Brittany Hudson barely remembers the day she gave birth to her daughter Braylee.
“Everyone asks me what I was thinking. I don’t remember a lot.”
But she does remember how her pill addiction started. She started hanging out with older friends in high school and drinking.
“I felt normal and loved. That I had actual friends,” she explained. “I felt I was actually wanted – filling some type of void.”
The drinking eventually escalated to drug using. She started with pills, oxycodone, and said barely two days later, she had a needle in her arm.
In 2012, she gave birth to her first child. The baby was born drug-dependent. Hudson went to a half-way house and Narcotics Anonymous, but wasn’t ready for recovery.
“I went to drinking heavily, and then back to pills,” she said.
Hudson got pregnant again in 2014, and by then, lawmakers had pushed through a law that criminalize pregnant women who abuse drugs.
The law states "a woman may be prosecuted for assault for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug".
Almost 1,000 babies were born drug-dependent in Tennessee in 2015.
“I was seeing it on Facebook,” said Hudson. “It was one of the worst times of my life reading all this stuff and thinking 'I'm going to go to jail, they're going to take my baby.”
But when Hudson tried to get help before her second child was born, she hit wall after wall.
“Every time they told me no or there is a waiting list I was losing all the hope that was going to work,” said Hudson. “A door would get shut in my face and I would feel like I failed, like it was hopeless.”
Hudson continued to use drugs until her due date. Afraid of being caught, she skipped prenatal care until a few weeks before she gave birth in her friend’s car. Braylee was born drug-dependent and spent weeks in the NICU.
Eventually, the Department of Children’s Services cut off Hudson’s contact with her baby, a move she said pushed her further into addiction. Desperate for more heroin, she broke into a home.
“I remember walking into the DCS office,” said Hudson. “I was working to get the no-contact [order] lifted and two detectives walked in and arrested me.”
She went to jail and got out a few weeks later.
“I detoxed on the floor and prayed to God to take all this away from me,” remembered Hudson. “I did not want to live my life in prison.”
After she was released, her mother took over her treatment.
“I was under lock and key. I had to sleep with her. I had to leave the shower door open, go to work with her,” said Hudson.
After plenty of calls, and requests and denials, Hudson secured a spot at a half-way house.
This is a disease and you have to treat it like a disease,” she said. “When you throw someone behind bars for having a disease you aren't treating them.”
Thirteen months clean, Hudson now works at another drug treatment program called Renaissance of Recovery. It helps young women suffering from drug addiction.
“I tell them…I've been where you are sitting in jail.’ And they are like, ‘You've been in jail?’ And I'm like ‘yes. I'm a drug addict but I chose not to pick up drugs today,” said Hudson.
Nowadays, Hudson is just trying to keep up with Braylee, who is now 16 months old.
“I can’t imagine going back to that lifestyle,” said Hudson. “Everybody has a story and everybody has a good story. I’m just glad I’m able to use mine to benefit others.”
The fetal abuse law is set to expire July 1 unless lawmakers renew it.
Wednesday night on WBIR at 5:30 p.m., there will be a 10Listens discussion on pregnancy and addiction in East Tennessee.
Next week on WBIR, you can watch more of Hudson's story in a documentary "Reaching Recovery" at 7 p.m. on March 10. A 30-minute panel discussion will follow, live on WBIR.
The documentary was produced in connection with UT, Landgrant Films and the Metropolitan Drug Coalition.