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Born addicted

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(Dave MacQueen/WCIV) (Dave MacQueen/WCIV)
(Dave MacQueen/WCIV) (Dave MacQueen/WCIV)

By Victoria Hansen
vhansen@abcnews4.com

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- The level two nursery at MUSC is unusually quiet as a North Carolina couple cuddles an infant, tightly swaddled in one of those all-too-familiar white blankets with blue and pink stripes.

This is where babies who are sick or too little get round-the-clock care from specially trained nurses until they're able to go home.

"He's definitely doing better than he was four or five days ago," said Elisabeth Watts. She's the young, out-of-state mother waiting to take the baby boy home.

"He started out breathing a little quickly and maybe (had) an elevated heart rate." said Bryan Watts. He's the dad-to-be.

"Sometimes he shakes and has some jitters. He's kind of tight, kind of keeps his arms curled up to his body," he said.

Baby Watts was born addicted to drugs. He's being adopted by Elisabeth and Bryan, who say his birth mother used heroin for part of her pregnancy.

"He is experiencing some withdrawal symptoms from the drug that his birth mother was using while she was in rehab," said Bryan Watts.

The infant is one of many born addicted to drugs every day. In fact, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a baby is born addicted to drugs about once an hour.

"It's very sad, very sad. It's hard to understand," said MUSC nurse Jacqueline Jacobus. She's worked in the nursery for nearly 20 years.

Jacobus says she remembers the babies born addicted to crack in the 1990s. But now there are more drugs, everything from heroin, to meth, to prescription painkillers, to methadone - a drug mothers are given in rehab.

"It's given to the women to wean them from the drugs and the babies are just so addicted," said Jacobus. "That's the toughest one to get the babies off. Sometimes they're here for months."

Nurse Stephanie Churchill has worked in the same nursery as Jacobus for years.

"The biggest thing is they're hypertonic, which means they're very tight, jittery," said Churchill. "They cry and they need to be held a lot."

Foster mom Carrie Williams says it's a cry she'll never forget.

"It's a living nightmare," she said.

Williams can't have children of her own and can't afford private adoption, so she became a foster parent in hopes of adopting. She has seen the devastating effects of drugs on newborns.

"You do what you can. You hold the baby, your rock the baby and nothing helps," she said.

Williams once brought home a baby still addicted to meth. She had to give the child morphine every three hours, to wean him from the meth.

"It was constant chaos," she said.

It was chaos for three long months, but chaos she was willing to endure, she says, because the Department of Social Services told her no one was capable of caring for the child and she would be the first to adopt. But once the child was weaned, she says a family member came forward.

"Yeah, heartbreak is the easy way to describe it," she said.

She urges pregnant women addicted to drugs to get help.

"If you're addicted to drugs you're going to have this withdrawal period, but why should you do that to a child?" she asked.

Back at MUSC, the Watts wait to take their new baby home. He's recovering better than most, nurses believe because his mother was given an alternative to methadone in rehab.

"We're some lucky parents. We're just so excited. We can't wait to get him home and spoil him," Elisabeth Watts said.

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