DR. KLIE | Family & Addiction Medicine Physician
“When you decide to open your arms to someone struggling with a substance use disorder, you’ve already made the most critical step, even if they’re not ready to seek treatment.”
During my residency as a doctor, I loved spending time with expecting mothers, and at the same time, I became increasingly concerned about the opioid epidemic. This had me ask, “How did we get here?” and led me to my specialty of caring for pregnant women and mothers struggling with substance use disorder, who are in a really tough position. First, they need both prenatal care and treatment for a substance use disorder. Second, these individuals face a lot of stigma from society for experiencing a substance use disorder and pregnancy simultaneously.
There are a lot of misconceptions about pregnancy and substance use disorder. The first is “if a pregnant person loved the child, they would stop using” – but the ability to stop and care are completely different. Another misconception is “people who use substances can’t parent safely” – it’s possible for parents who use substances to parent responsibly and lovingly. Lastly, people assume someone who is pregnant needs to detox right away. In actuality, this can be very dangerous. Instead, we need to provide harm-reducing options that keep both mother and child safe.
Expecting mothers ask, “Is my baby going to be taken from me?” or “Did I hurt my baby?” These questions demonstrate mothers’ love, care and desire to parent. For me, these questions reinforce the fact that a substance use disorder does not make you a bad parent.
I’m in a fortunate position where I can offer mothers hope in a few ways. First, it’s not a guarantee that a substance use disorder will have long-term effects on a child. I can also offer treatment programs, resources and encouragement to people at a really important cross-road in their lives. And in return, they give me hope through their success stories and by witnessing their act as loving parents.
When you decide to open your arms to someone struggling with a substance use disorder, you’ve already made the most critical step, even if they’re not ready to seek treatment. You’ve left the door open to future dialogue and treatment.