Dr. Jodi Jackson has worked for years to address infant mortality in Kansas. Often, that means she treats newborns in a high-tech neonatal intensive care unit with sophisticated equipment whirring and beeping. And that is exactly the wrong place for an infant like Lili.
Lili’s mother, Victoria, used heroin for the first two-thirds of her pregnancy and hated herself for it.
“When you are in withdrawal, you feel your baby that’s in withdrawal too,” said Victoria, recalling sensations during her pregnancy. (Kaiser Health News is using her first name only because she has used illegal drugs.) “You feel your baby uncomfortable inside of you, and you know that. And then you use and then the baby’s not [uncomfortable], and that’s a really awful, vulgar thought, but it’s true. That’s how it is. It’s terrible.”
Though Victoria went into recovery before giving birth, Lili was born dependent on the methadone Victoria took to treat her opioid addiction. Treatment for infants like Lili has evolved, Jackson said.
“What happened 10, 15 years ago, is [drug-dependent] babies were immediately removed from the mom, and they were put in an ICU warmer with bright lights with nobody holding them,” said Jackson, who is a neonatologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. “Of course, they are going to be upset about that! And so the risk of withdrawal is much higher.”