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Beyond the Stigma: Residential recovery centers offer refuge to NH moms struggling with addiction

By SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Sunday News

May 12. 2018 8:01PM
A Manchester couple celebrated the birth of their baby girl at Catholic Medical Center last week. The baby's mom participates in the hospital's Roots for Recovery program, which offers rewards for attending medical appointments, treatment and counseling sessions. (Shawne K. Wickham/Sunday News)



ROCHESTER -- She brought her newborn home from the hospital on Friday, just in time for Mother's Day. Her friends gathered around her, cooing to her curly-haired baby boy and fussing over his 1-year-old sister.

"It feels good to be home," she said, smiling at the sleeping infant in her lap.

For this 22-year-old mom, home is Hope on Haven Hill in Rochester, a residential recovery house for pregnant and postpartum moms who have struggled with addiction and homelessness.

It's one of only two residential recovery programs in New Hampshire for this population; the other is Cynthia Day Family Center, part of Keystone Hall in Nashua.

The Hope farmhouse has six cozy bedrooms for moms and their kids, a sunny kitchen and plenty of places inside and out for quiet or companionship. One woman taped photos of her kids on her bedroom wall with the message: "Find something you would die for ... and live for it."

Kerry Norton, R.N., a Hope founder and its program director, said the women who live here are "the bravest people" she knows.

The days are busy, with individual and group counseling, household chores and visits to recovery support programs, the gym and church on weekends. The women take turns making dinner; residents all eat together each night and talk about their day. After they've bathed their kids and put them to bed, there's free time until lights-out at 10:30 p.m.

For some of these women, Norton said, it's the first time in their lives that they've been truly nurtured. "They're seeing that people care for them," she said. 

Most have survived significant trauma, such as domestic violence and sexual assault. For them, drug use has been a coping mechanism, often learned young, according to Courtney Gray Tanner, Hope's executive director.

These moms and moms-to-be rely on each other, sharing their joys and struggles. "The power of empathy is really important," Tanner said.

The stigma around those who use drugs is only magnified for pregnant women, according to medical experts. And the resulting shame and fear can keep women from seeking treatment early in pregnancy, putting their health and that of their babies at risk.

But a growing number of New Hampshire providers in New Hampshire are offering compassionate, specialized care for moms-to-be who struggle with addiction - what the medical field terms substance use disorder (SUD). And they're seeing promising results.

Kerry Norton, R.N., program director at Hope on Haven Hill, gets a room ready for a new resident. The Rochester facility provides residential treatment and recovery support for women who are pregnant or postpartum. (Shawne K. Wickham/Sunday News)

Daisy Goodman is director of women's health services for Moms in Recovery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, which began as a pilot program five years ago. Before then, she said, it was "really a very chaotic and haphazard situation for women who had opioid use disorder and became pregnant."

The DHMC team integrated the care these women need, medication-assisted treatment, group and individual therapy, and mental health services, all offered in the same Lebanon location as prenatal appointments.

At the same time, the hospital's pediatrics team changed its approach to caring for newborns at risk for neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a complex of withdrawal symptoms caused by opioid exposure in the womb. 

For many women, impending motherhood is "a turning point," Goodman said. "The reason they're able to enter and sustain recovery now is because they're pregnant."

Dr. Julia Frew, the medical director for Moms in Recovery and an assistant professor at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine, said the work DHMC has done around supporting moms can - and should - be duplicated as community-based programs.

DHMC recently received a $2.7 million federal grant to train maternity care practices around the state in screening and treatment for pregnant women with opioid use disorders.

Integrating care for these women is key, Frew said, along with building trust. 

"It's helping people feel comfortable that the medical care system will help them and treat them well," she said. "People are really fearful."

Screening for SUD should be part of the routine care pregnant women receive, Frew said. "What we really want is for women to be in treatment, to have the best chance of being able to parent their baby safely," she said.

"So we want to combat this fear that 'If I tell anyone, my baby will be taken away,' and turn it around to: 'If I tell someone, I can get help, and I will be able to keep my baby,'" Frew said.

Catholic Medical Center in Manchester started its Roots for Recovery program in January 2017 in response to an increase in the number of babies born with NAS. Renee Maloney, a registered nurse who is the program's coordinator, said the maternity team realized they needed to reach women before they gave birth.

It's the state's only incentive-based recovery program for pregnant women. Women earn bracelet beads for participating in medical appointments, treatment and counseling sessions. And as they add beads, they earn rewards such as car seats, strollers and baby monitors.

To date, 41 moms have participated in Roots for Recovery; 15 women currently attend weekly sessions. And there's transportation and child care support if needed.

Two residents of Hope on Haven Hill in Rochester enjoy the warm spring afternoon on the outside patio on Friday. Both were excited about having their children visit for Mother's Day. (Shawne K. Wickham/Sunday News)

A 28-year-old mom who delivered a healthy baby girl at CMC on Thursday said she appreciates the non-judgmental care she's gotten in the program. "I don't think I'd be where I am today without this group," she said, stroking her sleeping baby's back.

Safe housing continues to be one of the greatest challenges to continued recovery for this population, experts agree. 

Some women are in abusive relationships, or have partners who are still drug users.

Hope on Haven Hill is planning to create a separate home for women who graduate from its program but need a safe and sober living space, Tanner said. "Recovery is where the hard work is," she said. "Because treatment is episodic, but recovery is a lifetime."

Tanner said she's struck by the resilience of these women, and their resolve to get better for the sake of their children. "The women just want to be great moms," she said. "That's all they want."

On Friday, some of the Hope moms were excited about having their children visit for the weekend. A 24-year-old mom from Manchester, who is working to regain custody of her two daughters, said it will be her best Mother's Day ever.

"I'll be sober," she smiled. "I'll be able to enjoy it finally. I'll be all there."

Beyond the Stigma is funded, in part, by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, NAMI-NH and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Shawne Wickham can be reached at swickham@unionleader.com or (603) 668-4321, ext. 331.


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