When my post about addiction and parenthood ran in March, it garnered an array of responses. Some were proud of me for giving voice to an issue that so often lives invisible in our society. Others reproached my confession, their contempt for my mistakes oozing through in phrases like, “She doesn’t deserve to be a mother.”
Their anger reinforced the old stigma and deeply felt shame at my rocky start to parenthood. But here’s the thing: I am nothing if not proof that people can change and that no challenge is insurmountable, if the right structures are in place to support them.
I was aghast when I heard that State Bill 297 had been proposed to criminalize and incarcerate those who use drugs while pregnant. Some believe that, if passed into law, this would deter illegal drug use by pregnant women. But punitive measures only drive women who might otherwise seek help to hide their addictions or forgo prenatal care altogether.
Though the bill proposes “legal protection” for those who are “enrolled in a treatment program and remain enrolled throughout the course of their pregnancy,” there are few such facilities in the state, and no provisions to finance the construction of more, despite the fact that adequate treatment and follow-up care is safer, less costly and has proven better long-term outcomes than jail time.
There are currently twelve programs across North Carolina that offer drug treatment for pregnant and parenting women. A look at the weekly bed availability shows few vacancies and long waitlists. And with North Carolina ranked 40th in the nation for health coverage for women, the prospect of finding adequate care is grim.
These measures would disproportionately affect minority and low-income women as they are often the least able to access facilities and aftercare programs. Often they return to the same home situations that led to their addictions to begin with. Incarceration does not address the underlying issues, but rather perpetuates them, adding yet another obstacle to their being able to secure employment after their release.
I was fortunate in getting assigned to a social worker that came to believe in me and helped me navigate the complex systems that I faced in seeking treatment for the drug dependency and domestic violence I was living with in my first marriage. I found a drug counselor and parenting coach who helped me reframe my thinking and regain my life.
In jail, none of that would have been possible. My child and myself would not be where we are today — we would have been statistics, not survivors.
We need to find ways to help women on their path to wellness, not persecute them. For my part, I will continue to speak up, not be shamed into silence. There is hope on the other side of addiction, and it starts with finding one’s voice.
The Alcohol and Drug Council of North Carolina has a 24-hour information and referral hotline. Please call if you, or a loved one, need help.