A pregnant alcoholic and meth addict shared her gut-wrenching story to NPR. After missing her period and seeing the two pink lines across the pregnancy test appear, Keri Ann Wrinker began to fall apart. “I don’t recall ever feeling as vulnerable and afraid as I did then. Inside I was terrified. I had never before tried to quit using. Being a pregnant addict was the most heart-wrenching experience of my life.”
Wrinker was terrified to tell her doctor about her drug and alcohol use; panicked that her baby would be taken away from her. She was scared to death of the judgment that she knew would ensue after confiding in her physician. She wanted the best for her baby, but was in the throws of a terrible addiction. She exclaimed, “I tried my best to stay sober, but I couldn’t live completely clean. I was able to refrain from drug use, but I never stayed away from alcohol for long. I have memories of trying to disguise my pregnant stomach when entering liquor stores, only to return home, drink alone, and cry by myself. I talked to the baby inside of me, apologizing for my shortcomings.”
Luckily, Wrinker gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby girl. She cried tears of relief, but soon went back to using drugs and alcohol after the stress of motherhood consumed her. She finally was able to get sober after her daughter’s 4th birthday, after she woke up from a drunken blackout in a strange man’s apartment. She has over 11 years of sobriety, and speaks about her experience on college campuses and through her blog writing.
Wrinker is one of the fortunate ones. She gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby who could have suffered from a variety of debilitating conditions, including fetal alcohol syndrome. She was able to get sober when her daughter was young, so her daughter will have positive, healthy memories of her mother in sobriety, as opposed to remembering her as a drug addict.
Not as many women are as lucky as Wrinker, however. Pregnancy is a stressful time for anyone, but addicts in the midst of their addiction face even more challenges. Most pregnant women want to do what’s best for their baby, but they often do not have an outlet to tell someone about their predicament. Instead of getting the help they need during pregnancy to ensure a healthy delivery, they hide their disease in shame and fear. This pattern is unhelpful to everyone, especially the addict and the well being of the child.
To make matters worse, some states are actually jailing mothers for taking drugs while pregnant. If the child is born with withdrawal symptoms, (unless the medication has been approved by the doctor), the mother can be thrown in jail for neglect, and social services can be called. Though the motives behind laws like this are probably benign, they do nothing to help mothers struggling with addiction. In fact, it causes many women to become more afraid to seek help during pregnancy, while many of them “hope for the best” and often the worst happens after birth.
The good news is that there are several options for addicted pregnant moms to be. For those addicted to heroin, methadone treatment has been approved as a viable option by addiction recovery specialists, counselors, doctors, and the Center for Substance Abuse. Because it is not safe for an addicted mother to stop opiates and other drugs cold turkey, methadone has been approved as a safe option that can be monitored by a medical team. Though babies born of moms who take methadone do suffer from withdrawals at times, the symptoms are shorter lived, and can be easily controlled in a hospital. The uncertainty of heroin makes it a very unsafe drug to continue taking in pregnancy.
If a mother is drinking alcohol during pregnancy, the circumstances can be direr. Though opiates are addictive and cause withdrawal symptoms in babies, they are not known to cause major birth defects. Alcohol can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, a disorder marked by genetic and brain abnormalities in children. No amount of alcohol is safe in pregnancy, according to the medical community. It is imperative that pregnant female addicts talk to their physician immediately if they struggle with alcohol addiction.
A medical team can provide a treatment plan of weaning the patient off alcohol safely. This can include staying at a detox facility where short-term benzodiazepines and other medications can be given in small doses to prevent miscarriage and other negative side effect. Though benzodiazepines are not recommended in pregnancy under normal circumstances, they are recommended if the benefits outweigh the odds. If given for a short period of time in order to wean a woman off of alcohol, the benefits most definitely outweigh the odds.
The most important thing for a pregnant woman to do is to be completely honest with her doctor about what’s going on. Even though the woman may be afraid, or are worried about others passing judgment on her, these concerns are minimal compared to what is at stake. Doctors have become more understanding and compassionate about those suffering from addiction in pregnancy.
Regardless of how far along your pregnancy is, it’s never too late to make a change. It will bring a sense of relief to you once everything is out in the open, and a medical team who is knowledgeable on such matters can help you plan the best path forward. This may include rehab, a monitored detox program, or methadone maintenance. With careful planning, a compassionate team of doctors and counselors, the chances of a baby being born healthy become more realistic.
Are you pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, but are addicted to drugs and alcohol? Are you scared of being judged or having your baby taken away from you? Don’t live in fear. Contact Linda Rose at Footprints Behavioral Health to start your roadmap towards recovery. Call 949-558-4723 today!