With it being NAS Awareness month here in Tennessee, we can reflect on so much, including our purpose. In Tennessee alone in 2016, close to 1000 babies were born addicted to drugs (these are only the reported cases captured). There are 6 babies, per every 1,000 babies born who are NAS babies. The reports of these numbers, are only captured by 28 states, who can publicly disclose these figures. What can we do to prevent this from happening? It starts with the root cause; the mother, and drug usage during pregnancy.
However, we can’t always blame the mother, because each and every story is different. I have learned this volunteering, mentoring, and being a board member of a leading rehab facility for pregnant women and their children, “Susannah’s House,” where I am proud to be. I will never forget, the many days, I spent in the NICU with my son, after he was born prematurely, and seeing so many babies, with not a single visitor. I remember feeling angry about the mothers; how could they not be here, with their brand new bundles of joy? How could they use while they are carrying a precious life, inside of them? All I knew at that moment, is that I wanted to help the babies; I pictured Rio being there like them.
I signed up to be a NICU Kuddler, and waited a while to be interviewed, as our hospital had a waiting list. Meanwhile, I was watching the news one day, and saw the mugshot, of a mother, who had gone to jail, for killing her baby; she was an addict, who gave her baby Suboxone, resulting in death. I needed to know and learn more, I felt a deep sadness and realized how judgmental I was of someone who is “sick.”
I became affiliated with a couple of local rehab facilities, and decided to compete in pageantry, to have a platform to spread awareness and warn women. As I visited these centers, so many women, shared their stories regarding how their addictions started, many were pregnant at the moment, and so many stories were heartbreaking, and not their faults. Some had doctors, who knew they were using, but afraid to wean them off. Some had horrible abusive childhoods and environments, some had surgeries, and became addicted to pain medications. I learned, that I can’t stop this from happening, scientifically, because there is no single root cause to be attacked. We are fighting against an industry that is no longer just on the streets, it’s in almost every single home in America, prescription drugs.
I wanted to help the mothers, and wanted to raise money to help provide items for the babies; and was blessed to be able to do so. That was my initial plan to help my community. Like all things in trying to do good and make a change, there’s another side, we tend to not discuss. It became hurtful when there were some mothers who did not appreciate the help, didn’t like the gifts, wanted more, or who started contacting me personally for money, even showing up at my doorstep; and I could do nothing. I gave as much as I could; mostly from my personal earnings, and when I couldn’t anymore, they just stop contacting me; I felt so empty. What was worse, was not getting a thank you or acknowledgment from those you are helping, but knowing you can’t stop or the babies will not get helped. I had a couple of mothers tell me they didn’t like the “color” of the brand new cribs I provided to them, I must have cried for two days straight. You know what kept me focused? I got a weekly reminder that I could not stop simply from holding these babies in the NICU. I needed to stop giving material items, I needed to give my time and develop something that could “keep giving.”
I learned so much about the babies, from being around parents, and physically holding them myself week after week. I had an idea, to help make them feel better, to help the parent do better, to provide jobs, to help medical personnel, to help volunteers, and ultimately raise funding for residential facilities. The old me, would have probably kept this idea in the back of my mind, but how could I, after seeing it every week; I felt it was my responsibility, and it was my reason in being present. People have strategically been placed in my life, by a higher power, as if there was an HR department in the heavens, looking down at what I needed, and getting rid of what I did not. This week, I find myself, preparing to head to Las Vegas, Nevada, in hopes of helping babies around the world. This week, I will work two nights at the hospital before I leave. This week, I was awarded for having over 200 hours in cuddling newborns within a year (4 hours a week required). This week, marks the anniversary of my first published book, and it is NAS month. I do not believe in coincidences, I believe in lighted paths, timing, faith, and drive. This week, will be the beginning of something bigger than us.