CHARLESTON, W.Va. - In a rising number of cases, a mother's addiction gives rise to a newborn infant's screams.
One of 13 babies in Cabell Huntington Hospital now is born addicted to drugs, according to Dr. David Chaffin, director of the perinatal center.
Mary Calhoun Brown coddles those inconsolable infants who cry at any light - at any sound. Drug withdrawal consumes their new existence.
"You hold and handle them differently from a normal child," she said.
For three years, Brown has worked at Cabell Huntington Hospital, where as a "cuddler" she tries to offer a sense of comfort to the drug-exposed babies.
When Cabell Huntington began the cuddling program, Brown decided to do something selfless.
"When I went through training, I thought I don't know if I'll be able to do this," she said. "The first time I held one of the drug-exposed babies, something inside of me opened up. This is what I'm supposed to be doing with my free time.
"Some people play golf or tennis or get their nails done. I knew at that minute this was what I should be doing," Brown said.
Her passion fed into Lily's Place, a pediatric addiction recovery center, which she and a handful of others hope to open by late summer or early fall.
Lily isn't one particular baby; she represents all the babies born addicted to drugs through no fault of their own.
"There's a scripture verse saying don't worry about anything because God will take care of you," said Brown, secretary for the Board of Directors for Lily's Place.
"It talks about the lilies of the field. God looks after them so don't worry. The scripture is about protection of things that can't really protect themselves.
"That's how we feel about the babies. If God is taking care of the lilies of the field, he's also looking out for the babies. They didn't ask for drug exposure or to be in horrible pain. It's a constant reminder for us that what we're doing is almost like a mission."
The short verse found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke is motivating the team to open Lily's Place along 7th Avenue in Huntington to accommodate the increasing number of babies who require extra attention.
About a year and a half ago, state Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, was approached by newborn intensive care nurses concerned about babies going through drug withdrawal.
Jenkins since has been communicating with state and federal officials about licenses and other steps necessary to address the crisis.
"It takes any individual about two minutes to be in a NICU unit to see a baby that is basically crying 24/7, and when you look at the ravages of withdrawal on a newborn, and you put on your fiscal hat and think about what's best for the baby and taxpayer, it makes sense," said Jenkins, who is also the president of the Board of Directors for Lily's Place.
Sara Murray, a nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit at Cabell Huntington, said she has seen a dramatic increase in babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome - problems that occur in a newborn who was exposed to addictive illegal or prescription drugs while in the mother's womb - in the past two years.
The problem has become so severe that the 12-bed neonatal therapeutic unit created for these babies in May is full and overflows into the newborn nursery and NICU area.
While babies born addicted to drugs need complex care, they don't necessarily need a bed in the NICU and could be tying up space that another child with life-threatening concerns could use, Murray said.
Lily's Place will be considered a medical treatment facility - a rehab center for newborns. Organizers hope it will be an overflow center of sorts for the hospital.
"When you have a baby that's addicted to drugs, you don't need to have baby MRIs or X-rays if those babies are born healthy otherwise and all they have going on is the drug addiction," Brown said.