Yoon S. Byun | Maine Middle for Public Curiosity Reporting
By Barbara Walsh, Maine Middle for Public Curiosity Reporting •
December four, 2018 1:02 am
The voices echo in her thoughts like an infinite tape.
“You don’t deserve to be a mother.”
“You’re an addict.”
“You’re not worth another chance.”
Jessica Coulombe has heard these disparaging phrases many occasions from relations, strangers, social staff and her personal acutely aware.
Throughout a 13-year span, Jessica had 5 daughters. She misplaced custody of all of them due to her heroin and cocaine addictions.
“I’ve just hit every bottom, losing my kids,” the 36-year-old Augusta mother stated. “I’ll never be able to get them back.”
In April, Jessica discovered she would have one other probability to be a mother. At the time, she was pregnant, homeless and nonetheless utilizing heroin and cocaine.
“I was real hesitant about having the baby,” she stated. “I thought about adoption or abortion, but I got to believe in myself that I can do this.”
After a number of overdoses, durations of sobriety and relapses, Jessica desperately needed to get well. She needed to delivery a wholesome baby, and greater than something, she needed to keep her youngster.
“I’ve had enough hell living on earth,” she stated. “I want to be sober.”
As Maine’s opiate epidemic has surged over the previous 5 years, a whole lot of girls like Jessica have delivered multiple baby whereas on opiates. Maine Division of Well being and Human Providers statistics present that 69 % of the 250 ladies who gave start to a drug-affected baby between 2014 and 2016 additionally had one other toddler who suffered withdrawal signs throughout the similar time interval.
Tales about opiate-addicted pregnant ladies are difficult and chaotic. The struggling their infants endure typically provokes anger and outrage from the basic public. However opiate addiction, docs say, is one in every of the most troublesome and heartbreaking illnesses to deal with.
Acknowledged as a psychological well being illness, opiate-use dysfunction impacts almost all of the mind methods concerned in studying, reminiscence, motivation and pleasure. Modifications to the mind are profound, lengthy lasting, and typically irreversible.
“As a society, we need to recognize that opiate addiction is a disease with chronic relapsing,” stated Dr. Julia McDonald of the Augusta Household Drugs Institute, the place Jessica sought remedy and care throughout her current being pregnant. “Treating pregnant women with addiction is very complex. It’s easy to judge the women, which furthers [the perception] that they are vessels for the innocent or the unborn. Many of these women could also be perceived as innocent within their history of trauma and abuse.”
Jessica’s eldest daughter McKenzie is aware of firsthand about opiate addiction and relapses. She’s misplaced all hope many occasions, sure that her mother would die of an overdose. For years, she wrestled with anger over her mother’s substance use and the ache it brought about her 4 sisters and herself.
Nonetheless, the 19-year-old believes her mother deserves redemption and forgiveness.
“As a recovering addict, she needs to know that she has someone to fall back on,” McKenzie stated. “At the end of the day, she’s still my mom, and I’m going to be there for her and for the baby.”
On a wet summer time afternoon, Jessica and McKenzie Coulombe sat aspect by aspect in a McDonald’s restaurant sales space. They have been wearing comparable colours and garments. Jessica wore a pink sweatshirt; McKenzie sported a pink T-shirt and a baseball cap. It was clear that they’re mother and daughter. McKenzie has her mother’s darkish hair and brown eyes.
Yoon S. Byun | Maine Middle for Public Curiosity Reporting
In April when she discovered she was pregnant, Jessica stopped utilizing heroin and cocaine. To extend her probabilities of staying in restoration, her physician positioned her on buprenorphine, generally generally known as Subutext or Suboxone. Typically prescribed to pregnant ladies, the opiate reduces cravings and withdrawals however doesn’t produce a excessive.
McKenzie and her mother speak on the telephone for almost an hour day by day. They store and exit to eat collectively, issues they by no means had the probability to do earlier than. However their relationship is simply newly mended and nonetheless evolving.
