Parents share struggle of newborn's recovery from addiction

Parents share struggle of newborn's recovery from mother's drug use

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By LORI TUCKER
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - After Jessie Tucker of Knoxville gave birth to her daughter, Cheyenne Joines, she had to go home without her new baby.

Cheyenne was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. The baby was in withdrawal from the methadone her mother took during her pregnancy.

Carla Saunders, a neonatal nurse practitioner at Children's Hospital, remembers when Cheyenne was admitted. She was a far different baby than the one she is today.

"She is now calm and relaxed, beginning to be social, as opposed to when she was just writhing in pain," said Saunders.

Cheyenne's mother got on methadone to help wean her off pain pills, before getting pregnant with Cheyenne.

Doctors say methadone can cause withdrawal symptoms in more than half of babies exposed in the womb.

Tucker wanted to share her story in order to help other women going through a similar situation.

"It's been rough," Tucker said. "Cause you know, I feel like it was my fault and so you go back and forth with that. It's just a hard thing to go through, I think."

It's been rough on the baby's father, too, going back to the day Cheyenne was born. Cheyenne is Chad Joines' first child. He said going home without her was heartbreaking.

"It hits you all at once," Chad said, shaking his head. "Whenever we went home the first night, we didn't get to bring her home. We both sat there and cried 'cause I mean it was sad."

Even though methadone is considered a form of treatment, it is still an opiate, with some exposure effects lasting as long as four to six months. Seizures are also a big concern in babies born to methadone users.

It's rare to have a baby like Cheyenne go home to an intact family. But at Children's Hospital, that's always the goal.

"Our social work department works very diligently with our moms and families to help find them resources and to help put things in place for them, safety nets and safeguards for when they go home. We don't say goodbye and toss them out," explains Saunders, who is considered tops in the field of treatment protocols for NAS babies.

Just because Cheyenne is ready to go home doesn't mean life will be easy. Babies like her are often irritable and sensitive to over-stimulation in a new environment.

Tucker, who has two other daughters, says she is ready and hoping for a better life for her children.

"I was going to go to school, to college, but I didn't," Tucker said. "Took a different path. Went to work, then had my babies."

Joines said Tucker's drug use made him angry, but he realized he needed to be there for her, Cheyenne and Tucker's other children.

As he puts it, "It's not about us anymore. It's about the baby."

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