I write about addiction being a disease in order to counter the negative stigma that society holds for those who, through little fault of their own, were captured by opioid dependence. One of the most potent examples of this stigma is the attitude toward addicted mothers on the labor and delivery ward from doctors, nurses, and family members of an addict who is a new mother.
News stories, movies, and public service announcements have implanted images in our minds of babies in opioid withdrawal, suffering horribly because of their mothers’ bad habits.
I was a part of the world of obstetric suites, newborns, and labor epidurals during my ten years as an anesthesiologist. During that time I met many new babies, and I became pretty familiar with the experiences they endured in their first few hours in the hospital. I like babies—my wife has had a few who I’ve become quite fond of—and so I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic toward them. But the images that most people have of babies craving a ‘fix’ are not accurate—not by a long shot.
I have a number of patients under treatment for opioid dependence taking buprenorphine who have become pregnant, deliberately or accidentally, forcing the decision whether to continue on buprenorphine, taper off the medication, or even whether to terminate the pregnancy.
The decision is not made any easier by the large amount of misinformation people are subjected to, or by the shaming attitudes of some family members and even healthcare workers.
I produce a website called SuboxForum in order to provide accurate information and to allow people to ask questions in a non-judgmental setting. A member of the forum recently wrote that her doctor informed her that a baby born to a woman on buprenorphine would likely be severely deformed, and that she shouldn’t even think of pregnancy until she was off buprenorphine for several months. And I wonder—who would say such a thing?!