This was posted on May 9, 2016, on The Donaldson Adoption Institute website:

Mother’s Day evokes handmade cards from grade school kids to their moms, flowery cards to new moms, and loving cards for years of devotion to mothers from their adult children. For mothers who grapple with substance use the desire to do right by their children is complicated by the weight of addiction, which can tear families apart.

Making a documentary about a treatment program that helps mothers with substance use disorders keep their children is important to filmmaker, Sheila Ganz. In 1969, Ganz was an unwed mother. She became pregnant as the result of being raped. Her parents wanted her to go into a home for unwed mothers in Boston. Ganz didn’t want to go there. So she got a job, saved her money, bought a car and headed out for Los Angeles. She totaled her car just east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was pinned under the car with a fractured pelvis at five months pregnant. After being in the hospital, she went into a Booth Memorial Home for Unwed Mothers. Ganz was not given a choice and unwillingly relinquished her newborn daughter for adoption. “Losing my daughter felt like an amputation. I lived for the day when I would find her and tell her I love her.”

Ganz’ first documentary UNLOCKING THE HEART OF ADOPTION explores the lifelong process of adoption for adoptees, first/birthparents and adoptive parents in same race and transracial adoptions with illuminating historical background. www.unlockingtheheart.com.. Ganz found her daughter when she was nineteen. They have met, but don’t have a relationship right now. “There is always hope for the future.”

Ganz always wondered, “Why can’t there be homes to help mothers keep their children?” She searched for a program and was referred to the Center Point, Inc. Women and Children’s Residential Treatment Program in San Rafael, just over the Golden Gate Bridge from where she lives in San Francisco. She met with Dr. Sushma Taylor, President and CEO, and the two Vice Presidents, and told them her idea. They gave her permission to make the documentary.

The six month residential treatment program has 44 beds for the moms and kids up to the age of five. Ganz met with the women. They sat in a circle and shared experiences. She passed around a paper and asked for volunteers.

The documentary ON LIFE’S TERMS: MOTHERS IN RECOVERY follows five women with substance use disorders struggling to transform their lives and regain custody of their children in a gender responsive residential treatment program in San Rafael, California. Their intimate story reveals experiences with domestic violence, prostitution, incarceration and complex inter-generational relations. The film interweaves the women’s three year journey to recovery, self-sufficiency and pride with drug laws that impact mother and child.

Rachel, 22, escaped her abusive boyfriend with her two baby girls. Her father’s methamphetamine use got her started at age 13. Julia, 27, wants to be in recovery to make sure her son doesn’t end up in rehab. Lisa S, 41, from an alcoholic family served time for selling drugs. She petitioned the judge to give birth outside prison walls.

Leslie, 31, charged with online prostitution and drug use strives to regain custody of her daughter. “I think I let so many men put their hands on me, because something in the end was going to be exchanged. I always knew that I was going to get something at the end of this beating regardless if it was great make-up sex, or being paid. A lot of times I was so wrapped up in getting high that it just didn’t phase me, or when I would come down, it was like, oh I deserved it. I shouldn’t have popped off at the mouth. But I realize now that I’m here, I don’t have to do that any more.”

Lisa R, 38, relapsed and is determined to make it for her two daughters. “Being a parent is, I feel, one of the hardest jobs in the world and being a parent in recovery is ten thousand times harder. Because you’re going to be dealing with all the regular dynamics and then you’re also probably going to be dealing with a lot of wreckage issues.”

Casey, Lisa’s eight-year-old daughter lives with her grandmother. “I’m always sad when I have to leave my mother, because I love her so much. She’s as rare as a rose and delicate as my heart.”

Evidence-based treatment programs address underlying co-occurring disorders that can propel vulnerable women and girls to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, which can lead to addiction. The healing process begins in a safe environment away from distractions and stereotypical roles. Here the women learn recovery and parenting skills, and start on the road to self-sufficiency. The film traces the women’s challenges and choices leading to the strides they have made with the support and knowledge gained.

Many more families could benefit, yet today in America there are less 150 gender responsive residential treatment programs for substance using pregnant and postpartum mothers with young children.

The Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act currently before Congress includes funding to improve treatment programs for pregnant and postpartum women with substance use disorders. The House will vote in mid-May. http://www.addictionpolicy.org

It’s time to trade stigma and punitive drug laws with compassion and treatment programs for all women seeking help and resources to overcome substance use disorders and care for the children they love. Help the mother. Help the child.

ON LIFE’S TERMS: MOTHERS IN RECOVERY was recently nominated for a Regional Emmy. Check local public television listings or the film’s website for more information here.