When your child’s birthparent is an addict or the child you’re adopting is drug-exposed during pregnancy, your adoption journey may follow a map that will look more colorful than most.

That doesn’t mean it’s better nor worse. It just means it’s different than it would be if addiction were not a factor. (And regardless of whether the addicted birthparent is male or female, the disease will still impact you and the child you adopt in some way, at some point.) Abrazo is particularly grateful to always have loving adoptive families who are open to adoption planning involving children exposed to prenatal substance exposure– and the birthparents that place them.

It seems every decade has its own addiction du jour. Years ago, crack babies were making headlines, although research later proved that many of the published risks were over-sensationalized. “Meth mamas” soon followed, and more recently, it seems opiates are the drug of choice most of concern (although weaning a baby off of heroin is reportedly less difficult than methadone withdrawal for little ones.) in Texas, marijuana is the drug most often to result in CPS referrals, although in San Antonio, stimulants are more commonly the cause. (Source: Texans Care for Children)

Nobody wants to think of innocent babies being drug-exposed during pregnancy, or drug-addicted at birth– not even parents who are addicted. (Interestingly, although Texas law refers to the right of the State to remove “children born addicted to alcohol or controlled substances,” clinically, children cannot be “born addicted,” only physically dependent.) Remember this: there’s no street drug that is reportedly as dangerous as the one substance most easy to obtain legally and most often abused, and that’s alcohol.

About Placing Parents with Addiction Issues

First of all, can we please stop referring to prospective birthparents with addiction issues as “addicts”? Addiction is the disease that sickens them, but their illness doesn’t define them completely (at least it shouldn’t.) If you are chosen by an expectant parent who struggles with addiction, know that they’re no less loving than the parent who doesn’t use during pregnancy– just “substance” challenged.

A mother who’s using already feels guilty about how her drug cravings have potentially harmed the child she is carrying– more than you know. If sheer willpower could enable her to stop, she would’ve done it already. She’s not placing because she already knows her baby will be “damaged,” and she isn’t seeking to hoist her responsibility off on you so she can party more. Adoption is not her only choice, either: family reunification is almost always an alternative to at-risk parents in Texas who are compliant with CPS treatment protocol.

If you genuinely want to understand why women with addiction issues keep using during pregnancy, consult a recovery professional and learn all you can about the disease of addiction. Join NAR-ANON to discern how to be supportive without being enabling. But don’t make value judgements about her character based on her illness. (That’s just as unfair as those who assess your parenting potential based on your fertility.) Please don’t accept any potential match if you’re relying on anyone’s promise to change, because that future child needs someone who can always adore them regardless.

(Note: the same advice applies for prospective birthfathers who use, of course.)

Managing a Match when Addiction is Involved

The prospective birthmom with addiction issues may not always call when she says she will, or show up where she’s supposed to. This will be understandably frustrating, but try to remember: it’s not personal, okay? She may miss doctor’s appointments when she knows she’s likely to test dirty. She may use her grocery assistance on things she shouldn’t, and make excuses for why she’s not submitting the required receipts. Let your adoption professional deal with this.

Your job isn’t to “fall for” it, nor to confront her or make excuses for her conduct, nor is it appropriate to lecture her about her values. Don’t ever break the rules by giving her money, however desperately she may seem to need it. Be aware that manipulation can be a side effect of addiction, and don’t enable it. Consider the tenets of Tough Love to learn about how to be in a healthy relationship with someone fighting an addiction. Talk with your caseworker about your frustrations and concerns, rather than your friends or relatives. And try always to remember the old saying, “hate the sin but love the sinner.” This may sustain you through the frequent inconsistencies and occasional disappointments of matching with someone who suffers from addiction.

Honor this mother’s right to spend time with her newborn after birth. Be hyper-vigilant about monitoring discriminatory treatment by medical professionals or others that may judge her disease. Recognize that this is still that baby’s first mom. Their access to each other is important to them both, and subsequently, should be to you, too— however much you may feel compelled to take over.

Finally, know that while hospital personnel are typically required to notify Child Protective Services of a positive drug screen done on mom or baby at/after birth, CPS will usually respect a private adoption agency placement plan already in place, once confirmed.

Addiction, Recovery & Life After Adoption

Adoption is described as a rollercoaster, and addiction is, too. Still, it IS possible to have a successful open adoption relationship with someone who is addicted. For starters, it’s essential to engage in honest dialogue when they’re clean and sober, to establish clear boundaries and to express expectations. It is appropriate to say that you will not allow visits with the child when they are under the influence; it is not fair to deny them any open adoption updates until they’re in recovery.

Addiction should never be framed as the only reason a placement occurred; rarely is that true, and just as rarely is that healthy. Yet never promise to hide the birthparent/s addiction problems from the adoptee, even if you’re asked to do so. This is an important truth to impart to your child in an age-appropriate manner; the facts about genetic predisposition to addiction can be taught in the same loving manner as a family allergy history. (This may also help your child to understand a birthparent’s occasional lapses or failure to follow through on things like birthday calls or open adoption visits.)

Your child’s pediatrician should be privvy to detail about the birthparent’s addiction issues, along with any other known medical history. It is not necessary to share this information with neighbors, relatives or school personnel, unless it is truly pertinent to their care of your child.

When your child’s birthparent is an addict, you learn to hope for the best, brace for the worst, forgive often, and always, always be thankful for their wisdom in making their child yours, as well.

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24-Hour Birthparent HelpLine
for New Placing Parents/Medical Emergencies

Placing parents calling from Texas or surrounding states:

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