After I started writing my blog, a woman wrote me an e-mail thanking me for discussing my past as an addict and being a mother. She said that it is still so taboo for mothers to admit that they are addicts. She is right. It is taboo. Maybe because as addicts people want to define us as addicts. As mothers we are put into the category of “Mother”. Being an addict seem to be a sharp juxtaposition to the image that has been constructed for a mother. Carroll Brady was not shooting dope. Or was she?
In 2005 when I discovered that I was pregnant with my daughter, I was terrified. I was twenty years old and addicted to cocaine and heroin. I stopped doing the coke right away, but could just stop the dope.
While heroin withdraw is immensely painful for an adult, it is very infrequently deadly. The same can not be said for heroin. The withdraws most likely will kill the fetus. I had already made up my mind that I was keeping my baby. I was not going to turn around and kill her myself.
Ironically, I found out that I was pregnant while I was doing an intake evaluation for an outpatient suboxone program. They gave me a urine, and as they tested it they explained that they were testing it to see what drugs were in my system and to check for pregnancy. Suboxone is not approved by the FDA for pregnant women, so the program weakly test women to make sure that have not been knocked up. The lady who tested my urine looked at me and said, “Honey, you know that you’re pregnant, right?” I told her no way. She explained that they could not accept me being pregnant and told me that the only program that she knew of that would accept and treat pregnant women battling addiction was CAP at Johns Hopkins University.
CAP stands for The Center for Addiction and Pregnancy. They have 16 beds and are the only place in the state of Maryland that will take a pregnant woman. There are inpatient places that will take you after you complete the eight day inpatient at CAP. You do the math, 16 beds and every addicted pregnant woman has to go through there to go on to their outpatient or another program. There is a wait list, a long one. That list is made longer by the fact that if a woman who is staying there delivers her baby, they will keep her and her baby indefinitely.
I chose to to a methadone detox. Methadone is the only thing approved to give pregnant women for withdraws. I was given 30 mgs the first night, then 25, and so on down to zero. Most women do not detox. Most do methadone maintenance. They go to the hospital seven days a week to get dosed. Even Christmas.
I also had to go seven days a week, but I was not getting dosed. It is a very intensive outpatient. For the first 28 days, you go seven days a week for eight hours a day. If you miss even one day, the 28 days start over. That is level one. Complete level one, you drop to six days a week for 28 days. Then five etc.
Johns Hopkins Bayview is an east side hospital. I am a west side girl, and I was back at my mothers. Driving 35 minutes to a city that I only go to for the purpose of buying drugs was too much of a trigger. I told my counselor and she tried to get me transferred to a program in my county.
I remember hearing her on the phone, “Yes, she is pregnant…. Yes, she is addicted… Yes, to heroin.” She was calling rehabs 20 minutes outside of the city. Baltimore has the highest per capita of individuals living with heroin addiction in the country, and she could not find a single place that wanted to deal with a dope addicted pregnant woman. They didn’t want it to be their problem.
People don’t want to talk about babied being born addicted. I got clean, my daughter and I were both clean when she was born. But that is not the case for all infants. 3.4 out of 1,000 babies are born with some kind of withdraw symptoms. That comes to 15,539 infants a year, or one born every hour. These are the women to scared to get help. To ashamed to get the condescending looks.
4.5% of pregnant women are addicted, but society doesn’t want to see them let alone help them. It is even harder for mothers to get help after the baby is born. We live in a country with 2.5 million women addicted to drugs, how many of them are mothers?
As mothers we put our children, our husbands, our family unit first. We don’t take care of ourselves. It is hard to stop being “Mom” long enough to go to an inpatient facility. If the kids are older, what do you tell them?
If they are young, it is virtually impossible to take care of your kids if you are majorly ill. When you feel like walking death, it is so fucking hard to change diapers, make breakfast, give baths, play on the playground or whatever. You justify your drug use as something you NEED to do in order to care for your kids. As addicts we are great at making the means justify the ends, and this is a prime example.
We are terrified to admit that we are a heroin addicts. We fear that if we say the words out loud then we curse our children. We are encouraged to sweep it under the rug. Mothers are supposed to be the back bone of the family, silently supporting the archetype from behind the scenes. We are not supposed to be smoking crack and shooting dope.
Society takes it a little easier on men in the respect that it is more expect for it to be the father in jail and the mother, the wife, supporting him and the kids. It always comes a shock to people if it is reverse. If the mother is in jail and the father is supporting her.
I hope that writing this post, this blog will open up the dialogue. It is hard for anyone to admit that they are a drug addict. For some reason there are an awful lot of people who do not believe that addiction is a disease. Like people choose to ruin their lives and the lives of their families. I don’t think that being a female and being an addict is necessarily so taboo, but being and addicted mother is.
I hope that more mothers who need help will come forward to get it. There is no shame in admitting that you as the care giver need to be taken care of. We, as mothers, spend so much of our lives taking care of everyone else that it is almost unimaginable to think of letting someone else take care of us.
Until we reject society’s notion that we automatically can not have a problem with addiction because we gave birth we can not heal our mothers. Our addictive tendencies are supposed to just disappear the moment that we become pregnant but unfortunately that is just not true. Our problems become worse as we take even less time to look deeply at ourselves. We can not correctly care for children if we don’t even try to care for ourselves.