Synopsis: North Carolina is one of the worst states in the country for drug overdose deaths, and opioids represent roughly 70 percent of these cases. Synthetic opioids like the oft-lethal fentanyl have swept the market. Lisa Dalton and her unborn baby almost didn’t survive a fentanyl overdose.
Revived and relieved at Mary Benson House, a recovery facility in Asheville, North Carolina treating pregnant folk experiencing addiction, Lisa wants a fresh start with her future child. So does Ashley Ramey, who’s hoping her third stay at the facility with baby Billy will be her last. Ashley has a strained relationship with her mother, who also struggled with addiction. Perry maintains custody of Ashley’s oldest, Nathaniel. “She says he’s hers now,” Ashley recalls. Three distinct generations of Rameys are working on repairing old wounds.
Wounds like Ashley losing her dad to addiction as a kid and experiencing domestic abuse with her children’s father. Lisa lost her dad to the criminal justice system, and faced a childhood of foster care placements, where racism was rampant. Both want better lives for their children. But each is having trouble letting go of the past and their patterns. Ashley wants to pass the GED and become a court advocate. But she worries she won’t be able to handle the pressures of school and work while staying sober.
Lisa is anxious to meet her child. Once born, there’s a chance the baby will have to physically withdrawal from the Subutex she has been taking as part of her recovery regimen. At Mission Hospital, Lisa gives birth to Mavricc and she reflects on her hopes for their future together. Later, Mavricc starts to experience mild withdrawal symptoms.
Across the city, home nurse Joanna Christoph drives to one of her patient’s homes. The mother is fostering a Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome baby. “These babies are fussy,” Joanna explains, referring to the physical and emotional symptoms of withdrawal they experience. She weighs the kids, confirms their drug dosage with the caretaker, and addresses withdrawal symptoms. Babies exposed to substances during pregnancy are sometimes administered a regimen of decreasing doses of methadone.
At her mom’s house, in the backdrop of a bonfire, Ashley remembers a time before she got sober and how honed her focus was on using, she says, to the detriment of her children. She feels responsible for setting her family on a different path.
In the hospital, Lisa and Mavricc experience hard days of withdrawal, and Lisa questions whether a system that has removed previous children from her custody will see her growth and let her maintain custody of Mavricc. Ultimately, she is allowed to take him home.
Joanna continues to navigate a slew of patients with needs far greater than she alone can manage. Ashley, trying to juggle her newfound direction and her role as a mother, slips and uses marijuana. Lisa is incarcerated for a probation lapse, putting her sobriety, and Mavricc’s custody, in jeopardy.
This film was made with love and support of the healthcare community, recovery centers, and brave participants in recovery in Asheville, North Carolina. Our aim was to shed light on the racial hypocrisies surrounding addiction treatment, the demonization of mothers amid “good mother” stereotypes, and the chokepoints of a healthcare system struggling to manage overwhelm and burnout amid a soaring case count. Moreover, we sought to illuminate the roles of Adverse Childhood Experiences and generational traumas in shaping the ways individuals cope with adversity. We also aimed to highlight the potency of opiates, especially fentanyl, which we see as a scourge on our communities. Equitable, affordable, trauma-informed recovery care should be the standard by which all Americans are treated, especially during a pandemic which is stoking the flames of people’s addictions, and will likely lead to countless more.
Dominic Silva and SJ Wright completed this film as graduate students in Wake Forest University’s MFA program in Documentary Film. Silva has gone on to produce work for The Player’s Tribune in New York, a sports storytelling startup pioneered by Derek Jeter, and now serves as Senior Multimedia Producer for Athletes Unlimited. Here, he produces long form content and minidocs tackling the intersections of sport and social issues. Wright is a freelance filmmaker based in Chicago, IL who has worked with Kartemquin Films and Evoker Films. Their upcoming podcast “Shadow Selves” focuses on queer intimacy and trauma and was highly informed by the making of this film.