Thousands of victims of the opioid epidemic aren’t even born yet. Expectant mothers addicted to opioids can pass their drug dependency to their fetuses. The three-year-old WISH Center at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond Heights provides high-risk maternity care for women who are addicted.

Karley Giacchino is counting the days before the birth of her daughter Lilah Rose. “She loves Stevie Wonder very much,” said Giacchino. “She’s a dancing little baby girl.”

As if to confirm her mother’s description, Lilah Rose was extremely active during an ultrasound procedure at the WISH Center. “You want to make a life change when you have a baby,” said Giacchino. “I don’t want to deal with that and wanting to be the best mother I could be, I sought out Dr. Shyken and heard about her program here.”

The WISH Center is the only program of its kind in Missouri, said Dr. Jaye Shyken, founder of the center in 2014 and its current director.

“There’s a lot of stigma attached to chemical dependency to begin with,” said Shyken, “and women may try to deal with it on their own and not ask for help because they fear the stigma associated with the diagnosis. They also fear having their child taken away.”

Giacchino said her opioid use escalated after painful dental surgery followed by a cheerleading back injury.

“Going through that myself, I was a very judgmental for a very long time about people who used and for the longest time I was in denial that I even had an issue,” said Giacchino.

During pregnancy, opioids can pass through a woman’s body to the fetus. The baby can become dependent on the drugs, leading to withdrawal and longer, more expensive hospital stays.

“Withdrawal in the newborn, otherwise known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, is treatable,” said Dr. Shyken. “Putting someone's family back together is much more difficult to address. This is not a situation that people wanted to create for themselves and we have to stop shaming and start helping.”

Giacchino said she’s nine months clean and ready for a new life. Make that two new lives.

“Being the best mom I can be now. That’s number one. I just want to be a good mom.”