- Associated Press - Sunday, June 26, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Maryha Kelly isn’t shy about her past. Born into a fractured family where drug abuse was prevalent, she started using at 17 years old - and struggled to get clean during her first two pregnancies.

“Every time I’ve had a child, I was out using, and I would call my mom up and say, ‘I’m pregnant and homeless,’” Kelly said.

Now 31, Kelly has three children - a son who’s 2-and-a-half years old, and two daughters, 4 and 10. Her daughters live elsewhere, but she’s raising her son, Maison, at home. She’s able to do that because of the MOMS program, which helps pregnant women get off drugs and alcohol so they can have healthy births.

MOMS stands for Maternal Outreach Management Services. It launched in 2011, and helps women throughout South Carolina - as well as some from bordering areas. It’s nearing its 200th healthy baby, according to counselor Cynthia Franklin.

Across the state, South Carolina is seeing an upswing in inpatient deliveries for mothers who have used alcohol or drugs during pregnancy. That’s according to data from the South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office spanning from 2009 to 2015. During the same period, the state has had a consistent increase of newborns diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome - but Richland and Lexington counties have had a decrease.

MOMS is run by the Lexington/Richland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council. Folks at LRADAC say the program is part of the reason Richland and Lexington counties are bucking the statewide trend.

Substance abuse can harm children in the womb in numerous ways. Alcohol use can cause a group of conditions called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, with problems including learning disabilities, speech and language delays, and issues with the heart, kidneys or bones, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Opiates, such as oxycodone and heroin, can cause neonatal abstinence syndrome. These substances can pass through a woman’s placenta, making a baby dependent on the drugs, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Problems can include birth defects, developmental issues and sudden infant death syndrome.

Kelly said she grew up around drug abuse and didn’t want her children to suffer what she did.

“I went from being a child to a drug addict,” Kelly said. “There was no real in-between for me.”

But strong as it was, that desire to protect her kids couldn’t keep her off drugs. She relapsed after each of her first two pregnancies.

“My children can’t keep me clean,” Kelly said. “I tried to get clean for my 10-year-old daughter, and as much as I wanted to, she just wasn’t enough - because it wasn’t her I was running from. It was me.”

She had to realize staying away from drugs and alcohol was for herself, not for her children, Kelly said.

Helping women such as Kelly means showing them how to make a lifestyle change, Franklin said. She spotted Kelly after the expectant mother checked herself into detox and ushered her into the MOMS program.

“I call myself a bounty hunter,” Franklin said. “I’m a pregnant woman bounty hunter.”

The counselor scours the state looking for women in need of help - bouncing around to areas including Florence, Charleston, Greenville, and sometimes beyond.

After helping women get into treatment programs, Franklin stays in touch with many of them.

“One of the hardest things is to see a mother that has returned to drug and alcohol use,” Franklin said.

For women such as Kelly, the journey they begin with MOMS continues long after a successful birth. As Kelly raises her son, she’s proud of the life she’s building - including holding a steady job at Goodwill and having an apartment and a new car.

“I’m so proud of the fact that I’m clean today,” Kelly said.

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Information from: The State, https://www.thestate.com

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