Content warning: This post contains details of addiction and drug use some readers may find triggering.
Imagine you’ve just learned you’re pregnant. How do you feel? Elated? Anxious? Overjoyed? Likely a combination of conflicting emotions that hardly make sense and seem bent on the sole purpose of driving you mad. Whatever your feelings and decisions later, those few moments when you first learn of your pregnancy are absolutely overwhelming.
Now imagine you’re also addicted to heroin.
That was the reality I found myself living in the summer of 2013, when I looked through blurred vision at a little plus symbol that indicated I was pregnant. The next year would prove more difficult than anything I had ever experienced, riddled with PTSD flashbacks, depression, and complete disregard by almost every medical professional I encountered.
Most people think that an opiate addicted woman who becomes pregnant should immediately stop using all drugs. I thought that, but when I admitted my addiction to a doctor, he demanded that I continue using if I wanted a healthy pregnancy.
You read that correctly. When I became pregnant while addicted to heroin, my doctor told me to keep using until I could get a prescription for methadone, a non-euphoric, long-lasting opiate that would prevent me from experiencing withdrawals. Withdrawals, the doctor explained, are associated with growth abnormalities, miscarriages, and even late-term fetal death. They are to be avoided at any cost.
Even if that means using heroin during pregnancy.
The average methadone clinic in the United States has a wait time of a month or more. When I called my local clinic, the woman on the other line droned, “An intake counsellor will call to set an appointment after the weekend.” When I asked, she said it would be at least a couple weeks before I was actually seen.
“I’m pregnant,” I spat. I could feel my rage building. “I don’t want to keep doing drugs.”
She told me she couldn’t help. I had to dial the state Methadone Authority just to get an appointment that would allow me to quit heroin within the week. I’d make several calls like this throughout my time on methadone. Years later, after I detoxed, I learned from a patient that I was infamous at that clinic. Even new staff who hadn’t treated me knew of the young woman who stood up for her rights. It’s not something that happens at these types of facilities often.