For the previous a number of years that they had little contact, however when Jessica was homeless final fall, McKenzie agreed to let her keep in her Oakland condo. Months later after she moved out, her mother referred to as and defined that she was pregnant. McKenzie was shocked.
“My heart dropped. I didn’t think she’d be able to do it, stay clean. I was scared.”
The subsequent day, McKenzie texted her mother and requested: “Where do we go from here?”
Jessica didn’t know the place to go for assist, however she was sure she needed to change. She and McKenzie discovered about Household Drugs Institute in Augusta, which focuses on treating pregnant ladies with addiction, and made an appointment.
“I’m very proud of her,” McKenzie stated. “This time is different for her. She chose to do this on her own.”
Although she has just lately grown nearer to her mother, McKenzie continues to be making an attempt to type out her emotions and reminiscences. She spent loads of time with her nice grandmother, or “Memere,” who lived throughout the road. As she recounted her reminiscences at McDonald’s, her mother fell quiet.
“Mom would come home from work and I’d watch her put her makeup on and get pretty,” McKenzie remembered. “And then she’d leave, and I’d hang onto her leg and beg her not to go. I didn’t get her time, her attention. I’d cry in my Memere’s arms for an hour after she left.”
As McKenzie received older, her nice grandmother defined that her mother was utilizing medicine.
“I remember sitting in her lap one time in Memere’s kitchen and she was nodding off. I said, ‘Mom you look bad.’ She was doing heroin. I was about six.”
Jessica would go in and out of remedy and durations of sobriety over the subsequent a number of years as she had 4 extra daughters. All of them, besides McKenzie, have been fathered by the similar man, who additionally used heroin and cocaine. Every of her youngsters was positioned in DHHS’ custody throughout their early years.
As the eldest, McKenzie did her greatest to be careful for her youthful siblings. She was almost 9 when her household was dwelling in Bangor.
“It was just chaos. She was pregnant, and I was watching my two younger sisters. My mom’s boyfriend was very angry, yelling and screaming. My sisters were scared. They [Jessica and her boyfriend] had a little pink sparkly makeup bag and they’d disappear into the bathroom for an hour or so. I knew they were doing drugs.”
In 2008, McKenzie was adopted by her grandmother. Three of her 4 sisters have been adopted by an aunt, the fourth was positioned in the custody of a household pal.
McKenzie twirled her cellular phone on the restaurant desk as she defined that counseling has eased her anger and resentment.
“My counselor has helped me separate addiction from the person, but I never understood why her kids weren’t better than the drugs. It’s still hard for me to understand why wasn’t I good enough.”
Jessica turned to daughter and spoke in a low voice simply above a whisper.
“It’s not you; it’s nothing you did or didn’t do. It was me. I just feel horrible. Oh my god, I wish I could go back and change it.”
Almost seven months pregnant, Jessica sat at her kitchen desk in a three-room Augusta house. She wore a flannel shirt that coated her increasing abdomen. The neighborhood was not nice, she stated, nevertheless it’s all she will afford with her part-time job. For the previous three months, she had labored at an area Thai restaurant as a hostess.
Unfold out on her kitchen desk have been footage of three of her daughters, the 14-, 10- and 9-year-olds who reside with her aunt. Her youngest daughter, who’s 6, lives with a household good friend.
“I haven’t seen them for four years,” Jessica stated, her phrases heavy with longing. “I need to get more sobriety under my belt. I need to prove myself.”
She talked with her aunt to get updates on her daughters, and sometimes she acquired pictures. The current footage present the dark-haired women smiling on their first day of faculty.
“I miss watching them grow and going to school, going to sports events, memories and stuff. I miss everything,” she stated, choosing up the footage to take one other take a look at her women.
Jessica hopes to ultimately see her daughters once more, however she hasn’t pressured them for visits.
“I just want them to do good, to be healthy and happy. When they’re older, I want them to know about addiction. I don’t want them to go down that road.”
Jessica needs her daughters to perceive how consuming and smoking marijuana at age 12 and hanging out with the flawed group of pals can lead to a lifetime of addiction. By the time she was 18, she had already began taking Percocet and Vicodin. A yr later, she started utilizing heroin and Oxycontin.
