Sun, Sep 04, 2011 - Page 13 News List

Mom’s off heroin

Discovering a charity for women affected by sex work enabled Marie to give up heroin and turn her life around for the sake of her baby daughter

By Rhiannon Howells  /  The Guardian, London

A recovering addict holds up wrists that show scars from injecting heroin.

Photo: Bloomberg

Marie Franklin will never forget the day her daughter was born. “I was 10 days late, fat, fed up,” she recalls. “I went to the hospital three times before they let me stay. I was excited and scared. Then my waters broke, and an hour and a half later I had a baby girl. The moment I held her in my arms was amazing, but weird — I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God!’ But it was ... lovely.”

It’s an ordinary yet wonderful story of mother-child bonding, but what happened next is neither ordinary nor wonderful. After leaving hospital, Marie and her partner Steve took baby Chloe back to their house in Bristol, England. But rather than sitting down to a cup of tea, the new mum had what she’d denied herself, yet craved, throughout her pregnancy — not a glass of wine or a cigarette, but a hit of heroin.

A year later Chloe was taken into care.

For many mothers like Marie — vulnerable young women with a history of low self-esteem, sex work and drug addiction — that could have been the end of the story. But she is one of the lucky ones. In July last year, after five months apart, she was reunited with her daughter at Naomi House in Bristol, one of only four addiction treatment centers in the country that cater for mothers and babies, and the only one for women who’ve escaped sex work.

Marie, 23, doesn’t offer any comfortable excuses for how she ended up in such a dark place. Growing up in a three-bedroom house in Leicester, England, with two older brothers, she was a loved child. “My dad left when I was one, but my mum did the best she could. She always put us first.”

It was at school, rather than at home, that Marie had problems. The bullying started in primary school, but got worse when she started secondary school. “It went on every day, in and out of school, physical and verbal.”

When she was 15, the family moved to Bristol. It was a fresh start, and she was eager to make the most of it. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to be bullied here.’ And maybe I tried too hard and mixed in with the wrong people.”

One of those people was Jenny. At a loose end in a new city, Marie went to the pub with one of her brothers and got chatting to Jenny, who was six years her senior. She was flattered that this pretty, older woman was interested in her, and they started spending time together. “I looked up to her,” she says. “It felt nice to have a friend.”

About a month after they met, Marie was at Jenny’s house when her friend started smoking heroin in front of her. “I asked what it was and if I could have some, so she gave me a bit,” she recalls. “Then I had some more; then I was sick. I didn’t really feel anything — I just fell asleep, and when I woke up the next day, it was late in the afternoon.”

THE HIGH LIFE

Despite this underwhelming first experience, Marie was soon getting high every day. To begin with, she shared Jenny’s heroin, but after three weeks her friend started to get annoyed. That’s when she told Marie how she paid for the drugs: by sleeping with men for money. She set up appointments with clients at their houses, once or twice a week, and there were no pimps involved.

Even now, Marie refuses to claim any sense of victimhood. “I wouldn’t say it was Jenny who got me into it; I’ve got my own mind,” she says. “I didn’t really think much of it. It wasn’t nice, obviously, but it was worth it to get the money for the drugs. The first time was scary, but the money made it better.”

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