You found out that you were pregnant during one of the worst times in your life.
Perhaps, it was terrible timing. You never wanted to be on opiates and be pregnant. You’re terrified of the outcome, the withdrawal, the pregnancy, the judgement. Yet you have a little bunch of cells growing within you and you are excited for your next chapter.
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome
Your baby is born and is diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS for short. You learn all about the Finnegan scoring system and participate in your baby’s treatment while in the hospital. It is difficult to witness the tremors, the high pitched cry, and the vomiting. Many moms feel guilt for causing this withdrawal in your baby, even though they recognize that they did not choose addiction. You are not alone. Amidst all the judgement- do not allow yourself to succumb to the idea that your baby “was born addicted.”
No such thing as an “addicted baby”
Children who are born with drugs in their system and experience physiological withdrawal are diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). These babies are experience physiological dependence on drugs however they are not addicted. The disease of addiction cannot be applied to an infant. An addiction, or substance use disorder, is defined by physical, psychological, and social changes. When an individual is experiencing a substance use disorder their brain has been hijacked, the systems altered, to choose drugs over basic survival instincts despite negative consequences. Infants do not have the capacity or ability to have any social or psychological experiences. Therefore, infants are not born addicted. They are born drug-exposed.
Some wonder what the difference is and why is it matters. It matters that an innocent infant not be labeled at birth with a label that carries such a heavy stigma. This label can be perpetuated by the child’s family, support system, and community as the child grows older. It can be difficult for a person to fight against that label when they in fact did not qualify for an addiction in the first place. Dealing with recovering from addiction and choosing not to use daily is hard enough.
You are loved, supported, and important.
I hope, mama, that you will consider these points in your interactions or when fighting stigma. Any steps you take to enter into recovery or return to recovery, is strength. Whether you are in recovery or actively using, know that you can do this. It is possible. Recovery works. Treatment works. If you are a mama who has had a baby born diagnosed with NAS at birth, speak up and out. Connect with one another and support one another. And know that there is someone out there that loves you and supports you. Thank you for reading and considering using language that helps build resiliency in your child.
Lauren is involved in the Cape Fear community to help bring services and awareness to opioid using pregnant women. If you are in need of wrap around services, check out the non-profit that Lauren contributes to, called the Tides. If you are a mama or family member and are in need of support, reach out. We got you.