'Baby Girl' – the story of a Substance Exposed Newborn [Commentary]

The Aegis

The following has been provided to The Aegis by the Harford County Health Department in conjunction with the countywide observance of Shine a Light for Recovery Month during September. Editor.

I had a niece named Megan. She lived a very short, yet wonderfully exquisite life. She affected me in ways that are unimaginable and took me on a roller coaster of emotions.

I felt the depths of despair knowing after her diagnosis that she would live such a short life, and I felt the heights of gratitude that she came into my life in the first place. She was beautiful, elegant, and stoic all by the tender age of 18 months old.

It was at that age that she developed pneumonia and entered Mount Washington Children’s Hospital. Megan’s life touched me beyond words. Her complete story is something I hold close and share with few. However, her story led me to meet another little miracle baby, who, like Megan, affected my very being.

When Megan entered Mount Washington she had a roommate, whom I can only call “Baby Girl.” I didn’t know her name, I only knew that she lay there alone, with a cry that I would not soon forget. It was a haunting, screeching shrill that was in complete contrast to Megan’s weak and subtle gurgles.

I never saw anyone visit Baby Girl — no mom, no dad, no grandparent. So Baby Girl’s visitors became my sister and me, and we did the best we could all the while knowing Megan was reaching the end of her life.

Then Megan was discharged and we had to bid farewell to Baby Girl. Regrettably, I’ll never know what happened to her. Luckily, I’ll always have the memory of sweet Megan, who passed a few weeks later. I’m forever grateful for the unique connection between Megan, Baby Girl, and me.

Here we are twenty years later. And now we have terminology to describe Baby Girl. She was a Substance Exposed Newborn, a fancy name for pure pain and suffering.

It’s these life experiences that make us who we are. I abruptly changed my career and educational paths, those many years ago, and now try very hard to contribute in some small way to the lives of children.

Carrying gratitude in my heart for having met Baby Girl, I have most recently been involved in the Harford County task force that focuses on Substance Exposed Newborns. That important project led to the development of a new Harford County Health Department program that focuses on pregnant women with substance use disorders.

The Health Department has an amazing peer recovery specialist who uses her lived addiction experience to work hard every day with OB/GYN practices, treatment centers and other county agencies to connect pregnant women with the community resources they need in order to help prevent the occurrence of substance exposed newborns. It is a daunting project, but a project well worth the effort.

My experiences also taught me never to sit in judgment of any woman who finds herself captured by this cruel disease of addiction. In fact, it’s quite the opposite for those of us in the public health field. We have compassion, empathy, and helpful hearts.

The following poem is dedicated to women struggling with addiction and to those who have found the courage to find recovery. I also dedicate this poem to a special group of Harford County Health Department peer recovery specialists who work tirelessly every day to help others because they know all too well the struggles of addiction. They remind me every day that Recovery is Possible.

Cheers to Megan, who forever lives in my heart, and to Baby Girl, wherever she may be.


When you hear the treasured sound,

Of a newborn baby’s cry.

As a mom you do not settle,

Until you find out why.

Is she hungry, is she sleepy?

Does she want to be held close?

You search to find the answer,

This is how it goes.

You have this perfect little child,

You hold her in your arms.

You would lay your life down for her,

To protect her from all harm.

Have you ever heard the treasured sound,

Or was something not quite right?

Was the cry instead a screeching shrill,

Was she clinging on too tight?

You don’t need unkind judgment,

Or a criticizing tone.

No one seems to understand

And you feel so all alone.

It’s never the intention,

To cause an infant such a plight.

A disease surrounded and attacked,

Addiction then took flight.

Now somehow you are fighting,

A substance use disorder.

If you’re lucky you will realize,

That it takes just one supporter.

Helping to recover,

Is what we offer here.

What better source of expertise,

Than one very special Peer.

You tell us when you’re ready,

Not the other way around,

Our support is never-ending,

Until sobriety is found.

Then perhaps someday you’ll hear the sound,

Of a cry sweet and sublime.

So proud you turned your life around,

One day at a time.

Marcy Austin is Deputy Health Officer for Harford County.

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