‘The Baby Endured 50 Days of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome’

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

This reader witnessed up close and personal a pregnancy filled with major drug abuse and instability:

I met Megan when she was 25. She was a seven-year heroin addict, who’d been sober at most three months at a time, and a meth user. What I saw as her extreme fragility at the time I later learned was borderline personality disorder. I set about trying to get her clean.

Three stormy weeks later, she self-tested pregnant. It was 6:30am. I had considered what I’d do, but I went to my kitchen to ponder a final time. She displayed the maturity of a 12 year old. As befits a BPD sufferer, she alternated between tenderness and love and self-pity and jealousy. Her parents were Beverly Hills, evening-time alcoholics. I knew the future biological father to be an inward, violent, socially maladjusted 21 year old from a family of gallons-per-day alcoholics centered around a cult film director patriarch. Megan alternatively called the conception a product of date rape and rough sex.

I knew all this. Of all people, objectively speaking, Megan is among the last you’d want to see as a parent. But given her fragility, saying I wouldn’t support her decision brought with it every risk that she’d miscarry in a Texaco bathroom with a meth pipe in her hand. It was a moral decision, on the spot, in a kitchen at sunrise. I walked back to the bed and said I’d stay with her and co-parent. From that point on, my job was to keep the baby alive.

It wasn’t easy. She rehabbed and relapsed in month two, rehabbed again. At four months, she ran out to pick up drugs, leaving her Facebook messages open. Seeing what she was doing, I locked her out, and when she broke in through a window, I sat her on my couch and set aside the façade. I told her she should abort. She shook her head. Over the months, others tried to convince her, but she refused to abandon what amounted to a dreamy vision of motherhood.

During her pregnancy, I had to be with her at nearly all times. She’d chase me down the street if I left to get groceries. After rehabbing again in month seven, she went on to carry to term on a subutex prescription. The baby endured 50 days of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, and to all appearances became just another lovely baby boy.

I could end the story there, as a success, but Megan relapsed twice more. Finally, in the face of financial ruin, anxiety attacks, the loss of friends, and the estrangement of my family, I gave up. The baby was seven months old at the time. Megan’s parents have been granted guardianship, but being 59 and 80 years old, they’re exploring adoption. As a non-relation who, in the parents’ view, failed to either convince Megan to abort or to make our relationship work, I won’t be allowed to adopt the baby boy I gave everything to see born, and for whom I cared for seven months.