New program offers stability to pregnant women struggling with addiction, homelessness
It’s hard for Karla to pinpoint exactly when she knew her life had to change. For a chronic drug user, there are so many wakeup calls.
“My mom was thinking about getting life insurance on me because she thought I was gonna die. She knew how bad I was, and funerals are expensive,” said Karla, who has battled drug addiction for many years. (Karla is a pseudonym to protect her identity, as she’s in recovery.)
When she learned, at 23 weeks, that she was pregnant, she decided to confront her addiction “hell” and reached out to a new community collaborative, called For My Baby and Me, for pregnant women who are addicted and homeless, or at risk for becoming homeless.
A holistic approach
Women who enroll in For My Baby and Me receive medical care through all stages of pregnancy, birth and postpartum; medication-assisted addiction treatment; peer recovery and relapse prevention counseling and support; housing assistance; transportation; employment services; and child care for dependents.
“As we see the opioid epidemic exploding, we’re starting to recognize that this is a subset of that population that’s gotten lost because of the lack of infrastructure for coordination between maternal health and addiction medicine,” said Susan Loughery, director of operations for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton. “We’re meeting the patient where she is and wrapping whatever treatment is needed around her. What we want to do is make sure the baby is born healthy and mom is in recovery.”
Catholic Charities is one of six partners on the holistic healthcare project. The others are the Capital Health System, the Rescue Mission of Trenton, HomeFront, the Henry J. Austin Health Center, and the Trenton Health Team.
An overlooked population
For My Baby and Me meets a critical need in addictions treatment, because many recovery programs don’t accept pregnant women, who require complex, specialized care. Karla, for example, got rejected from several programs before she found For My Baby and Me.
“For women seeking help, there is frequently an underlying fear of judgment from others or healthcare professionals, fear of law enforcement, and fear of actually living sober,” said Lisa Merritt, director of nursing for Catholic Charities Behavioral Health Services (pictured above, right, with Karla, center, and Karla’s counselor Mary Goepfert, left). “While the health of both the unborn child and the pregnant mother is the primary focus of treatment, the ultimate goal is complete recovery. This will ensure that the mother is in a solid position to care for and parent her new child, free from abusive use of any substances.”
For My Baby and Me, launched in December, was funded by a $1 million New Jersey Department of Health grant. The state already has committed to continuing the program through 2019.
That sounds like great news to Karla, who feels hope for the future for the first time in years.
“It’s hard,” she said of recovery. “But I have a good support system here.”
For help, call (609) 256-7801. Staff are available 24 hours/7 days a week.
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