LATROBE, Pennsylvania – Every half-hour a baby is born in the US already addicted to drugs because the baby's mother is hooked on opioids. Hospital workers like neo-natal therapist Steven Brown see it every day.
"They are often very, very inconsolable is probably the best way to describe it," Brown said.
It can take around two weeks to wean these tiny victims off the drug. Then hospitals discharge the babies, even though they still feel the after-effects.
Most of the time, the babies still go home with their mothers, provided she promises to stay clean.
Helping Both Baby and New Mom Recover From Addiction
New moms who are withdrawing from drugs while taking care of a difficult baby also withdrawing too often buckle under the stress and fall into a dangerous relapse.
That's why Christian counselor Dawn Hennessey started Angel Arms, a ministry helping both moms and babies recovering from addiction.
"I believe unless the people of faith stand up, the opioid crisis is going to continue to overtake us," Hennessey said. "I believe that God has called the people, His kingdom people, to save the lost, the broken, the orphans the widows," she continued.
Volunteer "Snugglers" Focus on Tiny Victims
At Angel Arms, volunteer "snugglers" focus on the little victims.
"We love them. We do pray for them. Sometimes they need to be held really tight when they're shaky, belly aches, coughing, spitting up a lot," said volunteer Carolyn Harr.
With some medical training and help from above, the volunteers can help with the extreme agitation suffered by the babies.
Another snuggler, Tim Sobota, was holding a newborn baby boy.
"Well, today, when his stomach was giving him a hard time, I was just whispering the name of Jesus in his ear. And yeah, I do pray over them while I'm holding them. The name of Jesus is powerful," Sobota told CBN News.
Giving Struggling New Moms a Break
Snugglers also give mothers a break so other volunteers can focus on her.
"We want to bring across the message that there is hope," Hennessey said. "But in order to have hope for individuals, you need to show compassion and love. And we believe a lot of what we do is founded on the blood of Jesus because He gives us that hope."
Kathy Shively's addiction began as many do: trying to ease the pain.
"I have three dental implants," Shively explained. "So the pain from the dental implants caused me to be prescribed lots of pain medications. So opiates became an addiction."
Shively brings little Connor to Angel Arms because the snugglers soothe him in a way no one else can.
"It's overwhelming for a family to watch an NAS baby," Shively said. "Because there are times when he's just so fussy and there's nothing they can do. I've had to leave jobs and come home."
Main Goal of Angel Arms: Promote Recovery and Stability
In addition to providing child care, Angel Arms provides free baby supplies, helps recovering mothers find housing, and pursues anything that will promote stability for mother and infant.
Another recovering mother, Courtney Rager, said she felt trapped by her heroin addiction.
"That's a really good description of it. You just feel trapped. And you can't get out until you have someone come along your side and help you," she said.
In order for her child to receive care at Angel Arms, the new mom must also get regular, Christian counseling here.
Hennessey said, "I tell my staff, you need to see them through the eyes of Jesus as broken people that need love. So we've actually experienced whole families coming to know Jesus just because of a little baby."
"When I come here it brings me encouragement," Rager said. "If I need to cry, they hear my cry. If I need to know what the next step is, they guide me in the next step."
Opioid Epidemic Means the Need for Ministries Like Angel Arms is Growing
Angel Arms never charges a fee because outside donors help fund the ministry.
"We just rely on what God gives us and so far it's worked," Hennessey said with a laugh.
As the ministry grows, so does the need.
"We have police officers calling us, we have drug court here in Pennsylvania, so we have judges calling us, attorneys, social workers. We have people from West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, calling us," Hennessey said.
Fortunately, other faith groups are calling as well.
However, Hennessey has a cautionary word for churches who offer help.
"I do tell churches before we work with them, 'Are you ready for the 'least of these' to come into your congregation? And are you ready to put your arms around them and love them?'"
Hennessey has plans to expand the ministry because she knows help is needed beyond regular working hours.
Recently, a large home was donated to Angel Arms. Once it's renovated, it will be used as a residential home, where women and babies can stay for weeks at a time.
So while the opioid epidemic rages on, ministries like Angel Arms work to break the generational curse of addiction one recovering baby and mom at a time.