The Fix: Women and Babies in Crisis

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A 24-year-old woman addicted to heroin-- locked up, scared and nine months pregnant. Her family desperate to hold onto to her second baby who could be born addicted to drugs.

Miranda Sevene isn't alone. The number of women in the U.S. giving birth while addicted to opioids more than quadrupled between 1999 and 2014. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Vermont has the highest rate, with nearly 49 cases of opioid use disorder for every 1,000 babies born.

The Vermont Department of Health disputes that report, claiming about 28 cases for every 1,000 births, which is down from 2015.

Still, both numbers put Vermont far above the national trend, and this public health issue puts a huge burden on the state's welfare system.

The number of children under 3 in the care of the Vermont Department for Children and Families, another family member or a foster family has increased every year since 2012.

"They have an incredibly difficult job. I think if you talk to any practitioner in the family court system, they feel overwhelmed right now," said T.J. Donovan, D-Vt. Attorney General. "It's a system that's definitely overworked and it's an incredibly taxing system because DCF is certainly looking out for the best interests of everybody."

Our Celine McArthur digs deeper into Miranda's personal story-- unfolding right now-- to find out how she got here and what the state is doing to keep other women from following her lead. It's an investigation you'll only see on WCAX News.

THE FIX: WOMEN AND BABIES IN CRISIS

Amy Rawling, 42, is all smiles while serving up breakfast at the Bellows Falls Diner in Windham County.

"I just love people," she laughed. "I love having a job where I can work, and I can talk and listen, it's the best."

Amy is a single mother of four, and today, her 22-year-old daughter, Kyla, stops in with her baby, Sam, to say hello.

In this moment, you wouldn't know this family is in crisis over Kyla's big sister, Miranda.

"My daughter is a heroin addict. My daughter was a heroin dealer," Amy said. "She's in jail, nine months pregnant ready to have a baby. Alone. In a strange place... without us... without her family."

Miranda is in federal custody at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington.

"I try not to cry, that's all I do because I messed up," Miranda said.

In late 2017, police arrested Miranda for dealing heroin.

In early 2018, she pleaded guilty and was released on the condition that she complete a drug treatment program. She got pregnant soon after and stayed sober for seven months with help of the maintenance drug suboxone before relapsing.

"I ended up using drugs the weekend before I went to court," she said. "They gave me another chance and I went to rehab and then I got to go home and then I messed up and I'm back here."

On Christmas Day 2018, at nearly nine months pregnant, she did heroin.

Reporter Celine McArthur: What went through your mind... that day, knowing that you were nine months pregnant?
Miranda Sevene: I don't know. There's no excuse for doing that at all. It's just my escape to when I get stressed out and overloaded.

This is going to be Miranda's second baby born addicted to drugs. Three years ago, she had Braeleigh Mae.

"She ended up detoxing, so they had to rush her over to Dartmouth and put her in the NICU. And they weaned her down on morphine over like a month and a half. And I got to take her home after," Miranda said.

She was using drugs, so her sister Kyla stepped in and ultimately adopted Braeleigh.

"It was hard. It was hard to support both of them was hard. Support my daughter who's giving up her daughter for the best, to her other one to support her. It was very tough," Amy said.

Miranda says it's hard to watch her daughter call Kyla "Mommy," but she appreciates the value of this lifeline.

"Thank you for taking care of my child for me because I couldn't and being the mom that I couldn't," Miranda said.

The future of Miranda's second child is unclear. Will DCF and the courts grant her one more chance? Miranda thinks her mom will get custody. Mom isn't so sure.

"I'm supposed to take the baby home, and how do I tell my daughter that that might not be happening?" Amy said. "That's what breaks my heart."

This story is still evolving and WCAX News will be there every step of the way to shed light on the process. It's a story you can follow on the air, on our website and the WCAX app. Have questions or feedback? Email Celine at mcarthur@wcax.com or comment on this story on our Facebook page.