Everyday Struggles, Everyday Strengths: report from Young Women United

Capturing the voices of women living though pregnancy and addiction


I blogged earlier this year about an organization in New Mexico called Young Women United (see the post: Young Women United: Campaign to Increase Access to Care and Treatment for Pregnant Women with Addictions, February 18, 2014).

The organization has released a new report called “Everyday Struggles, Everyday Strengths: Capturing the voices of women living though pregnancy and addiction.

Some of the key findings from their work with women include:

1. Most women described intense feelings of fear as guiding their decisions.

  • They were fearful their kids would not be healthy and that they would be at fault.
  • They were scared of being reported to child welfare authorities and losing custody of their baby as well as other children.
  • While some women disclosed their substance use and others hid their substance use, almost all women were scared to talk about their substance use due to risk to their families.

2. The majority of women reported judgement and discrimination while trying to access prenatal care.

  • Some women reported that their health care providers allowed their own opinions on addiction to impact the care they provided, regardless of whether those decisions were sound or legal.
  • Many women said they were not treated respectfully or kindly.
  • Several women reported being threatened with inaccurate information (e.g., “You know they’re going to take those kids away from you?”)

3. Women reported not being able to access the care and support they needed.

  • It was difficult to access prenatal care that incorporated addiction treatment or addiction treatment that considered pregnancy.
  • For many families, treatment was only affordable when facing criminal charges.
  • For women who are mothers, residential treatment was usually inaccessible because they could not take their children with them and/or they did not have a safe place for their children to stay in their absence.

This report seems especially timely given the announcement a couple of weeks ago when the governor of Tennessee announced a new law to authorize the arrest and incarceration of women who use drugs while pregnant. (See the coverage in the Huffington Post here and the Washington Post coverage here).

While the Tennessee bill is the first state to actually criminalize drug use among pregnant women, other states have been prosecuting pregnant women under different kinds of laws for years. The criminalization and prosecution of pregnant women who use alcohol and drugs has been critiqued by hundreds of health and other organizations as poor public policy and has not been shown to lead to positive outcomes.

For more on this issue, see earlier posts: