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  • Writer's pictureNick Malone

Finding Normal: Jennifer Does Motherhood Her Way

A toddler-aged girl seated with two women smiling on either side.
Jennifer (right) and her daughter Nora reunite with their case manager, Angelica.

After a chaotic battle with addiction separated her from her daughter, Jennifer found the compassion and acceptance she needed to recover in the Intact Family Services program at Association House.

In the summer of 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic threw hospitals and doctor's offices into mayhem, Jennifer Paul discovered she was five months pregnant.

With emergency room waits at an all-time high, and new patients being turned away throughout the city, this news would be frightening for any woman-- but Jennifer faced an even greater challenge. She was an active drug user, and so was her daughter's father: and neither of them were sure they were ready to quit.

When she finally managed to see a doctor, the drugs in her system automatically flagged her for reporting to the Department of Children and Family Services. This kicked off a difficult journey to recovery: one that separated her from her newborn daughter, tested her emotional limits, and transformed her entire life.

A toddler accepts a toy from a smiling woman.
Nora scores a Pokemon toy at a visit to Association House!

The First Step is the Hardest

Jennifer was paired with the Intact Family Services team at Association House shortly after the birth of her daughter, Nora. This program is dedicated to reuniting families separated by addiction, domestic violence, and other risk factors that threaten the safety and stability of children.

Nora was born a month early, and was initially allowed to stay with Jennifer and Nora's father. However, after only two months, an encounter with police separated them-- placing Nora in the care of her grandmother, and forcing Jennifer into intensive treatment for her addiction.

"In the beginning, I was very angry. I blamed the agency, and I blamed the police that took her. I wasn't open to any help," Jennifer admits. "Now, being sober and looking back, I wasn't doing anything I was supposed to. I was still very unwell. I'm almost grateful all of this happened, because I feel like Nora might not still be here if someone didn't intercede legally. In the two months we had her, she wasn't in an environment to thrive."

A toddler sits on her father's lap at the library.
Nora with her father.

An Emotional Turning Point

The next several months were a struggle. After a brief sober living stay didn't stick, Jennifer and Nora's father were inconsistent with their visits and resisted Association House's treatment plan for reunification. During this struggle for stability, in February 2021, addiction claimed Nora's father's life.

"Everybody knew before I did. Nobody wanted to break the news to me. I found out at 9:30 at night, and within twenty minutes, my case worker called me. She asked if I was okay, and how to keep me okay. She called me late at night, which meant she was on her personal time-- and I don't think she was required to check on me. There were no accusations. She didn't make me feel like I was going to mess up. She just wanted to know how to help. I think that's not something you'd get anywhere else."

After such a significant loss, Jennifer feared the effects that her grief might have on her journey to reunite with her daughter. But after her case worker paired her with an intensive outpatient program, she found the strength to conquer her addiction.

She completed a SMART Recovery treatment, and worked with her case workers at Association House to navigate the legal system, finally allowing her to reunite with Nora. For followup visits, Nora and Jennifer were paired with Angelica-- the case worker who Jennifer says put her at ease as she transitioned back into motherhood.

Parenting Her Way

"I never felt like I needed to be perfect. At first, I was nervous to even have a dish in the sink during a visit. I felt like I had to act like this was the easiest thing in the world. Parenting is not easy for anyone, plus with sobriety... and I'm 40! I'm old now, it's hard chasing a little kid around! It was so nice not to have the pretense of perfection. Angelica would say "Welcome to life with a toddler— if you’re looking for a clean house, good luck. Maybe in 18 years.”

Today, Jennifer is proud to be present as her best self, getting to watch Nora's sweet and sassy personality bloom. As Nora enjoys preschool, Jennifer's begun to heal her relationship with her family and take on the challenges of motherhood.

"There were a lot of relationships to repair. I'm a better person, mother, friend, daughter, and sibling now than I ever was before drugs. There was a time when my name wasn't even allowed to be spoken in my mom's house. All of this forced us to talk and be in the same room. I work for my dad's company now. Long before the drugs, I would never have been offered a position there."

A mother smirks at her daughter in the car as the daughter smiles with cat face paint on.
Jennifer and Nora are ready for whatever preschool has to throw at them!

Celebrating a New Normal

Jennifer credits her time with Association House for making her feel normal again-- like someone who had gained trust, whose life was stable, and was worth celebrating. She still stays in contact with Angelica and other case workers, many months after her case closed.

After buying her first car, Angelica was one of the first people Jennifer told. Nora endearingly refers to her case workers as "her ladies," and remains Association House Famous for the tea parties she threw for them.

"I'm normal," Jennifer says with relief. "I'm not stressed out about how I'm gonna go out and get drugs. It's a car payment, it's groceries, it's inflation being awful. I complain about the things that a normal 40 year old across the board complains about. It feels nice, like "Welcome to the club." You're middle aged and angry at the price of everything. "Welcome, you made it!"

Learn more about Association House's Child Welfare program, including Intact Family Services here. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

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