You may think you are sober because you are off of street drugs but if you are taking any prescription drugs while pregnant, you may still be harming yourself and the baby.
One day, while doing one of my medical school rotations at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, NJ, where, incidentally, I gave birth to my three children, the hospital was abuzz with the news that the amazing Whitney Houston was having her baby on the top floor in the VIP suite.
I must confess that I, being a lowly medical student in 1993, did not get to lay my eyes on the famous singer, but I did feel a common bond with her. We were the same age, and I had a baby in this same hospital less than two years before her.
What I feel now is deep sadness for her and, especially, for her 18-year-old daughter, whom she had while I was just a few floors below her. Whitney’s death is just so senseless, so painfully early. She was a mother who left her child an orphan, and being a mother was so important to her, as it is for most every woman.
We dream of being a mother while still little girls; we play with dolls, we cradle them in our arms, we dress them and we pretend to feed them. We grow up dreaming of one day carrying little ones under our hearts, and nursing them at our breasts.
But what happens if we make mistakes along the way? What if a woman gets addicted to drugs or alcohol while she is young and foolish? Can she still have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby? I get asked these questions very often from concerned women who either want to get pregnant or are already pregnant and want to know the consequences of their mistakes.
We all know that our actions must bear consequences, but our children should not be the ones bearing the brunt of them. So we must be careful how to treat our bodies prior to getting pregnant and, certainly, even more so once we are expecting. Most women start taking prenatal vitamins months before getting pregnant, so how much more important would it be to start taking care of your body by getting off whatever drugs you are on way before you conceive? Did you know that drugs are not only harmful to you, but are readily transferred though the placenta and will harm an unborn fetus, even before your know you may be pregnant?
For instance: Benzodiazepines like Valium, Xanax and Ativan have been shown to lead to lip and palate malformation such as split lip.
Alcohol consumption leads to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Pain pills, heroin, methadone and Suboxone, if not tapered during pregnancy, will leave the baby addicted at birth.
Cocaine use can lead to insufficient blood supply to the baby and death of the fetus in the womb. If you quit before you are pregnant, none of these will be a concern. You will not have to worry about telling anything to the obstetrician or midwife, and you will not have to worry about what they may suspect. There are things you should know about pregnancy and drug testing.
There are no uniform laws throughout the states and most physicians do not know the ins and outs of those laws. There are laws that obligate a health provider to notify authorities whenever there is a suspicion of neglect or potential of abuse. You may be able to refuse a drug test for yourself, but if any of the staff has any suspicion, they still have a right to test your newborn.
Your baby’s meconium (first stool) can show your drug use as early as the 20th week of pregnancy, and it will show practically every illicit drug you have put into your body.
If you have not been truthful and cooperative with your healthcare team, many states grant them lots of leeway in what they can do with this newly obtained information. No state wants to separate children from their parents, but if you are not showing them that you are on the side of your own good and your baby’s best interest, they do have the power to do things that you may not want!
So, what is the best course of action?
First, get clean before you get pregnant, or as soon as you think that you are. I know this is hard, but trust me, this is not the first hard thing you will be doing for your child, nor the last.
If you are unable to, or find out too late into pregnancy that you are expecting, get prenatal care as soon as possible. Talk to your obstetrician or midwife, and start off with being honest and totally cooperative. Come up with a plan of action that will get you clean and sober as quickly as possible, so that when the baby is born, both of you are healthy and ready for meaningful bonding.
We want to see our children grow up unencumbered with our problems. To give them the best chance of a healthy life, we must be at our best, ourselves. Some of us, like Whitney Houston, seemingly have it all – beauty, talent and wealth – yet we are unable to give our children what we owe them, which is a healthy, happy, clean and sober version of ourselves. If we can commit to give them that, we have a chance to be there for them when they get married, and to babysit their children and their children’s children, as well. Is it not what we owe them? Not to leave them orphaned at 18 with only a song that says that we will always love them.