Welcome to our blog, Susannah’s Journal. This blog will be filled by several members of Susannah’s House staff and volunteers. My name is Rebekah Fetzer, and I am the executive director. I am also a pastor at Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Knoxville, TN. My passion is for the women and children of Susannah’s House. Let me tell you why.
In 2012, the opioid crisis was beginning to heat up in East Tennessee. Addiction to prescription pills led to statistics like: In Tennessee, 60 Hydrocodone are prescribed for every man, woman and child in Tennessee. What that means of course, is almost 400 million Hydrocodone pills were prescribed that year and every year after. Hydrocodone is only ONE of the opioid drugs prescribed for pain following surgery, accidents, dental work and so on. These statistics don’t begin to cover the number of these drugs sold on the street without a prescription.
Little Emma (I changed her name to protect her identity) was born in 2012 and my church friends were adopting her. She was placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital in Knoxville. When I went to see her, I was sickened to find out she was withdrawing from the morphine that her biological mother had taken during pregnancy. Babies withdraw much like adults do – with chills, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors and pain – lots of pain. The difference is, the babies don’t have a frame of reference for all this. Being brand new to the world, they just feel the symptoms with no understanding. I discovered the name of this horror was Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, and I saw how morphine was used to help the babies withdraw slowly. The hospital staff was overwhelmed, but trying to find their way in this new age of drug dependency in newborns.
As I visited with Emma and her adoptive mother, I discovered there were many babies in that nursery who were withdrawing and who had no one with them other than medical staff. A nurse explained that many of them had been removed from their parents’ custody due to drug use in the family and were not allowed to be with their mothers. I found out over 900 NAS births were being reported in Tennessee each year, and 60% of them were in East Tennessee.
Shortly after that, an article appeared about Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in the Knoxville News Sentinel, written by Karen Pershing, director of the Metro Drug Coalition. In it, she asked, “Why is no one losing sleep over this?” Well, I was, and soon discovered others were too!
In 2013, a group from Cokesbury United Methodist Church stepped out on a limb and made the decision to love mothers and babies who were caught in the web of addiction. First, we gathered all the information we could find and developed professional partnerships. We leased a building with a long Methodist history and began the journey of rehabbing both the building and women. We hired the best therapists, social workers, support staff and childcare workers we could find – all who have the same passion for this work. In 2014, Susannah’s House opened its doors to provide an Intensive Outpatient Program for women and their prenatally drug-exposed infants and children.
(Stay tuned for the next installment of Our Story…)