*Editors note. This mom asked that her privacy is respected. While the byline says my name (Denielle Kennett) I cannot take credit for this amazing journey and story.
Adoption isn’t a new invention. It’s not a foreign concept to most and I would bet that a lot of folks you know have a family member or two that are adopted. However, adoption IS an ever-evolving, highly misunderstood, often confusing journey. If you decide to grow or start your family through the adoption process, you are in for a rollercoaster of emotion that ends (just like natural childbirth) with the biggest miracle of your entire life. If you, like us, adopt a child who is born addicted to narcotics, your rollercoaster just has a couple extra loops. But just like a day spent at Busch Gardens, the queezy feeling is totally worth it.
After being in the adoption process for a couple years, my husband and I were eating dinner one night when our case worker called and asked us to meet her at the hospital. She explained that she had a birth mother in labor who wanted to meet us. “In labor? Now?!” We asked. “Yea, so can you come?” She said, way too calmly. We met our birth mother around 9 p.m. and around 4 hours later, we watched our son come into this world. With a strength I can’t even fathom, our birth mom looked at me, who she had known for just a few hours, and asked me to cut the cord.
If you’ve adopted, you’ll completely understand what we felt next. We were 50% over-the-moon, tears-in-our-eyes excited and 50% terrified that a few days from now, this adorable boy would just be someone else’s baby whom we were never going to bring home. There was also one more fear, a fear we hadn’t felt before: our baby was born addicted to methadone. He was born addicted because his birth mother was being treated for an opioid addiction. We wondered what that would mean for his health and his future. We truly had no idea.
Our birth mother signed consent and was discharged from the hospital less than 48 hours after his birth, a gift to keep us from worrying that she would change her mind—an incredibly selfless act. We gave our son a name and began the hard work of understanding what his addiction meant and what we could do to help. With the help of some of the most passionate doctors and nurses I’ve ever met, we began to learn about NAS babies, or babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Far from what I expected, we were told that the methadone addiction would most likely have no affect on his long-term health and well being; however, the withdrawal would not be easy on anyone.
Our little family of three moved from a postnatal room to a small bedroom inside the NICU Step-Down unit. Our baby was placed in our tiny, bathroom-less room, instead of in the main room with the other infants. This was due to the hard work of a specific group of staff members who believe that NAS babies recover more quickly with lots of physical contact from their parents. However, after a couple days and lots of differing opinions from a plethora of doctors, Isaiah was moved into the main room. We stayed for a few more days to monitor his symptoms and attempt to avoid putting him on morphine, which is used to treat the symptoms of withdrawal. We hated the thought of starting our child on such a serious drug and subjecting him to weeks of weaning him off yet another addictive medication that never should have had to enter his precious little body. We saw some of the behaviors we’d been warned about; he was incredibly fussy, his muscles were rigid, he sneezed, shook and didn’t sleep well at all. Still, we thought we could handle it—until the fifth night. The withdrawal took a dark turn and or precious baby become completely inconsolable. He sweated, screamed and violently shook until we feared he would have a seizure. The next morning, the doctors started him on morphine.
For the next three weeks, we drove back and forth to the hospital to visit our son while he was slowly weaned from the morphine and continuously monitored. We tried not to complain because honestly, our baby had probably been in the NICU for far less time than most of the others. There were some children who were born at two pounds and were struggling to eat. Still, we were emotionally and physically overwhelmed.
Our son’s symptoms gradually faded away as his dose decreased by teeny-tiny amounts every 24-48 hours. We scrubbed down, donned our yellow gowns and got used to holding him while four different cords hung from his body. We bonded, did skin-to-skin, and I cried when we had to leave him each night. My husband constantly reminded me this wouldn’t be forever. Friends visited and family drove six hours to add to our support system. During our last week in the NICU, I left work and my mother and I began to pull 12-hour shifts so that he would never be alone. This wasn’t because the nurses weren’t capable, believe me. This was a choice we made to help reduce his symptoms so that his medication could be reduced, and he would hopefully come home a little sooner. Let me tell you, it worked!
We were sent home on a sunny Saturday morning and ever since, we’ve enjoyed the drooling, giggly face of a typical happy baby. Though we’ll never forget our son’s struggle at the beginning of his life, we know this does not define his future. To other parents out there considering adopting a child born with a methadone addiction, I will say this: do it. Pour your heart into the healing and know that your baby will be just fine.
*This article was written anonymously, to protect the rights of our incredible birth mother, and our son, whose choice it is to tell his own story one day, should he so choose.