By Mark Powell
The Heart of a Mother
Undergoing residential treatment for addiction shouldn’t require a family to be separated, yet all too often it does. Heart of Iowa, the Area Substance Abuse Council’s (ASAC) residential treatment facility for women and their children, is changing that. ASAC is a non-profit organization offering full service addiction treatment, along with prevention and recovery resources.
To truly understand what Heart of Iowa means to many women, just listen to Michaela’s story, told in her own words:
“I’ve been through a lot in my 26 years. It started with mental illnesses at age 12, stemming from my years as a gymnast. The need for perfection in every area of my life caused anxiety and depression. That’s when I was started on various psychological medications and eventually began smoking marijuana and drinking. They seemed to cover up the problems better than the medications, so I stuck with them. I later tried methamphetamines and went on using for two years until I learned I was pregnant. I stopped for about a week, then relapsed. I realized this wasn’t something I was going to be able to do on my own. A therapist brought Heart of Iowa to my attention. I’d never heard of it.”
“That’s our women and children component,” explains Kathy Brogla, Heart of Iowa’s director. “We offer apartments to pregnant women and women with children who are receiving treatment. Children up to age 18 can stay.”
Originally started in a basement, the program has grown to 36 fully-furnished
apartments now available in three buildings. Each apartment has between two and three bedrooms. To qualify for the program, women must be pregnant, currently have custody of their children, or be actively working with the Department of Human Services to reunify with their children.
On-site licensed child care is provided, and child care staff and teachers are trained in trauma-informed care and developmental issues. A commercial kitchen is staffed with an on-site cook who prepares nutritious meals and also provides cooking classes for residents.
“The women typically have programming and activities from 8:30 in the morning through 8:30 at night,” Brogla says. “This program is wonderful because it’s a comprehensive treatment center. Every aspect is supervised. We try to coach them on parenting as it happens. We use every aspect of life as a teachable moment.”
Because many residents are victims of domestic abuse, counseling is available. Residents learn basic life skills. Community partners also provide nutrition and budgeting classes, mental health services, health screenings, and young parenting classes.
“While our immediate goal is recovery, the ultimate goal is stopping the cycle of addiction,” Brogla points out.
And it has for Michaela.
My first few weeks at Heart of Iowa weren’t easy. I was detoxing from the meth and six psych medications I was also on before I was pregnant. But the whole time I went through that, I was getting more support and encouraging words from the staff and other patients at Heart of Iowa than I’d ever gotten before. I felt like maybe I was going to be OK. Eventually, I started to be the person I’ve always been on the inside, someone not covered up by substances or medication. By the time I graduated from the residential program I had a new job, I was gaining my family’s trust back, my pregnancy was healthy, and I was finally happy.
“I entered into a halfway program for seven months. When my daughter was born, we spent the first four months of her life in our apartment at Heart of Iowa. I was a first-time mom, which was scary. But we were welcomed with so much love and given so much support and praise for my accomplishments. Had it not been for Heart of Iowa, I’m not sure if I’d still be alive today. I don’t think I would have had such a healthy pregnancy, birth, or child. I definitely wouldn’t be 457 days sober today. The program helped me become the woman I always had the capability of being and helped me become the best mother I can be for my daughter, who is happy, healthy, and thriving.”
The Heart of Iowa was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.