BSTS Talk Show #3: Book Discussion on “The Broken Cord” by Michael Dorris

“Do you want a beer?” 

Thanks, man. I’ve already had enough.”
In other words, “I’ve had enough in utero for 10 people in 10 lifetimes.”  This is a frequent role play discussion I have with my patients who suffer from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

The Better Safe Than Sorry – Alcohol and Unprotected Sex Don’t Mix! talk show is thrilled to present our third filming in which we discuss the book, “The Broken Cord” by Michael Dorris. His story depicts his life with an adoptive son, Adam, who suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). The story is heartbreaking, describing both Adam’s struggles throughout life and his father’s worries, frustrations, and despair raising a child with permanent brain damage.  There was hope in the end.  Michael Dorris helped establish the National Organization on FAS ( and advocated for policies to label alcohol with the US Surgeon General’s warning.

Watch our book discussion about “The Broken Cord” on our YouTube channel

“The Broken Cord should be required reading for all medical professionals and social workers, and especially for pregnant women, and women who contemplate pregnancy, who may be tempted to drink.” (New York Times Book Review)

We would love our readers to share their responses to “the Broken Cord” with us. Let’s start with my initial response. After reading The Broken Cord, I left my job in pharmaceutical research to educate myself by obtaining a Master of Public Health and a Doctorate of Medicine in order to help promote awareness about this misunderstood and under diagnosed condition.  Here are a few of my perspectives shared with my interns this summer just before we all read the book in preparation for the talk show:
  • When I read the Broken Cord 21 years ago for the first time, I was upset that I did not learn about this in college – having graduated with high honors with a degree in microbiology.  What could be more important to learn in all the years of biology courses that I have taken than what such a pervasively used beverage like alcohol does to the developing baby – even before you know you are pregnant???
  • When I re-read the book this time, I was even angrier that many people remain unaware of this problem and receive mixed messages in the media and from doctors.  Many doctors are still telling women that a little alcohol is okay. What’s a little alcohol to one woman is a Long Island Iced tea – containing about 6 shots of pure liquor!
  • Michael Dorris had a first hand experience with the frustration, dismay, disappointment and heart ache in raising a child with FASD before anyone really knew it existed.  It’s been 40 years since he adopted his son, and sadly, the school systems, the medical community, the alcohol industry, and the public as a whole remains indifferent and seems unconcerned with the fact that our “social drug of choice” is leading to intellectual disability in 1-5% of children annually.

What did you think when you read “The Broken Cord” for the first time?

3 thoughts on “BSTS Talk Show #3: Book Discussion on “The Broken Cord” by Michael Dorris

  1. Sydnie Butin says:

    Thinking about when this book takes place made me think about how and when I first learned about FASD. I heard of it briefly in health class when I was in middle school but no one actually stressed much information on the topic. There is so much I have learned about FASD in my recent involvement in the Better Safe Than Sorry project that I didn’t know before. In my opinion, FASD and prenatal alcohol exposure should be a unit covered in high school health classes due to the unfortunate increase in unplanned pregnancies of high school teenagers.

    It astonishes me that out of all of the doctors Adam visited in his childhood, no one even thought of FASD as a potential problem in Adam. They doctors knew that his mother drank excessively and that should be a cue to for the doctors to look at his mother’s prenatal drinking to be an issue that could be a factor in Adam’s slow development.

    All of the information that Michael Dorris found about the Indian American’s attitudes and statistics on alcohol involvement in their culture should have been an eye opener to the doctors and to him. He as the parent took initiative to research what possible factors could be involved in Adam’s slow development when it should have been the doctor’s responsibility to figure that out. It angered me how nonchalant the doctors seemed about his condition and how ignorant the principle, teachers, and other parents were about Adam’s situation.


  2. Daniela Mielke says:

    When I was reading “The Broken Cord” I was even more upset that before starting to work with Dr. Rich I have never heard the explicit warning that there is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy, although there is plenty of evidence.

    I was gaining a better understanding of the parents’ point of view and the difficulties they have to overcome to accept that their child might have a disability when observing severe struggles in development. Michael defending and explaining his sons Adam’s behavior is a true example of what I experienced at work. It makes me upset thinking about, that an earlier diagnosis might helped and given explanations.

    The chapter on Native American history presenting studies on the development of drinking patterns shows me again quite plainly the huge impact of our social environment in our process of reasoning and making decisions. Talking about the Native American tribes the book states that “Drunken behavior becomes “normal” behavior for a significant segment of the population.” A person was seen as “abnormal” or rude if not participating in drinking. Peer pressure to the extent of excessive drinking as a requirement for a membership to a certain tribe or group sustained the pressure to drink. Hence we should ask ourselves the question, was excessive drinking a choice or a compulsion? And why do we let “our social drug of choice” harm future generations?


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