6 Ways to Care for Drug-Exposed Child
In adoption, drug exposure is common. It sounds incredibly scary and overwhelming to be open to situations that involve drug use. You’ll hear of all the risks and possible long-term effects. You’ll think about all the health risks. You’ll think about how that child may be more likely to develop unhealthy habits or addictions as they age. You’ll feel like you’re not equipped to deal with these challenges.
I wasn’t really open to drug exposure. I wanted a perfectly healthy child. (Isn’t that every parents’ wish?) I wanted the easiest road to parenting because after infertility, hadn’t we already been through enough? At some point during our home study, we began filling out paperwork for the attorneys that we planned to get listed with. We had to decide what types of situations we were open to. One day I just had an epiphany. I strongly felt (aside from my fear) that we should be open to any situation. I felt that God would choose the perfect child for us and if we were to narrow our willingness to be shown to certain situations, I would be, once again, trying to control the situation. So, I took a leap and just let go of all control. We decided we’d be open to any race, any exposure, and situation. Thank goodness we did. It was the greatest decision I have ever made.
My oldest daughter (now 2.5) was born in May 2016. We didn’t know she existed until the day after she was born. We knew very little about the situation when we left for a 10-hour drive to get to her. But we knew she wasn’t healthy and had been exposed to various drugs during her entire life in utero. She was having a lot of withdrawal symptoms as a result. The next few days were a blur as we made our way to her, fell deeply in love, and all the emotions were in overdrive. We were overwhelmed as we talked to multiple doctors and nurses a day. She was on high levels of oxygen, unable to breath on her own. She had tremors, her face was swollen, had severe diarrhea, she had a considerable amount of fluid in her lungs, and was on several different medications. When we arrived, our daughter was 2.5 days old. They told us we would be in the NICU for two months. That was hard news to process being that we were 10 hours from home, left without any notice, and both had full-time jobs. But we figured it out.
We left that NICU with our sweet, perfect, healthy baby girl after only 23 days. A much shorter stay than anticipated blew the doctors away and our little girl was a mini hospital celebrity. We were so proud.
Here are 5 things we believe helped healed our daughter during her first few months of life after drug exposure.
- Skin-to-skin. It has been proven time and time and time again that skin-to-skin contact with infants heals them, changes their brain, and creates an inseparable bond. My husband and I did skin-to-skin with our daughter for no less than 18 hours a day while she was in the NICU. We’d take turns while the other worked on our laptops from a hospital bed. We’d take turns going to grab lunch in the cafeteria or go for a quick run outside. She was always so happy, so content, being on our chests. Aside from the hard circumstances, these were some of my favorite days I’ve ever lived. We had nothing else to do but love and feel our little girl.
- Breastmilk. I know this isn’t always a possibility but we feel it’s something that helped heal our daughter quickly. As soon as we arrived at the hospital, we demanded donor breastmilk instead of formula. We had to pay for it and it wasn’t cheap. We bought a month worth of donor milk and started her on it right away. The benefits of breastmilk are no secret. The contents of breastmilk are magical and so healing for our little ones. I truly believe this had a huge impact on her ability to heal.
- Tell stories and read. The day after we arrived at the hospital one of the first things I did while my husband had skin-to-skin duty was to run out and find the nearest book store. I found a Barnes & Noble and bought about 10 books to bring back to the hospital. It was so fun for me to pick those out and even more fun to read them to her. We must have read each of those books a hundred times while holding her on our chests. Once we had them all memorized we’d tell her stories about our family or how we met or about her furry siblings that were waiting to meet her once she got home. It was beautifully healing and happy for all of us.
- Chiropractic. We believe very much in the healing power of chiropractic. However, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get a chiropractor while in a NICU. Chiropractic is an alternative medical approach and sometimes not recognized by hospitals. As soon as our daughter was released from the NICU, we took her to get her first adjustment. For her first 3 months of life, she was adjusted twice per week. Now our entire family gets weekly adjustments.
- Affirmations. Our words have incredible healing power. Our brains and bodies reflect our words. During those hard, dark NICU days we’d repeat affirmations over and over again. Of course, she’d sleep right through but we knew she heard us. We’d say things that “You are strong. You are worthy. You are valuable. You are so loved. You are powerful. Your body wants to heal. You are so special.” It was sound a little “woo woo” but I believe wholeheartedly that affirmations work to rewire our brains and care for our bodies.
- Gentle massage. While in the NICU we would give her gentle massage throughout the day. Especially after feedings and baths. Infant massage is a powerful source of healing that obviously feels good to them but also helps flush out their little system and increase blood flow. Even at a few days old, we could see how much she enjoyed massage and it would completely relax her. We used a little coconut oil. Our daughter is now 2.5 years old and we still do massage every single night after bath time and it’s one of the only times she sits still!
I have lived through the fears and doubts that come with adoption. I was so afraid of drug exposure mostly because it was a world I was so far removed from. But here’s what I know for certain: LOVE heals a lot of things. A safe, quiet environment heals a lot of things. Since the day we arrived in the NICU we saw our very sick girl completely defy all medical odds. She is now 2.5 years old and the healthiest, happiest, most joyful child. We’ve never seen any ill effects or issues from the drug exposure. She is the greatest joy in our lives. She lights this world up like it has never seen. I’m so thankful we were open to drug exposure. It changed our lives.
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