Growing up, Deserae described her life as “pretty normal.” In high school, she played softball and volleyball and was a cheerleader. After graduation, she and her high school sweetheart moved in together and had a son. She worked as a bartender and was going to school to become a court reporter.
Things took a turn when her boyfriend began selling prescription drugs on the side. “He had a connection,” said Deserae. “He’d buy pills for $5 and sell them for $20, $25 or $30 a piece.” Pretty soon, Deserae said she was taking drugs like Percocet and OxyContin daily. “They gave me energy. Woke me up so I could take care of my son, do all the laundry, exercise, work and go to school.”
She said it all went sideways about two years later when her boyfriend’s connection was arrested. Deserae realized she had an addiction. Because pills on the street were expensive, she started using heroin. “It was cheaper. I could pay my bills and still get high.” Deserae was 25 when she began using heroin.
“Everything just starts to revolve around the drugs,” she said. Deserae and her boyfriend broke up. She lost custody of her son Dominick. For a time, she was homeless. For the next 10 years, Deserae struggled. Twice she completed rehab programs and then relapsed. “The drugs rule your life. I was not happy without it. Your body just wants it.”
Help Was a Phone Call Away
In February of 2022, Deserae was seven months pregnant, and living in a shelter in Newark. She was using drugs again but was desperate to stop. That’s when her sister heard about the For My Baby and Me program and gave Deserae the number. “I have been in rehab and mental health programs before,” said Deserae, “but this has been the greatest opportunity I have ever had in my life,” she said.
For My Baby and Me is a collaboration among Capital Health, Catholic Charities, HomeFront, Henry J. Austin Health Center, Rescue Mission of Trenton and Trenton Health Team that helps pregnant and postpartum women recover from their addiction by providing medication-assisted treatment and counseling, in addition to wraparound services.
“One of the incredible aspects of For My Baby and Me is how accessible getting help is – a woman places a call to the hotline, a specialist explains the program, pick up service is offered, and the mom is transported to Catholic Charities in Trenton to begin her journey to wellness,” said Stacey Negron, the Care Manager and Project Evaluator for the program.
Deserae has been meeting with Negron regularly since starting the program. “Stacey is very relatable and very understanding,” she said. “I can be completely myself with Stacey. I can be real and not worry about what she is going to think. There’s none of that judgmental vibe.”
“Deserae is doing so well,” said Negron. “I met her at the height of her addiction and I have seen her go through changes, working to find balance and let go of the people around her who aren’t really there for her. When Deserae realized she needed to be her first priority, things started to change. She was able to focus on what she wanted for herself and for her baby.”
Deserae gave birth to her son Giovanni in March of 2022 while she was living at HomeFront. Shortly after he was born, she started going to school to become a patient care technician (PCT). She said the support she has received from the FMBM program has been incredible. “I have had a place to live, and they helped me with childcare so I could go to school.” She also found support from the other women in the program. “We inspire each other to be strong.”
Ready for a New Beginning
Deserae admitted she never was much of a student when she was in school but said her grades in the program to become a PCT have been excellent. “I am so interested in what I’m learning. It makes it easy.” She began a phlebotomy internship with Robert Wood Johnson in Hamilton in April. Deserae plans to continue with her schooling and become a nurse. “You need to be working toward something that makes you happy,” she said.
Deserae and Giovanni recently moved into an apartment of their own. She has a relationship with her son Dominick again. And she has a plan for the future. “Catholic Charities gives you this opportunity to get your self-esteem back,” said Deserae. “When you start working on yourself, you remember who you were as a person.”
FOR INFORMATION about the For My Baby and Me Program, call (609) 256–7801.
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