My name is Roxanne Ambrose and I’ve been in recovery now for more than 100 days, but I have struggled with addiction for over 22 years.
I was pregnant in 2009 and hid my addiction from my doctors; they had no clue that I was using meth or that my child was going to be born addicted. I wasn’t sure what the outcome was going to be of using while pregnant. I didn’t tell the doctors about using because I was scared to lose my children.
This April, Young Women United, a community organizing and policy project in Albuquerque, New Mexico, brought together 12 powerful women who have used
substances while pregnant, including myself. Collectively, we created art and media to show the struggle of addiction and the strength of mothers who are living through it.
We met for five weeks, and through collaboration with three New Mexico artists, our pieces will be featured on Albuquerque buses, beginning Mother’s Day weekend and throughout the month of May. Through this process, we built connections between resilient women who came together through our stories and experiences.
Before coming to this project I was isolated and felt like an outcast. Knowing that I was not the only person who has gone through pregnancy while struggling with addiction gave me strength. Being able to tell my truth was part of my healing and part of my recovery.
Being an addict for 22 years, I have learned from my trials and tribulations. The knowledge I carry is part of who I am. What makes our project powerful is our shared expertise about mothering and addiction—together our insight is valuable, both to those still struggling and those who’ve never known what it means to be an addict.
No one would choose this. Every day I have to wake up and look in the mirror and know that I am an addict; being an addict and pregnant is unimaginable.
My addiction comes from not belonging. I was adopted when I was three. My birth parents were Navajo and Mexican, and I was adopted by a white father and half Native mother. Even though I never fit in, my adopted parents loved me and tried to support me in the best ways they knew how.
At the age of 14, I was offered my first hit of crank. I was off and running—speed was my best friend. After years of being bullied and teased, I didn’t have to fit in anymore. I didn’t care what anyone else thought of me.
The stigma put on addiction and addicts has been very painful for me. For much of my life, I have felt like society judged women like me, throwing us away as if our lives didn’t hold any value. Despite our struggles, we eat, breathe, and bleed like everybody else. We are human.
I’ve been homeless on three different occasions, I’ve had my children taken from me twice, I’ve been treated like I was worthless and a burden to society. Because of my lived experiences I know how damaging the stigma directed at mothers who are addicted can be. Many mothers spend their pregnancy worrying about the health of their baby, and mamas struggling with addiction are no different. We also want to get care, but the judgment many hold against us is terrifying and keeps women from getting the help they need.
Today, there are women out there who find themselves in this same situation and don’t know who to talk to or where to turn. Often women skip prenatal care altogether, or go to appointments and lie to their health-care providers. As a community, it is our responsibility to make sure all mothers have access to the care they need without being judged or punished. In New Mexico and across the country, we need to figure out how to work hand in hand—doctors, therapists, law enforcement, and families. Together we can focus on the health and safety of our children.
I was blessed that my babies were born beautiful and strong, and are growing up healthy even though I was pregnant and using. Everybody deserves a fighting chance. While my life has been hard, I wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world, because without them I wouldn’t have had my kids. Moving from the shame I’ve carried, I tell my story now because I want what I’ve learned to be part of making things better for others.
The guilt I’ve carried over the years gets heaviest when I look at my daughters. It’s the love I have for my children that gets me up every morning; they are who I am fighting for. Even now I have to figure out next steps, because the battle never stops. Every day I look in the mirror it’s another day I’m sober, another day for a new beginning.