International Adoption Book

Sunday, October 5, 2008

My Experiences With Prenatal Drug Use

Yesterday I posted/pasted some important information about what happens to infants, toddlers and children who were exposed to drugs prenatally. I received a very supportive comment from my mom regarding my post. She highly encouraged me to share our personal experiences with prenatal drug exposure. No, my parents did not do drugs, especially not while my mom was pregnant with their three children, but my son's birth mother did. M was exposed to Crystal Meth (ICE) and Marijuana in utero and was born with both, including 3,000 nanograms of Crystal Meth, in his little system.

Here's our story:

M came home to us in September 2002 from an 8 day stay in the hospital due to pneumonia. He was only 2-months-old at the time and was the first of many bouts with this deadly disease (which the prenatal drug exposure may have been a contributing factor). His first foster placement had fallen through; who knows why the family gave up on him, but we got a first hand show of one possibility. The first night M was home his breathing and actions were typical of any sick baby. He was quiet and sleepy but needed lots of antibiotics to continue treating the pneumonia. The second day we actually rushed him back to the emergency room because his lips turned blue and his fingers began changing colors from a lack of oxygen. We spent the following 5 days in the hospital, never leaving his side. During that time M had test after test on his heart. They diagnosed him with Astham and found a heart murmur (which he still has) while examining what appeared to be a misshapen heart. In reality, his lungs were so full of fluid that they were squeezing M's heart into an "S" shape.

During the months that followed, we were treated to the realities of a child who was prenatally exposed to drugs. A shrill scream that sounded as if someone was stabbing him over and over again with a large, sharp knife for an average of 2 hours per night was our regular routine. It was scary for us and for our son, especially since nobody understood what was happening. Family and friends thought we were simply inexperienced parents who were overwhelmed with the normal fussings of a baby. What they didn't understand was that he was experiencing withdrawals, and they were terrifying. His reactions to loud, sudden noises was non-exhistent, making him seem deaf. And he never mumbled or cooed as a normal infant would. To this day we continue to see Autism-like symptoms, many of which doctors and physicians don't know how to diagnose because they don't "fit" into place like true Autism.

Over the years, M has had Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists and Behavior Therapists, but it was often only after a large battle with pediatricians that he was evaluated. His developmental skills were "scattered" making it difficult to show M's needs "on paper", though they were clearly displayed in his day to day life.

"Scattered" development means that he performs at/above age level in some areas while performing below age level in other areas. For example: when he was 5 months old, he could sit by himself but could not use his arms to push himself up; when he was 7 months old he was walking with assistance but could not crawl; when he turned 12 months old M could crawl but could not walk by himself. The pattern is always unusual and has not ceased as he has gotten older. In fact, the developmental difficulties are quite different, though very noticeable when compared to his peers.

His language skills are so poor that he was recently offered to attend the ELL (English Language Learner) program. This program is designed for children whose primary language is other than English and they attend this program to learn English more fluently. M was raised with the English language, but his skills are such that he is severely lacking in language. He uses what he does know quite well, but his vocabulary is limited. I continue to "interpret" for him to family and friends.

Behavior has always been the biggest issue for M. People see him as a brat who throws tantrums. What most people find hard to understand is that M is actually doing very well for the things that he has had to overcome in his little life. The tantrums that he does throw are miniscule compared to what they have been in the past. He tries excessively hard to reign himself in and succeeds to such a degree that anyone would be amazed at the changes had they known him as a 2-year-old. Unfortunately, because others do not understand why he behaves in this manner, they find it hard to accept him and acknowledge that his difficulties are drug-induced rather than a personal choice. And it is excessively difficult for me to be able to explain why M does these things because most people tend to believe that he behaves this way because I allow it. They refuse to see the true reason.

It is not M's personal desire to behave this way, but a drug-induced need to lash out, to explode, in an emotional outburst that would drain even the most patient person. When he is finally able to pull himself together he expresses deep sorrow at how he has behaved. His reactions are the same reactions I have seen from people with Epilepsy: apologetic, regretful, and fearful that he could not control himself.

The things that we deal with daily are things that could have been prevented had his birth-mom not done drugs. Oh, I firmly believe that drugs are a disease, an illness that cannot be controlled. And I absolutely believe that M's birth-mom abandoned him at the hospital when he was born out of pure love. I honestly feel that she loved her son enough to want him to have a better life than she could have provided for him, and I love her for that. But I also see the effects her actions have had on my son.

M suffers every day from the drugs he was exposed to prenatally. He has no friends, he cannot tollerate change, he has a severe language delay, he has a learning disorder in reading, he has uncontrollable tantrums, he has asthma and will always be suseptible to pneumonia and broncchial diseases and M will most likely always have his heart murmur (thankfully it is not life threatening). M was recently diagnosed with ADHD, which scientists have attributed as factor of drug use. And, sadly, for the rest of his life, between the prenatal drug exposure and his ADHD, M will have to fight the strong desire to use drugs. Every single day Matt, M and I fight the effects drugs have had, and continue to have, while fighting the stigma that has been placed on him for behavior that the public simply does not comprehend (my beloved and understanding parents were among this group until they researched the realities of a drug exposed infant; now they are among M's strongest supporters).

So, who do drugs hurt? MY SON! They've hurt him far more than most people will ever be able to truly understand.

This was an extremely difficult and emotional piece for me to write. It brought forth many of the things we have experienced and what little people are able to understand and accept about our son. With each word a tear fell as I remembered each agonizing goal that M achieved. I hope and pray that this gives birth mothers the courage to stop using drugs while they are pregnant and gives adoptive/foster families the courage to step forward to love and raise these amazing children who deserve to have a loving and caring family.


Bill said...

Thank you for being so brave. Both in fostering M. to begin with and in writing this now.
Heather BT

blessedmomto7 said...

YOU ARE BRAVE! THANKS FOR SHARING! I too have 6 kids exposed to drugs

Manette said...

Thanks Heather and Blessed Mom To 7... I was very nervous writing my story and had fully intended on keeping M's history to himself. But my mom gave me the courage to stand up and be heard. Thanks so much for your support (and good luck on your upcoming speach regarding this very important subject, Blessed Mom To 7).
Hugs to all,

Anonymous said...

Hi out there,

My wife and I are in the queue for adoption (foster-adopt or open-choice adoption) and got our first referral yesterday - 1 month old twins born with meth exposure. We're frantically surfing around to learn more and see if we can handle it. I am both open-hearted to these babies, intimidated as to whether I can handle parenting them, and mad at the mothers who use. Thanks for your to all, Peter

Manette said...

Hi Peter... I wish you and your family much luck in the coming days. I know this will be a difficult decision. Not everyone is able to manage a life with these spectacular kids, but if you can they are truly rewarding! Please feel free to contact me if you need a should to cry on... It can be difficult when others don't understand.