Finding the silver lining: A story of a mother’s recovery
Mother and baby
Ashley’s* story is common. Of the nearly five million adults in Tennessee, an estimated 221,000 (or 4.56 percent) have used pain relievers, also known as prescription opioids, in the past year for non-medical purposes. Approximately 69,000 are addicted and require treatment. Programs like Silver Linings and MOMS offered by the Helen Ross McNabb Center are reaching out to specific groups of people to provide individualized treatment and support that will help them achieve sobriety and a life of recovery. There are thousands across our state who are affected by substance abuse disorders. Ashley’s is just one story, one of many.

Several years ago, Ashley was prescribed pain relievers by her doctor for medical reasons, which, unfortunately, escalated to her daily use of non-prescribed pills. In an effort to stop abusing pain relievers, she started to take non-prescribed Suboxone. Suboxone is used to prevent withdrawal symptoms in someone who has stopped taking narcotics. She continued to take Suboxone until she became pregnant. At age 25 and 20 weeks pregnant, Ashley was referred to the Helen Ross McNabb Center’s Silver Linings program. Silver Linings is an intensive outpatient program which consists of three therapeutic groups that meet four times per week. It is specifically designed for women who have given birth to a child that has been diagnosed with NAS (Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome) or are at risk of giving birth to a child with NAS due to prenatal opioid use. This program is located at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and is able to address some of the unique issues facing chemically dependent women, including prenatal care, childcare issues, parenting concerns, history of trauma (e.g., domestic violence or sexual abuse), co-dependency and other relationship issues.

Ashley was hesitant to come to treatment but wanted to have a healthy pregnancy. Her motivation for treatment was solely for the benefit of her unborn child. Initially, she did not see the side effects of her non-prescribed use of Suboxone, other than the negative effects on her child. When Ashley started the Silver Linings program, she showed significant symptoms of anxiety and voiced concerns about entering a therapy group, though she attended faithfully. She appeared to soak in the information and was referred to a local substance abuse treatment center where she was prescribed Subutex. Subutex is a medication containing Buprenorphine which is frequently prescribed to pregnant women to help treat opioid dependence. This medication does not harm the mother or the baby.
During the course of treatment, her anxiety declined and her true personality began to shine. She brought new life, laughter, and support to her peers in the group. She was able to discuss how she was applying new coping skills in real life situations at home and at work.

Also, she enrolled in the MOMS program and completed all six parenting sessions during treatment. MOMS equips mothers with the tools to thrive. The program goal is to increase the availability of residential services for pregnant and postpartum women who are currently facing drug and/or alcohol addiction. The program is specifically tailored to each mother. MOMS creates a safe and welcoming space where each mom can be open and honest regarding current challenges, enabling staff to provide the most appropriate level of care. 

Soon after, Ashley moved into aftercare approximately three months after coming to the Silver Linings program. During aftercare, she began couples counseling in the MOMS program due to a history of conflict with her significant other. Approximately one month after entering aftercare, she gave birth to her son who was diagnosed with NAS and sent to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital for care. The baby’s symptoms were mild, and his length of stay was shorter than the average NAS case. Because Ashley successfully completed treatment, she was able to begin a new life with her baby boy and family. Ashley has utilized skills she learned in Silver Linings and MOMS to cope with her son being diagnosed with NAS and placed in the neo-intensive care unit at the hospital. Ashley actively parents her two children and wants her entire family to be as healthy as possible. She is now ready to wean off of Subutex and to be completely free from abusing non-prescribed medication. During her journey to recovery, her motivation has broadened. While seeking help for her children, she also found life and hope for herself.

*Name changed for privacy reasons