MANKATO — The ladies room at Pub 500 just got a little more, well, practical. In what backers say is a first- of-its-kind service anywhere in the world, a group called Healthy Brains for Children has installed a dispenser for pregnancy tests in the women’s restroom at the downtown Mankato bar.
The goal is obvious.
If a woman knows she’s pregnant, the less likely she’ll be to drink alcohol, and the less likely it will be that another child will be born with prenatal exposure to alcohol. So why not give a woman the perfect tool to allow her to make the right decision? Healthy Brains for Children and Executive Director Jody Allen Crowe are hoping Pub 500 is just the first of dozens, hundreds, even thousands of locations where pregnancy tests dispensers are installed.
Crowe said he hopes to get the dispensers in bars, gas stations, malls, fitness centers, or anywhere else he can target those at high risk for unexpected pregnancies. Today, the group is planning a media event at Pub 500 to get the word out about the dangers of prenatal exposure to alcohol.
But in reality, this idea has been brewing for years.
Crowe used to be a teacher on an Indian reservation. For 18 years, he said, he’d seen kids come through with odd facial features. These kids were often the ones engaging in violent behaviors or getting involved in gangs.
After a little research, he pinpointed the source: alcohol use by their mothers while pregnant.
This led to a mountain of research and subsequent publishing of his book on the topic, “ The Fatal Link,” which explores the connection between prenatal exposure to alcohol and school violence.
“I was seeing entire families devastated by prenatal exposure to alcohol,” he said.
Eventually, Crowe said, he left teaching to spend all of his time on his nonprofit group Healthy Brains for Children.
His philosophy is based on this story: One day, a villager saw a baby floating down the river and she rescued it. Soon, more and more babies appeared floating down the river, and more people jumped in to help. One day, a wise elder was standing on the river bank while others were overwhelmed by the flood of babies. “Help us,” the others screamed.
“No,” the wise one said, “I am going up stream to find out why the babies are being thrown into the river and stop it from happening.”
Rihana Jones and her mom, Rebecca Biederman, were having dinner at Pub 500 when they were informed that, if necessary, they’d be able to purchase a pregnancy test on site.
Jones said she liked the idea, especially because it removes the awkwardness of having to purchase a test in a drug store.
Ironically, Jones said she and her friends just the other day were heading out for a night on the town when one of her friends started to panic, wondering whether she should even drink because she feared she might be pregnant. Her friend opted to not drink that night, and visited a drug store the next day.
Had that scenario happened today, and their first stop was Pub 500, she could have saved the trip.
Biederman agreed with her daughter.
“I love it,” she said. “I’d put one in every bar in every college town.”
Demographics, Biederman said, would dictate whether it will catch on. She said that, in a town such as Mankato, with high numbers of young people, it will do well. But probably not so well in a quiet suburban community.
At any rate, she said, the price is right.
“ Three bucks, are you kidding me?” she said.
“ That’s less than the price of a beer!”
More than 30 percent of married women and more than 70 percent of 20- to 29year- old women are having unexpected pregnancies, Crowe said. Unexpected pregnancies are at a high risk for prenatal exposure to alcohol, he said, that can cause lifelong damage to the fetus.
Crowe said early development damage can result in fetal alcohol syndrome, behaviors now related to autism spectrum disorder, lifelong learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, depression and links to more than 60 illnesses.
“ There is no safe amount of alcohol,” Crowe said.
“Research shows even small amounts of alcohol during the pregnancy has a detrimental impact on reading and math abilities when the child is school aged.”
The first trimester of a pregnancy is particularly susceptible to damage from alcohol, he said, and binge drinking is dangerous for a developing fetus.
As for the pregnancy test in the dispenser, Crowe says it’s 99 percent accurate.