Valley clinic to care for infants suffering from prenatal drug exposure

Valley clinic to help babies exposed to drugs
Posted at 4:48 AM, May 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-31 10:53:13-04

A new drug rehab facility is in the works for newborns in the Valley as nurses say they're treating babies for drug exposure at an alarming rate. 

Tara Sundem is the co-founder of Hushabye Nursery, a home-like clinic she is launching to better care for infants suffering from prenatal drug exposure. In the Valley, there’s been a 235-percent increase in cases between 2008 and 2013. Sundem, a nurse herself, has seen the sobering reality of the opioid epidemic first-hand. 

"It’s non-stop, all the time, 24/7, we send one home -- another comes in," Sundem said.

Infants recover in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for a few weeks but Sundem says the day-to-day operations in a hospital, the comings and goings of doctors, and the noise is sensory overload for a baby going through withdrawal and methadone treatment. 

"It's heart-wrenching. They tremor, like tremor-tremor, like you've never seen. They arch their backs. High pitched cries that you'll never forget.”

Sundem is working to change that and make the recovery process easier for children and their parents. Hushabye Nursery will provide the quiet, dimly lit, non-stimulating environment the babies need. They aim to start with 12 cribs, 24 staff members and provide clinical experience for nursing students. 

“We want to take away the stigma for parents and not make them feel worse than they already do,” Sundem said. “People think they’re just druggie moms but it’s everybody -- mothers, daughters, babysitters.” 

Carissa Denny is sober now and has a healthy daughter but the last year and a half has been a struggle for both of them to recover. Denny was addicted to heroin during her pregnancy and says no matter how badly she wanted to stop, she just couldn’t. Her daughter Laiana’s birth and watching her struggle in the NICU was the moment that straightened her out. 

"That was the most shameful experience that I'll ever, ever go through," Denny said. 

She didn’t learn until four months later that the stimuli of the hospital and then home life were stressful to her baby. 

“No exaggeration, she cried for four months straight,” Denny said, who adds that compassion, support and resources are what saved both their lives. She credits the programs through the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence in Phoenix for helping her get and stay sober. She says Hushabye Nursery will fill a critical gap in care for mothers and their children and will hopefully help more women turn their lives around.

Hushabye Nursery has gained state support -- now they need a facility, help with fundraising and donations of baby furniture. You can learn more on their website

Pregnant women with addictions who need help with housing, case management and health services should contact NCADD’s 24-hour help-line – 1-866-836-8078.