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When it comes to the nation's opioid epidemic, pregnant women are especially vulnerable. They need prenatal care in addition to having a place to live, find support and treat their addiction disorder.
In New Hampshire, that place is a residential treatment center called Hope on Haven Hill. The facility — a home from the 1850s — can accommodate eight women and their babies. There’s a spacious, light-filled kitchen where women sit around a large country table and share meals. They also share chores like cooking and cleaning.
Downstairs, there's an infirmary of sorts — two small rooms for administering medications, storing medical records and drawing drug screens. Bedrooms are spacious and have toys, rocking chairs, cribs and bassinets.
The women meet regularly with social workers and therapists; and they gather together to discuss issues related to addiction, parenting and recovery.
For some of the women, Hope on Haven Hill is the first safe space they've had to live, says Kerry Norton, executive director and co-founder. Some of the women have come to Haven Hill after living outdoors in tents, or on the ground.
"We're taking in women who are homeless and imminently homeless. And a lot of them are [homeless] generationally," Norton says. "So I've had more than two or three women say they've never had beds in their lives."
Norton says the women learn to be honest if they are relapsing, and that they ask for help.
"We give women support with so much dignity that even when things are not going well they know they can reach out for help, and so many do," she says.
Addiction must be treated like any other disease women might have — not as something to be ashamed of, she says.
Hope on Haven Hill was born out of frustration, Norton says.
She tried to help a young pregnant woman named Abi Lizotte find a safe place to live. Norton and others eventually succeeded, but the experience prompted Norton to send out a plaintive Facebook post jokingly asking whether anyone knew Ellen DeGeneres or Oprah — in other words, someone wealthy or famous enough to make faster progress.
"When I woke up, I had a lot of people responding, including my co-founder Colleen. She doesn't know Oprah or Ellen and she wasn't rich herself, but she had a house that was just the perfect fit for what we wanted to do," she says.
That home became Hope on Haven Hill. Lizotte, the inspiration for the house, thrived there. Her baby was born and she became an activist. She lobbied lawmakers to help people with substance abuse disorder.
But then tragedy struck: Lizotte died of an overdose.
Lizotte's death devastated staff and fellow residents at Haven Hill. But it also inspired them to create a transitional home for women who are ready to leave the facility, but are not ready to live independently.
The new facility is called Abi's Place.
Lauren Phillips lives there now. She gave birth to her son Rory 18 months ago. Since then, she’s faced struggles: Her toddler had to live with a friend while she was in a 28-day program to get sober.
From there, she transitioned into Hope on Haven Hill. There have been ups and downs — Rory ended up briefly in foster care — but with the support of the women at the facility, she's rallied and is now sober.
Sitting on a rocking chair beside energetic Rory, Phillips says she hopes her story will help other women and give them hope.
"My drug of choice is heroin and cocaine," she says, adding that though she began using at 16, she doesn't blame her family, which included an involved dad, a brother and a sister.
Phillips, who’s in her early 30s, first started using drugs when a boyfriend offered her oxycontin when she was 16, she says.
"I ended up stealing from my family, stealing from my father's business, I sold drugs and had two sales charges,” she says. “Once I got into using, that was just number one."
Phillips eventually ended up in prison and got pregnant as soon as she was released. She was able to stay sober until shortly after Rory was born, but then she relapsed.
"I realized then that my love for him was not as strong as addiction,” she says. “And like, I needed that. This disease is stronger than anything."
She says she ended up at Haven Hill "by the grace of God."
During her last relapse while at Haven Hill, Phillips says the women at the residence continued to believe in her — even when she had given up on herself.
"I needed to get myself better before I could be there for him,” she says, her eyes welling up with tears. "I knew that I wanted him to be happy and have a good life and I loved him so much but I still didn't think I would be in that equation."
That's when she found out she could live at Abi's Place, and eventually, she was reunited with Rory there.
"He's just perfect," she says, looking at the red-cheeked toddler playing with blocks beside her. "I get this feeling looking at him and knowing how perfect he is, but I also know that my disease is stronger than that. I have to rely on God, I have to rely on the women in the program who have walked this journey before me."
This segment aired on February 11, 2020.
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