The first time Molly DeGroh cared for a baby born addicted, she was angry.
“These babies will cry for hours and hours and hours,” said DeGroh, a neonatal intensive care nurse at Centegra Hospital – McHenry. “They shake and they can’t eat.”
Caring for those babies alone is praiseworthy, but DeGroh went a step further and channeled those feelings into something more. That’s what makes her an Everyday Hero.
Holding the babies shift after shift, DeGroh began to ask herself what else she could do to make things better.
She joined the McHenry County Substance Abuse Coalition, whose goals include reducing substance abuse in the county. There is a lot of emphasis in the community on prevention as a whole as well as treatment options, but DeGroh said she noticed a missing component: babies.
“I joined that group so that could be my focus – working collaboratively in the community, bringing back that information to my peers and co-workers so we could help address that gap,” she said.
The first step has been addiction stigma training, or learning how to address people with substance abuse problems and speak with them in a therapeutic, nonjudgmental way.
Making them feel like they can be open and honest with their past means their babies can be treated more effectively, DeGroh said. She supports prenatal screenings for opioids so that after the baby is born, mothers are prepared for what might happen next.
“It’s not punitive,” DeGroh said. “It’s ‘here’s what we can do to treat your baby better.’ We want to give them all the resources that we can so that they can be the best mothers to their babies.”
People often think that it’s simple – a pregnant woman with a substance abuse problem should just stop taking those substances to prevent her baby from being born addicted, DeGroh said.
And many women do, but it’s often through medication-assisted treatment, such as methadone, which also can be habit-forming for the baby.
“Even though that mom is doing everything right – getting in a treatment facility, getting medication-assisted treated – baby will still be born addicted,” she said.
Year after year, the number of babies born with addiction problems has increased, DeGroh said. It’s an uncomfortable conversation for people to have.
“When people are seeing babies in pain related to a mother’s addiction, there’s a lot of strong feelings, and rightfully so,” she said. “We can’t arrest the problem away. We need to help the moms who have the substance abuse issues.”
In addition to helping reduce the stigma among her colleagues, DeGroh also reaches out to schools to educate students on the subject.
It’s actions like those that led Brenda Napholz, who started a Crystal Lake teen center called The Break, to nominate DeGroh as an Everyday Hero.
“Saying something and doing something are two completely different things,” Napholz said. “But she makes a difference. I think that’s just who she is. I think that’s how she’s wired.”
Laurie Crain, drug-free program coordinator for the Substance Abuse Coalition, praised DeGroh’s work with the group over the past several years, as well as her work with Centegra.
“She just does it so gracefully,” Crain said. “She’s so generous and passionate about it, and she influences everyone around her.”