When I hold a baby, suffering from NAS, though they can’t speak to me, when I look into their eyes, I hear the same words.
“Help me, please. I am hurting. I shouldn’t have to go through recovery at birth. Many outside, can’t hear my cries, or see my pain, but you do. Where are my parents and why are you holding me? Is someone helping them so we can be back together? Where will I go, if she doesn’t get well in time? Please make this stop, I am born to kuddle, just like all babies. Do not forget about me, because I could be your baby, even you.”
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, is a term I never heard, let alone, knew what it meant prior to 2014. While I heard about babies being born dependent on drugs, even when I was a child, I didn’t quite understand it, fully. This all changed, on my first NICU tour, preparing for my son to be born prematurely.
I’ll never forget, being pushed in a wheelchair, through these doors, and down the hallways, where so many sick babies were. I was terrified thinking my baby would be there soon; I wasn’t prepared. I tried looking at all of the babies, as I passed by, wondering what my son would look like, if he were to make it. Would he be that tiny? Is he going to be on a feeding tube, or in an incubator? I cried many days, and felt so helpless. I was only 28 weeks pregnant, and my water began leaking early, while I was at my baby shower all the way in Michigan. I had a rare high rupture. My doctors were preparing me mentally, for Rio to not go home with me, and even for the possibility of having a miscarriage. While running all of the scenarios in my head, I saw a light that ignited a purpose in my heart; a volunteer holding a screaming baby.
I remained in the hospital until I reached 34 weeks of pregnancy, and was on strict bed rest. My son was born, and taken directly to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, after I only got a glimpse of him. Later, when I was able to go visit him in the NICU, I saw how full it was with babies. I also saw the volunteer baby cuddlers, each and every day I was there. What was even more noticeable, were the babies who needed the extra comfort, love, and attention. I saw how they cried, some having tremors, and watched how the nurses took care of them. I later learned that these babies were detoxing, and suffering from drug withdrawal.
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, is known as the symptoms babies suffer through, who are born dependent on drugs. They are sensitive to light, touch, and sound, have inconsolable cries, shake, run high fevers, and can have upset stomachs/feeding issues. Some even sneeze repeatedly, have muscle contractions, and claw and scratch as they are in pain. It is horrible to witness a baby go through this. To lessen the pain, the babies are given morphine for pain relief, and other drugs to wean off the substance they are dependent on. The image of this, no matter how much description or text book definitions I give, is shocking to see the first time; especially in the quantity, I saw and continue to witness, week after week.
According to the CDC, every 19 minutes, a baby is born dependent on drugs in America. Where I live in Tennessee, we have one of the highest national averages of NAS babies. I knew that this stems from the mother using while pregnant, and it is preventable. Drugs are passed through the womb, to the baby, and the baby can become dependent on them. At first, I was very angry, that a mother could do this to their child. I didn’t understand how they could do something this horrible? I also wanted to know why they were not there in the hospital room, as I sat there with my son, so doting, and proud, while seeing other babies in pain, with no one. Rather than being judgmental, I wanted to do something. I got to know some mothers, who were addicts, and also, realized there are people who are very close to me, who were just like these women. Wow, it could literally happen to anyone, anyone! I couldn’t be angry, as I loved these women, and they need strong people to stand up for them.
I am very analytical by nature. I love to solve problems, and get delve deeply in anything I want to improve, by any means necessary. I became a volunteer cuddler, and I continue to use my social media, to speak about this critical issue. This helps spread awareness in warning women to consult with their physicians, if they are curious about taking anything while pregnant. After holding a countless number of babies, I began to see what comforts the babies, and could help parents. Through this, I had the idea to develop my patent pending invention, “The NICU Kuddler.”
While saying this, you learn as you go. I started to question, why so many of these cases, are from the result of prescription drug use and abuse? This is even more controllable than I thought, if it stems from a controlled substance, right? I however, did not have personal access to this data to prove this was true; it was only hearsay from women I spoke to, in recovery. I believed several stories, but who on the outside, believes an addict? Who would even believe me, as I am not a physician, nor expert? Late last year, my theory was confirmed, after reading the annual NAS report by the Tennessee Department of Health. In 2017, seventy-five percent of women received prescription drugs directly from their physician who gave birth to babies with NAS. Some of these cases, also included other drugs, used in conjunction. (Source: NAS Annual Report 2017 TN Department of Health). Even though you suspect it, it is still shocking to read it, because even knowing the facts, not enough is being done to control it, on a national level. The numbers seem to keep increasing with our opioid epidemic. I am very proud our state is taking action with the “Tennessee Together Plan.”
Why is this happening? What type of facilities are these prescriptions coming from? What are the reasons? What’s wonderful, is that we may be able to get the answers, with the data we now have. It is still up to us, what we do with this data; the FACTS. It starts with the mother, not the physician; not the experts, but us. We aren’t only in charge of our fate, but the fate of our children is our responsibility! Why should you care. if it isn’t you? We should all care, as NAS alone has cost us all as tax payers a surplus of $2 Billion US Dollars in excess Medicaid cost just the past ten years! I care, because it is starting to become a normal thing for me to see, volunteering weekly; and that is very scary. What was first a shock, when I was handed the first NAS baby to console as a volunteer, has become expected; and my job. People like myself, are needed by the masses, as a band-aid. What was first, only a couple of cases, has become one every 19 minutes. What was once a result of the “crack-cocaine war on drugs epidemic,” has become a war that begins in our own medicine cabinets. What was once seen as a problem in America, has spread to other continents. It starts with us, to stop with us!