Everyone knows that using drugs during pregnancy is not a good thing. So why does it happen, and what can be done to help drug-addicted moms and their babies?
For Absidi (name has been changed), drugs were a family tradition. Her dad was in prison for dealing, and her mom had died of a meth overdose. She grew up with a grandmother who got hooked on oxycodone after a car accident, and it was the availability of that prescription around the house that got April started on it as a teen. She dropped out of school when her grandmother died, and was taken in by an uncle, who quickly became abusive. Her drug of choice became heroin, and her life became even more miserable. It wasn’t until she got picked up on a shoplifting charge and went to jail that she learned she was seven months pregnant. Within weeks, she was delivering a premature baby who showed signs of drug withdrawal/NAS (neonatal abstinence syndrome.) The hospital called in Child Protective Services, and Absidi made the difficult decision to place her baby boy for adoption through Abrazo, rather than letting the State terminate her parental rights.
“I didn’t know I was pregnant,” she says “but I wouldn’t have changed what I was doing back then, even if I knew. It crushes me to think how I could’ve hurt my baby. But I was too messed up to care about myself, let alone anybody else.” She’s grateful she gave her son the adoptive parents she did, and she’s thankful for the open adoption that allows her to still visit. Yet she struggles with guilt that she could’ve killed them both, and she worries that her drug use may still affect him as he grows.
Using Drugs During Pregnancy Endangers Mom & Baby
That’s just one of the concerns that makes using drugs during pregnancy so troubling. For all the studies and the research, experts still cannot define the extent of the damage done to each child by each street drug at which point of pregnancy. According to the March of Dimes, one in twenty expectant mamas use drugs while pregnant. (That’s 5%, which may sound like a low number, yet for the thousands of drug-exposed babies born in America each year, it’s still way too many.)
Mothers who use during pregnancy are at increased risk for a number of medical complications, including anemia, preterm labor, HIV, hepatitis, heart and blood infections, miscarriage, or stillbirths.. According to the CDC, maternal deaths have more than doubled between 1987 and 2019, and opioid use disorder is suspected to be a factor.
Addiction is a disease, and it’s crucial that we remember that pregnancy typically doesn’t happen first, It’s easy for a brutally-judgmental public to lash out at pregnant women who use without remembering that most are, in fact, drug-dependent women who became pregnant– and never by themselves.
In Texas, a state which is quick to hold pregnant women responsible for carrying to deliver yet slow to provide specialized free pregnancy care and antepartum support for drug-dependent mothers, it is essential that we do less to shame and more to help.
Open Adoption with Drug-Dependent Birthparents
Since 1994, Abrazo has provided open adoption support for drug-dependent parents. NAS babies and the adoptive families who love all of them. Child Protective Services is typically willing to step aside and honor the adoption intentions of any newly-delivered mother with a positive tox screen who opts to make a voluntary adoption plan rather than risk losing rights to the State. And our agency is grateful to have plenty of waiting families for children of all background– including drug-exposure.
Drug-dependent parents who “give up a child for adoption” love the babies they place just as much as any other caring birthparents do. They want the best life for their little one, just like anyone else does. They may need additional services (like rehab) and it may be necessary to establish extra guardrails (like talking honestly with adoptees about their birthparents’ dependency problems, and restricting direct contact when they’re using.) \The adoptive parents may need to learn how not to fall into codependency traps, and how to set healthy boundaries. But absolutely, open adoption works in these situations, too!
Abrazo has seen open adoption relationships become powerful conduits for healing for birthparents in recovery– and for their families, as well. Says Mattea (name has been changed), who is currently serving time in a state jail on a drug charge): “I can’t change the past. But I did change my baby’s future. Every time I get pictures of her or when I call her parents collect and they tell me what she’s doing, it makes me happy. I want to turn my life around so I can make them all proud of me.”,
Getting Help with Addiction During Pregnancy
To find more information about getting help with addiction during pregnancy, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse. And to access PPI (Pregnancy & Parenting Intervention) services in Texas, check out this state website. San Antonio has some remarkable resources for drug-dependent mothers (whether they’re considering adoption or not.) For free drug treatment contact Alpha Home, and for housing and care during and after pregnancy, contact Casa Mia.
Though no one can go back and make a brand-new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand-new ending.”
Those who are using drugs during pregnancy may feel trapped in their own set of circumstances, but they can free themselves and their babies, whether they opt for recovery and/or for adoption. There is always (always!) reason for hope, and Abrazo is always here to help mothers using drugs during pregnancy– there’s no judgement nor shame here for any moms who truly want the best for their kids.