The Fight Against Stigma For Pregnant Addicts
Babies born to addicted mothers can face a very difficult start in life. When a pregnant woman is addicted to drugs and continues to use, her baby will come into this world with drugs in his or her system. A newborn who is exposed to drugs such as opiates or narcotics while in the womb will be born with a variety of problems know as neonatal abstinence syndrome.
Drugs like heroin, cocaine or oxycodone pass through the placenta from mother to baby. During pregnancy, the growing baby develops into an addict. Upon birth, the baby is immediately craving drugs, and doctors will have to give the baby drugs that are the same or very similar to the ones taken by the mother to try to ease inevitable withdrawal symptoms. Drug-addicted babies are typically inconsolable. Symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome can last from several weeks to several months.
In a perfect world, women who are addicted to drugs would be able to quit using before ever getting pregnant. But it’s rarely that easy to discontinue using drugs. Even when an addict knows she is pregnant and may be harming her child, the compulsion to do drugs is still there.
Difficulties Of Being Pregnant And Addicted
It’s a growing problem, and there aren’t easy solutions. Programs aimed at helping pregnant women overcome their drug problems are often discontinued or reduced because of funding cuts. Even when programs are available to help pregnant addicts, the women are often afraid to reach out for help.
There is a lot of stigma attached to addiction in pregnancy. Non-addicts are quick to assume that addiction is a choice, and that an addict could stop using if she really wanted to. In some states, using drugs while pregnant may even be considered a crime. In Tennessee, for example, drug use while pregnant is classified as an assault.
When a pregnant addict is arrested instead of offered help, it gives a message to other pregnant addicts that it may be dangerous to try to get help. Many try to detox on their own, which can be extremely dangerous and even life-threatening. Fear of legal consequences, such as losing custody of their other children, stops many women from reaching out for help from medical professionals. Another fear is that the newborn baby will be taken away at birth. So a large number of pregnant addicts continue to suffer in silence.
De-Stigmatizing Addiction In Pregnancy
There are few families that haven’t been touched by addiction in some way. Yet most pregnant addicts are unsure whom it would be safe to talk to, if anyone. Many of them suffer through their entire pregnancies scared and alone. They may continue to abuse drugs because it is the only life they know, or they may try to quit drugs without help, a goal that is rarely successful.
Addiction is frequently misunderstood, and often people see it as a moral failing rather than an illness. This judgmental attitude is intensified when an unborn child may be affected.
If stigma could be removed from addiction in pregnancy, both mothers and babies would benefit. If pregnant addicts were free to seek help and know they wouldn’t be judged or condemned, they could approach motherhood with strength and courage rather than fear and shame.
When pregnant addicts avoid getting help, it is really a form of denial. Addicts and their families may try to pretend that if they ignore the problem of addiction, it will go away. Pregnant addicts learn to lie to their doctors and hide any evidence that they are actively abusing drugs.
Stigma prevents addicts from obtaining good prenatal care and results in babies who are born addicted. These babies may also be born with other medical problems. Many of these problems would be prevented if the mothers were free to get help and didn’t have to live in fear of asking for it.
Few understand the hold addiction has on people and how hard it can be to overcome the compulsion to turn to mind-altering drugs. Addiction is a disease, and women who suffer from it deserve to have options for recovery without fear of stigma or judgment. So do their unborn children.
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