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Life beyond addiction: Organizations aid moms with substance use disorders

  • Hope on Haven Hill Director Courtney Tanner holds Ari Robbins Perkins’s son Haven, who is healthy and happy. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Ari Robbins Perkins kisses her four-month-old son, Haven, as he sleeps in her old room at Hope on Haven Hill in Rochester this past week. Robbins Perkins, 25, has struggled with addiction since she was 11 years old. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Robbins Perkins sits outside the Hope on Haven Hill residential treatment facility in Rochester on Wednesday with her four-month-old son, Haven. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Executive Director Courtney Tanner stands in one of the rooms at Hope on Haven Hill in Rochester, an inpatient facility where women can live while receiving treatment and counseling for substance use disorders.



Monitor staff
Saturday, October 21, 2017

Less than a year ago, Ari Robbins Perkins was in jail, pregnant with her third child and battling a years-long heroin addiction.

Then 24, Robbins Perkins was worried for her baby’s future. She didn’t have a job lined up or a place to live, and she knew how easy it would be for her to relapse.

“Like any mom, I just wanted to do what was best for my baby,” she remembered. “It was scary.”

Then, three weeks into her sentence for drug possession, Robbins Perkins was admitted to a new facility for pregnant women struggling with addiction, Hope on Haven Hill, in Rochester. She was one of the first women to be admitted there last December.

The inpatient substance misuse recovery facility has the capacity to house eight women who are either pregnant or newly postpartum, while offering comprehensive treatment and counseling for addiction. It’s located in a 1856 farmhouse where almost all patients – many of whom are homeless before they arrive – get to have their own room, access to a kitchen and food 24/7 and receive individualized care.

Some women in the program are recommended by doctors, are from other treatment facilities or have their cases managed directly from jail.

Hope on Haven Hill is one of the organizations sharing a $3 million anonymous donation to the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to help babies born to mothers with substance use disorders.

The organization will use its slice of the money to help women like Robbins Perkins.

“I got the ability to fix myself,” said Robbins Perkins, who has been sober for a year now. “I sat with myself for nine months, and I got to think about what I want for my life.”

More services are cropping up for expectant mothers with substance use disorders, a population that has long been stigmatized. But it’s still not enough, said Hope on Haven Hill Executive Director Courtney Tanner.

Nearly 470 New Hampshire babies were born exposed to drugs last year, compared with 367 in 2014, according to the state’s Division for Children, Youth and Families. Concord Hospital alone recorded 70 substance-exposed births in 2016.

A lasting recovery

Robbins Perkins, now 25, said she started drinking and smoking marijuana as early as 11 years old. Addiction ran in her family and she started using heroin around the age of 18, she said.

Over time, Robbins Perkins’s addiction caused her to steal, fracture relationships with friends and family and engage in prostitution. She would do anything to avoid the pain of withdrawal.

Eventually, her son, Noah, who is 6 years old now, was taken away from her and put up for adoption.

“As a mother, it’s heartbreaking for me, because it’s like, okay, I put all this effort into getting this substance, but I can’t do it for this innocent child that didn’t ask to be here,” she said.

For years, she was in and out of recovery and jail. In 2015, she had a second child, Aurora, and she thought she was clean for good. Then, she got into a toxic relationship and found herself back at rock bottom.

It wasn’t until last year, when she was transferred to Hope on Haven Hill through Stafford Country Drug Court, that her recovery began to stick.

She immersed herself in the services provided by Hope on Haven Hill – counseling, family therapy, parenting classes, childbirth education, life coaching, enrichment programs, yoga and acupuncture therapy.

During their time at Haven Hill, the eight women staying there become like family, Tanner said. Women can come in at any point in their pregnancy, and stay up to a year postpartum.

These women need that sense of community, Tanner said. Most have experienced domestic violence and dealt with mental health issues. Studies show that mothers who have experienced drug addiction are at greater risk for postpartum depression.

Most women in the program also require medically assisted treatment, like methadone or buprenorphine – two prescription drugs that reduce cravings from heroin and fentanyl and stave off the sickness of opioid withdrawal.

If drugs are in your system when you become pregnant, it can be dangerous to stop using them cold, Tanner said. But the drugs used to treat addiction are opioids themselves and are stigmatized, especially for pregnant women, Tanner said.

“We work hard to tell moms they’re doing a good thing,” Tanner said. “It’s like diabetes, you would never say to someone with insulin that it’s not good for them.”

Getting help

Addiction specialist at Concord Hospital Dr. Molly Rossignol said she hears one thing more than anything else from expectant mothers dealing with substance use disorders.

“A lot of it comes down to thoughts of, ‘People are going to talk about me, I’m going to be villainized, I’m a bad person,’ ” she said.

This is not only untrue, Rossignol said, but it’s dangerous – when a mom is afraid to get help, she puts herself and her baby at risk.

