More and more often, babies are being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a disorder that is characterized by being born addicted to any illicit substance and experiencing immediate withdrawal symptoms as a result. This occurs when a mother takes drugs or drinks alcohol during her pregnancy, exposing the fetus to those substances. Ongoing addiction in the mother means an addiction in the new baby, and across the country, the numbers of babies being born into this experience rises every year. Opiate drugs, specifically, are triggering the devastating statistics.
According to the University of Michigan Health System, on average, one baby is born addicted to opiate drugs every hour in the United States. The number of babies born experiencing opiate withdrawal symptoms tripled between 2000 and 2009.
In Florida, the problem is ongoing as well. In Lee County alone, per Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, about 15 babies out of every 1,000 births were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome in 2016, a rate that is double the national average.
Essentially, this means that every hour, a child is born that may be removed from their home. A child is born in excruciating pain, and needing someone who can love and take care of them as they go through detox and all the residual effects of prenatal drug exposure. Are you that someone?
A Nurse’s Love
One nurse in Florida fell so in love with one of her tiny patients born addicted to drugs that she ultimately took steps to foster the baby, who was born in early August. The nurse works in labor and delivery at Orange Park Medical Center, and was one of many nurses responsible for the baby as he managed withdrawal symptoms in the NICU. She spent time soothing and holding him on her lunch breaks and days off as well as while she was on shift, and then took steps to become his foster parent when he was five weeks old. She is dedicated to helping him have a safe and healthy start in life whether she eventually adopts him or his forever home ends up being elsewhere.
Suzanne Jones is the women and children’s services director at Orange Park Medical Center. She says: “Our NICU has been busier than ever and part of that is due to the increase of babies being born addicted to drugs. All of our staff have such big hearts when it comes to our babies and they amaze me every day with the extra care and attention they give to these babies with special needs.”
Is Fostering a Baby Born Addicted Right for You and Your Family?
For those interested in adoption for any reason, fostering a baby born addicted to opiates or other drugs may be an option that makes sense for everyone. It is not without its difficulties, however, and it is a decision that should only be made after much research, introspection, and preparation. Here are a few things to consider:
- The parents may be willing and able to regain custody. In most cases, a child will be removed from the mother’s custody pending an investigation if the child is born addicted and it is not due to the mother being on medication-assisted treatment. In many cases, the mother may be actively seeking treatment for addiction and doing her best to provide a stable home for her baby. If she is early in this process or struggling with staying sober, then it may be determined that it is safer for the child to live elsewhere until she is on her feet. This means that the foster situation may be brief or impermanent. It may also mean that you are required to facilitate interactions with the baby and its birth parents as they heal and grow, giving them an opportunity to bond.
- The parents may be completely unwilling or uninterested in maintaining custody of the child. Sometimes, when people are in active addiction, they do not feel they are in a position to be positive parents and the pregnancy may have been unexpected. This means that a fostering situation may turn into a possibility for an adoption. This does not mean that you have to adopt the child if it does not feel right your family, but it may be an option in some cases.
- Babies born addicted often have behavioral and/or developmental difficulties. The detox period can be intense for babies and caregivers alike, and this may not end when withdrawal symptoms have passed. Many will have a difficult time as they grow, which can make integration into a family and/or parenting challenging.
- Nothing is certain. It is important to be flexible when fostering any child, and this is certainly true when taking on responsibility for the care of a baby born into addiction. Different drugs, exposure at different times of gestation, and different kids will respond differently to prenatal substance exposure. There are no guarantees when it comes to how the child you foster will respond, so patience and an interest in working closely with medical professionals are essential.
Are you considering fostering a baby born addicted to drugs?