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:


Young Women United: Campaign to Increase Access to Care and Treatment for Pregnant Women with Addictions


Young Women United is a community organizing project by and for young women of color in New Mexico.

Some of the areas they work to address include:

  • Defending Reproductive Rights
  • Improving the access young people have to quality reproductive health care
  • De-stigmatizing young families and building policies towards educational equality for pregnant and parenting teens
  • Improving prenatal care and treatment for substance using pregnant women and building ways to decriminalize their families
  • Improving women of color’s access to a wide range of birth options while promoting birth and parenting justice

In 2013, Young Women United organized alongside 30 women who had previously been pregnant and substance using at the same time. Now, the group has started an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to develop a short video documentary to educate the public and impact public policy. The group has already met their goal of raising $2000; the campaign closes tonight.

From the Indiegogo website:

Women who are substance using and pregnant at the same time face a criminal (in) justice system that only serves to shame and stigmatize addiction.  Mothers who use are often judged and told they must love their drugs more than their kids or that if they really loved their kids they would simply stop using.  We want to make a short video to highlight the powerful stories of strength and resiliency of our communities and shed light on the lived realities of people who struggle with addiction every day. By challenging exi[s]ting narratives around parenting and addiction, we hope to demonstrate the need for increased access to prenatal care and treatment for women who are pregnant and substance using.

The public education campaign draws from the first-hand experiences of women who have been pregnant and using substances at the same time. The goal is to “change the landscape of the way people think of addiction and parenting.”

The new campaign will be launched on Mother’s Day 2014 and aims to “change the landscape of the way people think of addiction and parenting.”

Visit Young Women United’s website here; for the latest information on the group’s organizing, check out their facebook page.