Another reason women can be afraid of coming forward is Division for Children, Youth and Families services involvement. State policy dictates that hospitals must report when they see moms who have been in contact with illicit substances – including medications like methadone and buprenorphine.

“You hear DCYF, and you think, ‘They’re going to take my child,’ but that’s not the purpose,” Rossignol said.

Babies exposed to opioids in the womb are at risk for developing neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Babies with NAS are essentially born in withdrawal – they suffer tremors, rashes, sleep deprivation and seizures, among other symptoms.

“It’s not something we want to see of course, but its something we can treat,” she said.

For a long time, morphine has been used to calm babies with NAS, but now physicians are finding that more natural treatments like skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding, music and aroma therapy can be just as effective.

Rossignol said long-term effects of opioid use while pregnant are still being researched.

“There is no evidence that there are longterm detrimental outcomes,” she said.

Moving forward

Wednesday was a busy day at Hope on Haven Hill, with volunteers playing with babies in the living room, and a group of women in a yoga class next to the playground in the backyard.

The halls of the historic home were warm and bright – art filled the hallways with messages like “great things take time to grow” and “hope.” One mom’s door was lined with signs made on multi-color construction paper welcoming her and her new baby home.

Robbins Perkins left the program three months ago, and is now living in transitional housing. She said it felt strange being back in her old room again.

There’s still the crib where Aurora, now 2, used to stay when she visited her mom at the house. The room is different now, though, with pictures of a new baby on the walls.

A woman who didn’t want to be identified is the room’s newest inhabitant.

The 29-year-old is from Concord and has completed two months at Haven Hill. She said it has been a necessary step in maintaining her sobriety.

“I grew up in chaos,” she said. “I wanted something different for my son.”

Robbins Perkins said she’s already accomplished so much in her time away from the facility. Right now, she’s working to get trained as a Certified Recovery Support Worker (CRSW), so she can help others struggling with addiction.

In January, she said she’ll be starting a dual degree program in behavioral science and human resources. She said she aims to get her Masters in midwifery and start up a facility like Hope on Haven Hill for teen mothers.

Robbins Higgins wants to change the conversation around drug addiction in the state.

“The statements of New Hampshire being a drug infested den, that’s not okay. There’s loving, caring people here who happen to have an addiction problem,” she said. “We’re not mean, we’re not drug-infested, we’re not scabs – we’re people and that’s what I want the world to see: We’re human beings that have a disease and we can recover.”

She said even though the stigma against moms with substance use disorders may never completely go away, she’s determined to keep fighting it.

“I know one day, my kids are going to say, ‘Look at all our mom did for us so that we could have the life we wanted,’ ” she said. “That’s all that matters to me.”

  (Leah Willingham can be  r eached at 369-3322, lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)

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The $3 million anonymous New Hampshire Charitable Foundation grant money is being distributed to organizations in the state committed to helping mothers with substance use disorders. Around $600,000 has already been allotted; the rest of the donation money will be disbursed in grants throughout a three-year period.

Hope on Haven Hill

Grant amount: $50,000

About: A residential care facility for eight pregnant and newly parenting women recovering from addiction in Rochester. Residents receive individual treatment plans medical care, recovery support, parenting instruction and other services for up to a year.

More information found at hopeonhavenhill.org/

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center

Grant amount: $194,000

About: A state and national leader in the work of perinatal addiction treatment in Lebanon serving patients and providers statewide.

More information found at dartmouth-hitchcock.org/

Memorial Hospital

Grant amount: $82,000

About: Home of the “A New Life” program North Conway. Begun in 2016, “A New Life” provides medication-assisted treatment and weekly group recovery supports during pregnancy and through a child’s first year.

More information found at mainehealth.org/memorial-hospital

Community Health Institute

Grant amount: $85,000

About: An organization responsible for assembling statewide and regional data to identify gaps and barriers to care for substance-involved pregnant and parenting women.

More information found at http://nhchi.org/

Partnership for a Drug Free NH

Grant amount: $95,000

About: A group pursuing a multiyear maternal health public information campaign designed to prevent substance misuse, including alcohol consumption, by women who are pregnant or who could become pregnant.

More information found at drugfreenh.org/

Families in Transition

Grant amount: $70,000

About: Families in Transition runs the Family Willows Substance Use Treatment Center in Manchester, which offers intensive outpatient care and seeks to reduce common barriers to SUD treatment faced by many pregnant and parenting mothers.

More information found at fitnh.org/

Concord Hospital

Grant amount: $50,000

About: An acute-care hospital in Concord. This grant will support a part-time social worker at Concord Hospital to help pregnant and newly parenting women and their babies.

More information found at concordhospital.org/

Cynthia Day Family Center at Keystone Hall

Grant amount: $3,000

About: A substance use residential treatment for pregnant, post-partum, and parenting women in recovery.\

More information found at keystonehall.org/cynthia-day-family-center/