Families in Connecticut are giving the most vulnerable victims involved in the state’s opioid crisis a fresh start to a new life.
Across the country, one infant every 25 minutes is born with exposure to opioids. Adoptions from the Heart, an adoption agency in Glastonbury, said more than a third of the babies in their program are also affected. They’re helping potential parents in Connecticut give homes to these newborns.
Killingly couple Michaela and Gary Hubbard knew they wanted to start their family by adopting and when they met Lily they thought she would be the perfect addition. The little girl had been exposed to opioids during the pregnancy of her biological mother in addition to being at risk for HIV and Hepatitis C.
“We knew her medical issues up front and we were ok with that,” Michaela Hubbard said.
Robyn Sullivan, a school principal from Wethersfield, isn’t shying away from the health issues that her adopted daughter Haydon has.
“I want her to know her story,” Sullivan said.
Both the Hubbards and Sullivan chose an open adoption and both families were eager to open their lives to babies born exposed to opioids in spite of the challenges.
“Lily was in the NICU for two and a half weeks,” Michaela Hubbard said.
Lily’s birth mom’s drug use led to the girl being born 9 weeks premature at 3 pounds and 1 ounce.
“This is who Lily is. We’re very grateful and thankful,” Michaela Sullivan said.
Sullivan said people may think having a baby exposed to opioids is the “worst possible thing.”
“It’s really not that scary,” Sullivan said.
Both babies’ biological mothers suffered from addiction and each woman hand-picked the Hubbards and Sullivan.
“She did more than 13 bags of heroin a day through the six-month of pregnancy and that is when she confirmed her pregnancy,” Sullivan said.
Lily also faced a difficult road. Hubbard said her daughter has shown signs of withdrawal.
The withdrawal process for opioid-exposed babies is called neonatal abstinence syndrome. It typically begins right after birth and the symptoms include low birth weight, respiratory seizures and feeding troubles.
The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data finds the occurrence of neonatal abstinence syndrome has increased 383 percent.
Haydon was delivered in Virginia and hospitalized four and a half days.
“We just did round the clock skin-to-skin contact. I think based on her level of exposure they just expected her to be in the NICU, but it never happened,” Sullivan said.
Adoptive parents being open to taking in an infant exposed to opioids increases their chances of finding a child, Susan Myers with Adoptions from the Heart said.
“The process isn’t really that different from adopting any type of infant. Babies may have a range of different kinds of issues [and] opiate exposure is just one of them. We really want adoptive parents to feel comfortable, to feel prepared to meet the needs of any type of child,” Myers said.
Doing so can translate into long hours at the hospital when the babies are transitioning to life without the drugs.
“I would hold her for hours at a time, and we would do skin to skin while she was in the hospital. She is daddy’s little girl,” Gary Hubbard said.
But there could be health consequences for these children, and the thousands like them, later in life.
“We don’t have data on long-term outcomes because this is a new epidemic for us,” Dr. Courtney Townsel, a maternal-fetal medicine fellow at UCONN Health, said.
“Things like developmental-delay and things like learning issues later on-- we really don’t have enough information to give parents about that.”
Right now, the Hubbards and Sullivan say that risk doesn’t bother them.
“There’s learning differences. There’s attention deficit, there’s developmental differences that I was taking a gamble with. There were definitely withdrawal things, but the minute I heard about her case, I knew in my heart she was my daughter,” Sullivan said.
Doctors said keeping in constant contact with your pediatrician and day care providers and teachers will help flag potential issues in the future.