Three women. Three different stories of addiction.
All three made the decision to seek treatment when they became pregnant.
All choose to use only their first names publicly, because of the stigma they say is attached to women who are pregnant and addicted.
Jennifer says her addiction story begins ten years ago when her son was born.
After his birth she struggled with anxiety, so she turned to prescription drugs like those she’d been given following her C-section.
“The medication they put me on for pain purposes made me feel like I could do things better,” she explains. “It made me feel like I was the mother I was supposed to be. It just progressed from there.”
Jennifer managed get along without revealing her addiction to her primary care physician, but that changed when Jennifer became pregnant.
“I went right to Dartmouth [Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center] because that’s where I had my son. I was honest with them right from the very beginning because I was so scared,” she says.
Like Jennifer, Melissa was fearful of the effect her opioid use would have on her child. But she was afraid to tell her family that she’d suffered a relapse after going through rehab three years ago.
“You’re terrified. Are they going to take my baby? What’s my family going to think? My friends?” she says.
She decided to administer treatment to herself by going to drug dealers to buy the form of buprenorphine used to treat addiction.
It was an attempt to do the right thing without going for help.
“I started buying Subutex on the street and I couldn’t afford it. It was crazy ridiculous, just like buying opiates.”
Melissa finally volunteered for treatment. The Subutex she takes now is prescribed, and while it helps her control her addiction, it doesn’t cure it.
“I struggle with cravings every day,” says Melissa. “If I have a craving I just think, ‘Okay, my family, my kids.’ It’s a huge weight lifted off your shoulders to have that little pill to take everyday.”
Melissa’s son was born last month.
Melissa and Jennifer are just beginning the process of recovery. For Victoria, that process started ten years ago. She was using heroin when she found out she was pregnant.
Victoria had already been through rehab six times. She relapsed each time. At that point in her life she says she was a “master manipulator,” skilled at doing what was necessary to support her addiction, but not much else.
“My first time in rehab they gave me a little questionnaire and asked what I liked to do,” she recalls. “My hobbies my hopes, my dreams. I couldn’t tell you one thing that I wanted to do.”
Victoria’s concern about the welfare of her child motivated her to get help one more time when she discovered she was pregnant.
She credits counselors and caregivers with getting her through her pregnancy, but there was also a moment when she discovered she had it within her to stay clean.
“My life didn’t change when I became pregnant, but my life changed the moment that little boy was put in my arms,” she says. “I couldn’t do it for me, but I could do it for him.”
Victoria says she realizes that’s not how it is for every addicted mother.
“I know there’s lots of moms that have children and continue to use, and I don’t think that says anything against them or their will power or how much they love their children. It just shows how strong the disease of addiction is,” she says.
Victoria is 35 years old now. After her son was born, she went to school and graduated cum laude with a degree in childhood education.
She often gives talks about her addiction, usually to care providers.
She says one of the things she wished for most when she was a mother-to-be struggling with addiction was to talk to someone who’d been through what she was experiencing.
She remembers a time years ago, not long after her son was born, when she spoke to a group in central Vermont and realized the shame she was feeling was shared by others.
“Especially in the early days, I used to break down all the time about it,” she says. “I hadn’t forgiven myself, so every time I talked about it, it hit me hard. At the end of my story, a woman raised her hand and she was crying and told her own story. And then someone else did, and someone else did.”
Despite their struggles, Victoria, Jennifer and Melissa have had advantages many pregnant women with opioid addiction haven’t had: They have supportive families. They’re not homeless or in abusive relationships.
They may represent just a small cross section, but their experiences and their willingness to share them shows that there are success stories in the effort to treat mothers with addiction.
This story is the third in a three-part series examining the challenges faced by pregnant women and mothers with opioid addiction. Read more…