The words “I love you, mommy” are precious to any mother – especially when hearing them the first time.
But for the foster mother of a baby born with NAS (Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome) who have waited more than a year to hear them, they are infinitely more so.
Explains Steph Jansen*: “We are experienced foster parents, having had nine previous foster children already. Despite training, reading and watching videos, which left us thinking we were equipped for a special needs baby with NAS, nothing came close to preparing us for the reality of such a child.”
“We had to stand by and helplessly watch this tiny baby shake, convulse and scream for hours on end, trying to comfort her. All the time we were watching the clock to determine when we could give her the next dose of methadone to combat her withdrawal symptoms.” This little baby was born to a mother addicted to heroin.
Just over a year later she was joined by her sister, also born with NAS. Since they were born in different government hospitals, the treatment they received was not the same. The second baby received morphine which seemed to allow better pain management, according to Jansen.
“Having both babies in the home was more than difficult; apart from their NAS symptoms which meant they hardly slept, they cried incessantly and had a field day with tantrums that would put the best out there to shame.”
Feeling helpless comes with this territory, as she explains, and eventually it turned into feeling hopeless. Baby B showed signs of possible autism, yet numerous consultations and scans did not confirm this. A visit to an ENT specialist and subsequent grommets changed not only her behaviour, but also her speech development.
“We attended Trauma Competent Caregiver training which helped us better understand the ‘fear brain’ and the impact of the trauma these children have experienced before being born. This training helped us to assist the sisters move out of this trauma programming. Today we see two delightful little girls, beaming with love and contentment, fun-loving and playful.
“We still make mistakes, we do not have all the answers, but we have seen how persevering in love can bring life into a child’s hopeless circumstances – and we realise that our weaknesses show HIS grace and glory in and through our lives,” Jansen concludes.
Dina Bosch, CMR Area Supervisor of the Silverpark area, says they see NAS babies and also FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) babies – but the trend seems to be stable. “We are really fortunate that we have foster parents in our system who are prepared to deal with these babies. It takes a special parent to foster a special baby, but, we endeavour to support and train these parents on an ongoing basis. Only sustained efforts and love can lead to success.”