I recently traveled to Huntington, WV on assignment for the PBS NewsHour to document newborn babies who are born addicted to opioids, and the struggle their mothers, or adoptive mothers, face.
Although I wish I had much longer, I only had a few days to spend tagging along with a reporter. Here are some of my favorite images from that short time:
Amy is pregnant with her fourth child, but this will be the first one she is allowed to raise, if she is able to stay off heroin. She ran away from home, and from her allegedly abusive stepfather, when she was 15. She met her boyfriend, a drug dealer, when she was 16. He pimped her out and forced her to work as a stripper, even after she gave birth to three of his children. Those children were taken from her adopted by Amy’s grandparents.
Her grandparents had just bought an RV and had planned to hit the road, traveling to wherever they wanted. Their kids are grown, their grandkids are grown. But that dream ended, and they are starting over as parents of three rambunctious children.
One out of every four babies born at the Huntington Cabell hospital have some sort of narcotic in their system at birth. Fortunately, when many women discover they are pregnant, they begin taking buprenorphines to wean them off opioids or heroin. Unfortunately, buprenorphines are in the babies’ systems at birth. They immediately go into withdrawal, screaming in pain. The Huntington Cabell hospital tests the mothers and the babies, and immediately jumps into action. A CPS case is immediately opened and parents have to undergo training in order to maintain custody of their child. There is a special wing designed just for these babies, with dim lighting, nurses and doctors trained in treating babies going through withdrawal, volunteers who cuddle the babies, and plenty of special formula since they aren’t allowed to breastfeed.