Brian graciously said yes to my request to write this guest post. This is something that has rattled me to my core, and this post allows me to voice my thoughts. Thank you, Brian!
Note: Before you do anything, view the video at the top of this article, The Most Vulnerable Victims of Addiction, from Reuters. Read the article too, then come back here and read my take on the issue.
Yes, it’s hard to see, isn’t it? But we need to be strong enough to face reality. So, if you need to, take a breath. Have a cry. And ask yourself, is it ok that this is happening? Can anyone honestly argue that substance abuse is a victimless crime?
I can’t get the image of the baby with the shakes out of my head. I can’t get the image of a high mother putting her baby in the washing machine along with the dirty clothes out of my head. I can’t and I won’t because it’s remembering these images that remind me of how very important it is that we pressure our government officials to make policy changes that will protect the well-being of these innocents.
If you think addiction is a victimless crime, you’re wrong.
I’m a mother, a grandmother, and aunt, an educator, and a social activist. My goal in life is to leave the world a little better than it was than when I entered.
As an educator, I’ve taught youth with addictions, and I’ve taught youth who’ve been victims of addicted parents. I referred the addicted students to counseling, but there wasn’t much I could do about the youth who were victims of addicted parents.
Here are two stories from my life:
Vivian and Michael: A close friend of mine has custody of two of her grandchildren. Vivian and Michael have the same mother but different fathers. I’m pointing out the parentage not to judge the mother but to make a point about the effect of substance abuse on infant development. All three parents were heavy drug users at the time of conception and throughout the terms of the pregnancies. Vivian (who is as vivacious as her name implies) is now 9 years-old and is a struggling learner. Her eyesight is severely impaired (she can see with strong glasses but is considered legally blind). She also has a number of learning disabilities including ADD, language impairments, short-term memory and working memory impairments, and more. Michael, a rambunctious 3-year-old, is deaf in one ear and has apraxia. Both children live with their maternal grandmother because their mother was abusive. The mother now is drug-free and has a third child (by another father who was not a drug or alcohol user), and this 1-year-old child is healthy, thriving, and is developing normally. Happily, the mother also seems to have her abusive tendencies in check now that she’s clean.
Note: Obviously, there’s no way to concretely show that the difficulties Vivian and Michael live with are the result of their parents’ substance abuse. But the fact that the youngest child is developing normally sure makes it look as if drugs had something to do with those challenges Vivian and Michael face.
Kimberly: I taught Kimberly when she was a high schooler. Kimberly’s mother was an alcoholic and had an infant with fetal alcohol syndrome. Kimberly, who was 15 when I met her, had a number of learning disabilities and struggled daily in school. However, her biggest challenge was that she had to get up at 4 am every day to deliver newspapers (this was in the 90s when people still got newspapers delivered). She then would return home and take care of the baby. Then, once her mother was awake and coherent, Kimberly would come to school. This meant she was usually late, often missing the first class of the day. She would get assigned detention for missing class, but she’d skip detention because she had to return home to take care of the baby. She couldn’t do her homework because she had to take care of the baby. She’d get suspended because she’d miss detention, but that just meant she spent more time taking care of the baby. Kimberly’s teachers (myself included) worked really hard to support Kimberly, and eventually she did complete high school. The year after graduation, she committed suicide. Without the support of the school community, life challenges weighed too heavy on her. I never did find out what happened to her baby sister, but this article in the Washington Post gives me a sense of what might have been her fate.
We know about neonatal abstinence syndrome (what happens to babies born to opiate-addicted mothers). We know about fetal alcohol syndrome. But it’s obvious that being pregnant isn’t going to stop a substance abuser. If it were, pregnancy would be touted as a cure for addiction. And as this (2010!) NPR story shows, we also know that people do get better and children can survive these awful starts if they are given the supports they need. And that’s the key — changes must be made if the littlest victims are to have half a chance.
We know all these things, but what are we doing about it?