A Pregnant Patient in Recovery Did Everything Right, but Stigma Threatened her Parental Rights
Aug 19, 2019
Ashley’s recovery from opioid addiction was going well.
For more than a year, she had been a responsible patient with us at CleanSlate in Elkhart, Indiana. When Ashley discovered that she was pregnant last October, she became an even more committed patient – coming to double the appointments that she even needed.
Ashley was doing everything right.
And for good reason. Ashley has two other kids, and the Department of Child Services (DCS) had been involved with her family in the past. She was determined to make sure that this baby was born healthy and that DCS had no cause for alarm.
So when Ashley tested positive for methamphetamine at the hospital after the baby was born, we were all floored. Nobody was more shocked than Ashley, who knew for a fact that the results were false. The only medications that she was taking (other than our prescribed addiction medication) was for acid reflux.
DCS informed Ashley that her baby would be required to stay at the hospital until they could conduct a second drug test and assess the blood results.
I was furious when I heard this news.
I knew that DCS had improperly interfered with Ashley’s case. They had improperly run an Inspect Report when only providers are supposed to do so at the patients’ appointments.
To make matters worse, DSC was looking for the wrong things – flagging that Ashley had stopped taking Suboxone. Well, of course she had stopped taking Suboxone; she had been pregnant, so we had switched her to Subutex.
Above all, DCS had no right to keep Ashley’s baby. Not without a court order.
(Click image above to watch video: Elkhart’s WSBT 22 news station covered Ashley’s story.)
Stigma and bias stand in the way
Ashley was desperate to take her baby home but scared to speak up. Ashley comes from a life where she would be tempted to communicate anger in an aggressive way. She doesn’t know how to properly communicate by herself.
This is a woman who had spent years climbing out of despair, successfully battling her addiction amidst the heavy stigma that surrounds her disease. Now she was being unfairly judged again, with her baby in the middle.
I used to work for DCS as a case manager so I know how the organization works. I called the case manager to advocate for my patient.
“What right do you have to keep Ashley’s baby at the hospital without a court order?” I asked.
The case manager told me that the hospital was keeping the baby out of an abundance of concern because the baby was showing signs of withdrawal.
I knew this wasn’t true. Hospital staff had told me that the baby had merely displayed a few mild shakes; nothing alarming.
We went back and forth, getting nowhere.
I took matters into my own hands. I went back and printed out all of Ashley’s drug screens going back a year, then labeled them and put them in order to prove to DCS that there were no issues.
“Look at Ashley’s history,” I said. “It’s all right there. Then explain to me why her baby is in the hospital.”
As much as I already understood the stigma that patients experience, this situation opened my eyes even more. We were talking about a strong patient who hadn’t tested positive for any opiates in a year, someone who was coming in every week.
I was determined to be an advocate for Ashley and for any patient experiencing stigma.
Also read: We’ve Been On The Frontlines Of The Opioid Epidemic For A Decade. Here Are 4 Approaches That Are Working.
A miraculous pivot
Then: the unthinkable happened.
DCS came to the hospital and told Ashley that they had made a mistake.
She was overjoyed. Ashley could take her baby home.
At her next appointment with CleanSlate, Ashley came in with her baby and gave me a thank you card from her whole family. She was so grateful for our help.
And I was grateful that we could fight for Ashley and correct this injustice. Pregnant patients should not face deterrents when they’re in treatment. At CleanSlate, we stand shoulder to shoulder with patients as close allies, helping them navigate whatever obstacles they face.
We support and protect pregnant patients every step of the way. I hope that more pregnant women are encouraged to seek treatment that can support and protect the lives of their babies.
If you need addiction treatment for yourself or someone you care about, find the CleanSlate center nearest you at www.cleanslatecenters.com and call us or walk in today.
What to Do If You’re Pregnant & Addicted to Opioids: A Guide to Medication Treatment Through Pregnancy