Course aims to break cycle

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TORONTO -- A prenatal course for moms battling addiction aims to help kids before they're born and stop the generational cycle of substance abuse.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/04/2011 (4198 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

TORONTO — A prenatal course for moms battling addiction aims to help kids before they’re born and stop the generational cycle of substance abuse.

Most of the women wouldn’t feel at home in mainstream prenatal and parenting classes, said Nerina Chiodo, a pregnancy outreach worker with Breaking the Cycle in downtown Toronto.

“They’re aware they’re pregnant, and there’s lots of shaming,” said the woman who runs the prenatal relapse prevention group for expectant moms with substance abuse issues.

CHRISTOPHER PIKE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Pregnancy outreach worker Nerina Chiodo, left, with Margaret Leslie at Breaking the Cycle in Toronto.

Nearly 50 per cent are on welfare living in shelters. Seventy per cent didn’t make it past Grade 10. About 65 per cent say crack cocaine is their main addiction.

The women meet other expectant moms who understand what they’re going through and form healthy relationships they carry outside the group.

“They support each other,” said Chiodo, who’s been counselling women on the streets for years, learning as she goes. There’s no course that can prepare you for working with pregnant addicts, she said.

“You learn what works and what doesn’t work.”

Women often don’t report their alcohol consumption because their main addiction is drugs and because of the stigma attached to drinking during pregnancy.

Asking them when was the last time they “used” and what’s happening in their lives now is a better way to connect and help, said Chiodo.

“A big part of what I do is help the woman attach to her baby in pregnancy,” said Chiodo.

She asks them questions no one else does, like “Did you feel the baby today? Can I see the ultrasound pictures?”

“It’s very rare our moms were having no trauma or coming from happy homes,” she said. “They’re often in the sex trade and attach themselves to men who will use drugs and sell drugs,” said the worker. “Ninety per cent of the women I work with have some abusive partner.”

The women are often very attached to the partner because they don’t want to be alone, she said.

In downtown Toronto, a single person on social assistance receives just $525 a month to live. Chiodo helps women apply for the extra $40 a week dietary allowance available to pregnant women.

And she’s helped them get out of dangerous living situations.

“I’ve intervened to help her make a plan to be stable. If it’s not safe for her, it changes the conversation.”

If she’s had children apprehended by child welfare authorities, there’s a good chance her newborn will be taken away before she leaves the hospital, Chiodo said. The mom has to tell the authorities that she is getting help in advance of the birth.

“I empower the women to be their own advocate.”

A mom has to have been clean for six months or they will take her baby, said Chiodo. That’s why she’s keen to meet women early in their pregnancy.

It’s challenging but rewarding work, especially when she hears women in the program breaking the cycle, saying things like: “My parents were shooting heroin when I was little… Now I read to my kids. My parents never did that.”

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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