“She gave me my life”: A patient story
Dolores is a 35 year old first time mother with a healthy, bright-eyed, and curious 9 month old daughter. Dolores is one of the patients in our Camden Delivers program, which provides support and care coordination to women of reproductive age in Camden. If you didn’t know her story, you would never guess that just under a year ago, Dolores was battling a 15 year addiction to heroin and had just found out that she was five months pregnant.
“My story actually begins when my mother died,” says Dolores. “My mom was a drug addict, and she didn’t know her limit. She didn’t know when to stop. When my mom passed away, I just felt like there was nothing left, that I didn’t have anybody. My mother was my best friend. So I just— that’s when I started using drugs hard.”
She found a man who she says “sold me a lot of dreams. I moved into a house with him and because of my addiction, he brought me drugs every day, and would lock the door and it was literally like he kept me captive. But I was happy, because he brought me my drugs. For eight years I lived like that.”
Eventually Dolores was able to leave her abusive boyfriend. She moved in with David, a man she met in Camden, and became pregnant three weeks later. But because of years of unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant, she couldn’t believe she had finally succeeded, and continued to get high even as her belly grew.
After going to the hospital with severe bronchitis, Dolores finally learned that she was five months pregnant. She was referred to the Addiction Medicine program at Cooper Hospital’s Urban Health Institute (UHI), where she was prescribed Suboxone to treat her addiction. It was there that she connected with Sierra Williams, a community health worker for our Camden Delivers program.
It was hard, though, for Dolores to successfully treat her substance use disorder while her partner was still actively using heroin.
So Dolores took a courageous step.
She left David and moved into transitional housing, paid for by the Coalition, until he was able to stop using. “That was one of the best things I could have done for both of us,” she says.
“It took me about a month, maybe a month and a half, to stop getting high,” she continues. “Addiction’s hard, and just because you have a baby in your belly doesn’t mean you can just stop. But you guys at the Camden Coalition and Dr. [Kaitlan] Baston [at UHI], they never judged.”
“Our intervention is based on the individual person and their needs,” says Sierra. “If they’re not ready to quit, they’re not ready; we just need to make sure they know their options. The system is quick to punish someone rather than help them. Dolores, like most of our patients, has had a lot of trauma— there’s a reason she was using.”
Sierra and her colleagues at the Coalition helped Dolores get connected to the services that would meet her social and medical needs, including an endocrinologist and primary care provider to manage a previously unmanaged thyroid condition. They reminded her to go to her prenatal appointments and to take her medication. But, says Dolores, “the most important thing that they’ve done is give me that courage. They were always there to talk to me and tell me I could be a good mom.”
Now, 11 months sober, no one could deny that Dolores is a good mom. “She’s one of the most protective moms I’ve ever met,” says Sierra. “She goes above and beyond, never leaves her baby’s side. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
When asked what her favorite thing about having a daughter is, Dolores is startled. “Everything!” She laughs. “I guess it’s when she’s at that moment of falling asleep and her eyes are getting heavy and she’s still got that little smile on her face, that half asleep smile? And I kiss her eyelids. My lips fit perfectly in her eyes, right there, and I just love that.”
Dolores says her greatest hope for her daughter is that she doesn’t ever use drugs. She worries there’s a greater chance her daughter will struggle with substance abuse because her mother, father, and grandmother all have histories of addiction. But she also knows the best tools she has to protect her daughter are honesty and love. “She’s gonna know about how, as much as I gave her life, she gave me mine.”
Camden Delivers is supported by funding from Merck, through Merck for Mothers, the company’s 10-year, $500 million initiative to help create a world where no woman dies giving life. Merck for Mothers is known as MSD for Mothers outside the United States and Canada.