Facing The Methadone Pregnancy Stigma

By Natasha Dickey 01/12/17

No one wanted to look at me. How could a mother do that to her child? I agreed with them all. Still, it didn’t stop me from getting high.

Natasha Dickey
Photo via Natasha Dickey

I am a former junkie. Yes, a junkie, a heroin addict, a prostitute and homeless scum. Yep, that was me. If you would have called me any of those names nine years ago, I would have cried my eyes out like a baby. Too bad for you. Now, I truly don't care what you think about me.

It's not that I'm rude, self-centered or ignorant. In fact, I very well may be one of the most sweet and caring people you will ever meet. I have been sober for going on four years. If you talk badly about my past, even my present, it no longer bothers me because I am stronger than I was before.

I am in methadone maintenance treatment. According to many people in recovery, I am not clean. According to me, I've been clean for years. I'm no longer a drug addict. I'm not addicted to methadone. I am dependent on methadone. There is a big difference.

The social stigma surrounding medication-assisted treatment (MAT) such as methadone and Suboxone is horrible. Quite frankly, it's ridiculous. Oh, but it doesn't end there. In fact, that's only the tip of the iceberg. I've had three children. My first child was born nine years ago, in my active addiction. Then, I had two children born while I was on methadone. That is where I'll begin.

Nine Years Ago

I just got released from the county jail after being incarcerated for months. I moved to Florida to be with my boyfriend. Well, long story short I got pregnant. We moved back to Pennsylvania. On our way home, we stopped and copped. Both of us had been clean for over a year. It was a mistake. I became a heroin addict once again.  

The whole time I was pregnant, my doctor recommended I get on methadone.  

"No," I said.  "I will get clean myself." I looked at methadone as an easy way out. Plus, I couldn't get high then. I would quit, I wouldn't lose my baby.  

By the time, I went into labor, we lived in a room above a bar. I wasn't even supposed to be there. It was only for one person and he was the one technically allowed to live there. 

When I went into labor I was dope sick. Labor was horrible. I remember begging the doctor to cut him out of me. The whole time my boyfriend was nodding off. Getting disapproving glares from doctors and nurses. They never told me I was positive for heroin. I mean, I knew I was, but addicts don't think rationally. Truly, I thought I would get over on them. 

Then, it was my release day. They took my baby. I lost my mind. My family were all at the hospital waiting to take us home. I had no choice but to tell them. His sister ended up taking my baby. She still has custody of him nine years later. My family disowned me. His stepdad called us every name in the book. All I could do was cry. My family went as far as to leave me at the hospital. They took my baby and I was all alone. I’ve never felt so alone, so miserable.

Years went by with no contact. Eventually, we started talking but, it wasn't the way it should be with family.

We come from a small town. People talk. No one had anything nice to say. No one wanted to talk to me or look at me. How could a mother do that to her child? The thing was that, I agreed with them all. Still it didn’t stop me from getting high. I left that town and went to rehab, then to the city. That was a big mistake.

Four Years Ago

Five years after that horrible day, I got pregnant again. This time I was worse off than before. I was homeless, I had warrants out for my arrest so I couldn’t get medical care without getting arrested while at the county assistance office. When I was six months pregnant, I turned myself in and went to jail. I had to do it for my child. I would not lose another baby. In jail, they would put me on methadone so I wouldn't be sick and my baby would be all right. My warrants would be taken care of so I could get medical assistance for the baby. It all made sense.

Just so you know, the vast majority of people in jail are addicts. The inmates were jealous I was getting methadone when they had to go through withdrawal. Some hated me, others talked behind my back, and others tried to buy my methadone. They wanted me to cheek it and spit it out for them. They would pay. You have got to be out of your mind. I needed it. I wasn't giving it up.

I remember waiting to leave the jail to go get my methadone for the week. I had my hand on my stomach as pregnant women often do. It’s a habit, I think it makes you feel closer to your baby. Almost as if you are holding them, protecting them. One guard in prison made some snide comment about how I was really playing on needing my methadone. Comments like that were thrown at me and the other pregnant girls on methadone constantly. You couldn’t show it bothered you, even if it did.

Jail medical staff and the correctional officers do not treat you kindly. They look at it like you are still getting high while pregnant. Correctional officers, guards and inmates all expect you to relapse as soon as you walk out the door. Let's not lie, most people do. Most people will lose their child to the system. Was I going to be another statistic? Would I prove them right?

I did not prove them right. I have full custody of my daughter. I have never been back to jail again. My life has changed drastically. After the fear of losing another child or having my baby in jail, I wised up. Thankfully, I stayed in recovery.  Just because I changed does not mean the stigma surrounding methadone and pregnancy has changed. 

I thought that since I bettered myself, changed my life completely and became a respectable person and mother that people would accept me. Boy, was I wrong. People do not care about how far you have come. Or how much improvement you have made.  

My Present Position

I got pregnant again. In recovery, in methadone maintenance treatment, working full-time, having a family, doing great. My son will be a year old in February. The negative stigma surrounding methadone did not get any better. 

I ended up quitting a job that I was working because the manager and a customer were talking about a former employee right in front of me. Degrading her because she was on methadone when she was pregnant. Saying how horrible that was. The next day I put in my two weeks notice.

When my boss asked me why, I explained that what he said upset me and it was against everything I believed in. His reply was that I shouldn’t care, that girl was a mess. She was taking drugs (methadone) while she was pregnant.  

Calmly, I explained to him that I was on methadone, that my daughter was born on methadone. My boss loved my daughter. He had a look of disbelief on his face. His only reply was that my daughter is healthy and that I don’t look like I’m high. There was no way we were talking about methadone. I was the one confused. That was it, I couldn’t do it. That further proved that people are misinformed and do not have any clue about methadone.

Both of my children that were born on methadone are healthy, happy and perfect. No medical problems. My daughter did not experience withdrawal. Although, my son did. The medical staff that treated him did properly monitor him and he is great. I took him home in two weeks. It makes me wish I would have gotten on methadone with my first born, although I can't dwell on it.

I have learned that you can't change the past and I certainly am not going to re-live it. I am working on building a relationship with him.

Sadly, the stigma surrounding methadone, especially methadone and pregnancy, has not changed at all. More pregnant women than ever are getting on methadone. Personally, I believe that the stigma is getting worse. People think pregnant addicts are seeing methadone as a way out. That's not true. They are trying to save their child, save their self, be a mom. The stigma needs to end. No mother should ever have to watch their newborn baby being taken away from them. If methadone helps so much.

Why are people so against it?  

When will be people start to care?

The negative stigma is based upon misinformation and ignorance. Educate yourself before discriminating. Being pregnant and having a child should be nothing but happiness. Not guilt and discrimination. 

Natasha Dickey was a heroin addict for over 10 years. She went from homeless and living under a bridge in Pittsburgh to having a wonderful life with her fiancée and two children. In recovery for four years, she follows methadone maintenance treatment and swears it's the recovery tool that saved her life. Natasha has put her passion for helping women in methadone maintenance treatment online with founding Maintaining Miracles - A Recovery Blog For Modern Mothers on Methadone.

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Natasha Dickey was a heroin addict for over 10 years. She went from homeless and living under a bridge in Pittsburgh to having a wonderful life with her fiancée and two children. She blogs on her website, www.unjunkiefied.com, and you can also find her on Linkedin and Twitter.