When I first met her she was scared and shaking. I could see the chill bumps covering her arms beneath an oversized t-shirt. Her eyes were fierce and filled with tears. She sat down and curled her knees to her chest, flinching in pain while making contact with the chair. She remembered how her life had changed just days before when she gave birth to her first child, her daughter. Blurting out words incoherently, she desperately tried to convince me of her love for her child while also ripping herself apart for the actions she took during her pregnancy. I did my best to convey as much kindness as I could with my eyes while I poured some hot tea and handed her a blanket. I knew she needed to settle down before the Department of Child Safety called. I broke the silence by asking about her little girl, at this her eyes started to show signs of life and light again. She smiled, remembering the child who lived inside her just days prior.
The phone rang. I put the call on speakerphone and listened to a conversation of brokenness that I have heard many times before from many different moms and dads, sitting and shaking in that same chair. We processed the phone call and made a plan that would allow her to see her baby twice a week. I knew this would not be enough, but I still tried to convince her that it would be. Her determination and fight was palpable, and I did my best to hold on to it as long as I could knowing it would likely be hidden behind depression within a week or two. She was taking medication to stop her milk supply and I encouraged her to take it easy and give her body time to rest. I thought about her daughter and how scared she must feel. My heart broke as I sat in the weight of her pain. My past experiences left me with very little hope for reunification, but I chose to hope despite.
Two weeks passed and her depression was thick. I walked in during her visitation to offer my support. I watched as her baby moved awkwardly in her arms. She kissed her daughter goodbye, came to my office, and started crying. She told me that her baby would be better off without her and she made plans to leave. She began to shake. I invited her to remember what brought her here so as to bring back the fight I saw so loud in her the first day we met. She told me she didn’t want her baby anymore. I knew she was lying, her body was telling the truth her words could not. I saw that truth. It was written in her trembles and was spoken through her tears. We drank tea together. I began to think about how likely it was that she would use again if she left. She had no stable home to return to; without stable housing it was doubtful that she would get her child back. Anger began to build inside of me. This is not okay, I thought. There has to be a better way.
It was then that I began to dream about a future different than this. A future where families can stay together and heal with authentic support and connection, where healthy attachments could be taught and nourished, and where basic life skills could be walked through together. A future where communities rise up and take care of the wounded and a space where the powerless find their voice; mother, father, and babies alike.
It was very unclear to me where I should start, so I began talking with everyone I came in contact with. I got my first big break during a conversation with my close friend, Beth. As it turns out, her sister in law, Kari, started a similar community in Reno called Step Two, and she just happened to be in town. I sat down with Kari and Beth and began to fumble through a haphazard vision of what I was trying to do. Kari listened deeply and began to gently guide our conversation towards a direction that made more sense. She shared about her own process starting Step Two and how at her facility moms and babies heal together rather than apart. My heart started beating with more hope. This is it, She’s putting my vision into words. Beth jumped in to validate my credibility by saying I’m “surprisingly competent”. I laughed, not sure whether to say thanks or be offended. We joked around and I now had some concrete ways to get started.
Many conversations later we formed a team of unlikely candidates. We came up with a name, Sage Home, that speaks to new beginnings. We struggled through a non profit number and started piecing together a website and a business plan. We practiced with grant writing and making mistakes. We excelled at the mistakes. We are “surprisingly competent” one might say. Our team is strong and supportive. They carry me through when I feel like this might not be possible. We keep moving forward and I am no longer alone in my passion to keep families together.
Our hope is that Sage Home would be a place where healthy attachments can grow and thrive. Science and research has consistently shown that when substance exposed newborns are separated from their mothers and placed in unfamiliar environments the attachment bond is greatly damaged. Stress is increased on baby and mother alike and the healing process slows down and can also reverse dramatically. Sage Home aims to support the pregnant and addicted mom through her prenatal care, through her labor and delivery, through her first year of bonding in a safe and trauma informed community, and through her aftercare plan that includes finding stable housing and work. To do this successfully we plan on working in close collaboration with the Department of Child Safety, probation, local housing authorities, mental health agencies, pediatricians and obstetricians, as well as other local nonprofits.
According to Dr. Dan Siegel, “As children develop, their brains "mirror" their parent's brain. In other words, the parent's own growth and development, or lack of those, impact the child's brain. As parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health as well.” It is not enough to just love the child. We need to love the family as well, and through that we love the child all the more.
Bessel Van der Kolk says, “Without imagination there is no hope, no chance to envision a better future, no place to go, and no goal to reach.” May we imagine a future where families can heal together with the support of a community that is not afraid to love courageously and show up for one another.
If you'd like to join us in this project you can check out our website. Thank you for taking the time to find out more about what we’re doing and continue to check back in with updates!