Hard to know how to handle meth baby Effect of drug addiction on infant keeps Yukon couple on their toes

Penny Owen Published: July 15, 2001
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YUKON - Isaiah prefers to be in a room by himself, hates bright lights and resists being touched. At night, he still wakes up screaming sometimes, for no apparent reason.

No reason other than he was born to a meth addict and tested positive for drugs at birth, as well as for syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease. Isaiah also has mild cerebral palsy and epileptic seizures. His far-sightedness requires thick glasses, which look out of place on a child who will turn 3 in August.

Ruth and Paul Durbin, both 41, took Isaiah into their Yukon home when he was three days old. His mother, who is said to be mentally retarded and schizophrenic, as well as drug dependent, gave birth to him while in prison.

Isaiah is one of 89 so-called "prison babies" the Durbins have taken into their home in the last seven years. They are children of women who are sent to prison, or who give birth while in prison. The Durbins, as well as other families, keep some children for only a few days, some for a few months, some for years.

Isaiah is one of only three they will keep for good.

After Ruth Durbin saw the mental condition of the mother in court hearings, she offered to adopt Isaiah. It wasn't easy and required a fight with the state Department of Human Services, she said. But between persuading the judge and dealing with Isaiah's night terrors and grumpiness, she made him a permanent part of their family.

And she says they love him as much as their four biological children, ages 16 to 24, and two other adopted children, ages 7 and 5.

There were times, however, when doubt and fear prevailed. When Isaiah was inconsolable and refused touch. When all he could do was suck his thumb and sob.

"I was trying to work, Paul was trying to work, and we didn't know how to comfort him," Durbin said. "Never did we ever think about giving him back or anything. It was just, what do you do? I didn't know how he hurt, why he hurt. His cries were so different."

Each drug has its own effect on babies. Crack-addicted babies, for instance, are grouchy and fidgety, but sleep a lot. They want to be swaddled in cloth Durbin calls it the "crack wrap."

Meth babies like Isaiah, however, can hardly stand wearing clothes or shoes. They don't like noise or bright lights or other people. And although they don't sleep well, they don't fidget either.

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