the kind of woman, kind of mother that we all hope to be for our children. She is filled with love, with hope, with respect, with pride for her daughter and maybe most important, able to ask for forgiveness for her transgressions.
Yolanda was raised in a stable home but always suffered from low self-esteem. Her dark skin made her feel not good enough, not pretty enough. She found her escape in alcohol, abusing that and other drugs from the age of 19-35. She was in and out of treatment, in and out of jail. She was spiraling out of control.
In 1996, at the age of 26, she brought daughter Hannah into this world during a period of extreme darkness in her life. She was addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol, when she discovered she was pregnant. She was in jail and was not released until the second trimester of her pregnancy. After her release, she knew the cocaine use had to be stopped, but somehow she thought that drinking was not that bad. She did not know the damage it could do to her child. She continued binge drinking to forget her shame and despair.
Right after the birth of her daughter at Ben Taub Hospital, Yolanda knew something was different about her small baby. Hannah’s development milestones were delayed and she was often agitated. Yolanda’s worst fears were confirmed when Hannah was diagnosed on the spectrum of FASD (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder). The staff at Ben Taub connected her to the Kinder Clinic where early on, Hannah, her beautiful daughter, was offered occupational therapy, speech therapy, play therapy and physical therapy. Yolanda learned about FASD from a brochure sent from the University of Washington, the nationally regarded center of study for this silent epidemic. Her family members were educated and Yolanda’s determined mother vowed to make sure the baby got everything she needed. “My parents just rolled with the suggestions and tools for treatment that the clinic offered,” says Yolanda.
Yolanda’s addiction continued until January of 2005, when she discovered that she was HIV positive. She got high to numb the pain and went back to jail. For the first time in her long struggle, her parents refused to allow her back home, back to her daughter. They told her that her addiction was killing her and killing them. Maybe that’s the shift that made her ready for treatment at A Caring Safe Place. Whatever it was, she relished the treatment that was offered in a home setting surrounded by others just like her. She realized that she had been living a cycle of denial, blame and shame. After 3 months with a wonderful counselor, she was released and continued on the path of recovery.
Meanwhile, with the encouragement of her grandparents and the strong foundation of early FAS diagnosis and treatment, Hannah continued to thrive. She received services from ECI (Early Childhood Intervention) with early admission in the Pasadena school district. Her studies were modified for success and individualized response. At this point, Yolanda was able to parent her daughter and share in her growth. Hannah graduated from Dobie High School and has become a well-rounded young woman.
In 2006, free from her addiction, Yolanda enrolled in HCC and graduated with an Associate’s degree. Fast forward to the present, Yolanda has one more year to finish her second Master’s degree. Her first resulted in her licensure as a Clinical Social Worker, practicing in the mental health field at West Oaks Hospital. Last October, she moved to Santa Maria as a Parent Coach in our Caring for Two program. She has come full circle, serving as a coach and mentor to women that she understands and with whom she shares lived experience. Yolanda is able to use the pain of her own journey to identify vulnerable mothers. Because she knows something of their life, she can share her strength, offering knowledge and choice and demonstrating that a better future is possible. She can educate the young women she serves about the danger of alcohol use during pregnancy. Off hours, she is pursuing a Master’s in business healthcare at University of Houston, Clearlake. Last semester, Yolanda was a straight-A student on the Dean’s list.
Yolanda has been an outstanding voice for the early diagnosis of FASD. She is active and connected through a local birth mother circle, a group of affected mothers sharing and supporting one another. She has attended countless seminars, symposiums, conferences and told her story whenever the opportunity arises. She is a student of the screening and treatment modifications offered by the work of Dan Dubovsky. (See article from last week).
Yolanda says, “I hope that my story may penetrate and get the message out there. This is a silent epidemic covered in blame and shame. It impacts all cultures and all social classes. We must talk about it. I, for one, am honored to tell my story before the damage progresses further.”