Gazette: Wisconsin mother struggles with addiction, raising child

JANESVILLE, Wis. (AP) — Nicole Shipler had two secrets.

She was four months pregnant.

And she had been addicted to heroin for three years.

By the time the Janesville woman knew she was carrying a child, it was too late.

Her baby would be born addicted to opioids.

The medical term is neonatal abstinence syndrome, a condition caused by babies being exposed to opioids in the womb, said Elizabeth Loconto, a pediatrician at Mercyhealth East Clinic.

It is diagnosed after birth when babies exhibit symptoms of opioid withdrawal, Loconto told the Janesville Gazette .

The symptoms are heartbreaking to watch. High-pitched screeching, tremors, tightened muscles and trouble eating are only a few, Loconto said.

Wisconsin had 542 babies diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome in 2017, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

For some mothers, becoming pregnant while addicted becomes motivation to get clean, officials say. Other mothers choose to let their children go into foster care as they struggle with addiction.

Shipler kept her addiction a secret from her boyfriend and family for years, but it couldn’t be a secret anymore.

She needed help.

Shipler didn’t know what to do. She was pregnant, addicted and none of her friends or family had been through this before.

Shipler’s addiction started after she took heroin with some friends, she said. She had already been struggling with alcoholism that stemmed from her divorce.

But doing heroin for fun quickly turned into a crippling addiction, Shipler said.

After calling around, her and her boyfriend found help at the Janesville Counseling Center, Shipler said. It was the only place they called with same-day availability.

Staff at the Janesville Counseling Center told her they would get her into a methadone clinic as soon as possible, she said.

Methadone is one of three medications used to help people with opioid addictions beat the disease.

In the meantime, Shipler said she couldn’t go into withdrawals because it could have harmed or killed the unborn baby.

“You don’t want to just stop the drugs cold turkey because the infant then can also go through withdrawal

in utero while the mom is going through withdrawal, which can have very bad side effects,” Loconto said.

The counseling center gave Shipler a plan to safely use heroin until she could get treatment, said Patty Lawrence, Shipler’s social worker from Rock County Human Services.

Shipler said she was told to use as little heroin as possible, have someone with her when she used and to only get drugs from people she had bought from before.

She continued using heroin for about a week until the Beloit Comprehensive Treatment Center had a spot for her in its methadone treatment program.

“It was kind of a blur that day,” Shipler said. “(There was) a lot of information, and the fear was really just so overwhelming. I just remember kind of being in a daze with everybody finding out. Now my secret’s out.”

Shipler gave birth to Madison on May 9, 2017, in Milwaukee.

Shipler lived briefly at the Meta House in Milwaukee, a residential drug treatment center for women, per recommendation of a social worker and the Rock County Drug Court program.

The baby girl was born two weeks early and weighed only 4 pounds, 11 ounces, Shipler said.

Madison stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit for about 10 days as nurses and doctors managed her withdrawal symptoms, Shipler said.

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