"The baby was born addicted to methadone [horizontal ellipsis]"


Article Content

GOD LED ME TO A PROFESSION that often breaks my heart. As a nurse in a newborn intensive care unit, I care for tiny babies with sick and broken bodies, born too soon or too ill to survive without medical intervention. Some of that intervention causes great suffering to the babies and their families. Some will survive; some will not. Some will have major disabilities; others will be miracles of survival. Some mothers are fanatical about healthy living and prenatal care; others are crack addicts and prostitutes. There is great heartache and great joy in the NICU.


On one particular day, I cared for a tiny baby born to a thirty-seven-year-old heroin addict. She gave up heroin when she found out she was pregnant and entered a methadone program. The baby was born addicted to methadone, one of the hardest drugs for a baby to withdraw from. He needed high doses of morphine to ease his withdrawal symptoms and would remain on morphine for many months. He probably would have some level of physical, mental or psychological disability.


When the baby's mom came to visit, I immediately sensed her reservation in entering the room. I reached out my hand, warmly greeted her and introduced myself as the nurse caring for her son. I could feel her tension ease as she entered the room and came to her son's bedside. There was great pain in her eyes as she looked at her tiny baby. It was time for his morphine so I explained what it was and why he was receiving it. I discussed in detail how his withdrawal was monitored and treated. She asked questions, and I answered them. I explained the different issues he faced as a premature baby, the potential positive and negative outcomes and how each would be treated.


After I had covered the major areas of her baby's treatments, I asked her if she had other questions or anything I could help with. Her eyes welled up with tears. I reached over and touched her hand. She looked at me and said I was the first person taking care of her son she felt didn't treat her like a criminal. She talked about how she'd spent her adult life and much of her childhood doing things that led her to her addiction. I sensed that there was much pain in her past. She explained this was her first baby, and when she knew she was pregnant, she decided to get her life together and give up using IV heroin. She voluntarily enrolled in the methadone clinic. She knew that her son would be born addicted and would have to suffer withdrawal, and she was agonizing over it. Her candor about her life and addiction was open and honest. Her trust in me was indicated in her eyes. Before she left for the day, she thanked me for not prejudging her and her situation. No one had spent any time with her or explained anything about her addicted baby. She was terrified because she didn't know the basics of caring for a premature baby, much less an addicted one. She wanted to be the best mother she possibly could be and wanted help from those who could assist her to do that in a healthy way. She gave me a hug before she left and whispered "thank you" in my ear.


As I recall my up and down struggles, I remember people that God placed in my path, who, with a simple touch of the hand eased my pain. Remembering that compassion, when I see a person in pain I know that I must reach out. Touching the lives of others is a privilege, no matter what their circumstances. As nurses, we have many opportunities to show kindness and compassion. Kindness costs very little, but the profit is enormous. Investing in someone's emotional future can change her world. Investing in one person at a time could just change the world.