“I didn’t know how addictive they were. I didn’t know much about it back then.”
To assist keep her sobriety, Jessica commonly attends AA conferences and steers away from former buddies who’re nonetheless utilizing opiates or different medicine. She participates in group remedy as a part of her remedy at the Household Drugs Institute and accomplished eight weeks of intensive counseling. She can also be mending household relationships, reconnecting with her mother, who refused to see her whereas she was utilizing heroin and cocaine.
“It’s nice,” she stated, smiling. “I go over there for Sunday dinners again.”
Regardless of her progress, Jessica is aware of that a DHHS case employee nonetheless can be referred to as to the hospital when she provides delivery.
“I hope they will see how good I am doing and just close the case. I just want to keep my baby.”
From her front room, Jessica picked up 4 pairs of pastel-colored pajamas that she and McKenzie purchased for her baby. Weeks earlier, she discovered that she may have one other woman. Jessica held the pajamas shut to her chest and defined, “I can’t wait to hold her. I think I’m going to call her Avery Rae.”
On Nov. 18, three weeks earlier than her due date, she gave delivery to a 7-pound, 7-ounce baby.
“She’s beautiful,” Jessica advised McKenzie as she held her dark-haired daughter in her hospital room. “I can’t believe she’s here.”
McKenzie cried when she noticed her baby sister. She posted a photograph of herself on Fb holding Avery wrapped in a blanket.
“I love you so much,” she wrote. “I cannot wait to watch you grow and teach you everything I know.”
Although she was grateful for her sister, McKenzie nonetheless fearful. She is aware of her mother remained substance free for 15 months after her final being pregnant, solely to relapse once more.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” McKenzie stated. “It’s definitely going to be a battle.”
Yoon S. Byun | Maine Middle for Public Curiosity Reporting
In the days following Avery’s delivery, nurses evaluated the new child for indicators of withdrawal from Jessica’s prescribed opiate alternative drug buprenorphine, which may trigger extreme crying, irritability, diarrhea and tremors. Due to her earlier 5 custody instances, DHHS opened a brand new case file to consider her baby’s potential danger of hurt.
As nurses and the DHHS employee got here and went, Jessica tried to stay constructive. She held her daughter shut and sang to her, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. So please don’t take my sunshine away…”
Over the subsequent few days, Jessica was relieved that her daughter didn’t present any indicators of withdrawal.
“She’s been doing great,” Jessica stated.
On Avery’s fourth day, Jessica’s worst worry materialized. The DHHS caseworker returned and handed Jessica paperwork explaining that the state can be putting Avery in protecting custody.
“Because of my history, she said I hadn’t been sober long enough. She said you can get her back. I said, ‘How soon?’ She said it all depends on me. She said to keep my home, my job. Keep doing what I’m doing.”
That night, Jessica held Avery all night time.
“I sang to her. I kissed her. I told her, ‘I love you baby girl. Momma’s gonna go, but I’ll see you soon.’”
Avery, Jessica discovered, was positioned with the household pal who took custody of her 6-year-old daughter. DHHS knowledgeable her that she will have supervised visits with baby. She additionally has a civil courtroom date to clarify to a decide why she ought to be reunited with Avery.
The DHHS and the state lawyer common’s workplace declined to discuss her case, saying they can’t touch upon a confidential child-protection matter.
Whereas she awaits the listening to, Jessica is again to work, making an attempt to keep busy by having espresso with sober associates and spending time with her household. At night time, she sleeps with the hospital blanket that also has the scent of her new child daughter.
“I’m not going to give up,” she stated. “Sometimes, it takes other people longer than others to change. I get frustrated with myself. I don’t like this disease, but I didn’t just carry another child for nine months and go through labor and pain not to keep her. I just hate addiction, I do.”
The Maine Middle for Public Curiosity Reporting is a nonprofit and nonpartisan journalism group that gives in-depth reporting as a public service to its Maine media companions. The middle’s e-mail handle is [email protected] and web site is pinetreewatchdog.org.