'I’m going to be brave' - Girl, 11, knows her mother's drug taking meant she was exposed to P in the uterus

By Janet McIntyre

Grace is only 11 but she’s old enough to understand the bullet point in her medical records – “exposed to P in utero”. Source: Sunday

She's like a kitten – with her springy limbs and bright, wide eyes. She giggles, shrieks and darts around the room to Demi Lovato, then smooches up to me and whispers in my ear: "I dare you to ask Gary (the cameraman) out for dinner!" Little minx!

Just as she catches my heart she breaks it. "I'm not like other kids, I'm not special ... I don't even know if I'm meant to be here."

Grace, a name we have given her, is only 11 but she's old enough to understand the bullet point in her medical records – "Exposed to P in utero". 

"When I was in my Mum's stomach she was taking the drugs and so the drugs went into me. And I kind of ended up the way I am."

It's true. Her mum Sharon confirmed on the phone she used meth in her pregnancy, but in her defence, she said, "only in the first 11 weeks".

Grace was removed from the family home when she was 3 after it was proved Sharon was still using P.  

Research into the effects of methamphetamine on children is scarce. Professor Trecia Wouldes of Auckland University is doing the only long term study in the world, assessing the development of 107 New Zealand children over the past twelve years.  

"For those who continue to live in environments where there's mental illness, where there’s ongoing drug use, and where they've had that prenatal exposure - the outlook is not good."

She says six and a half year olds have poor memory, emotional and behavioural problems. "They're the kids in the classroom that are going to get kicked out of school and then by nine or 10 are going to start using drugs". But she says these problems are not unfixable. 

Professor Wouldes is calling for all women to be screened for P during pregnancy, and for those identified and their babies to get access to the treatment they need. A mum who continues to abuse substances through her pregnancy is likely to return to a toxic environment of drugs and violence she says. "It's a double whammy for a child, already exposed to drugs".

She says we don't know yet how these children will be effected as adults. 

Grace snuggles into the plump arms of her Nana who's now raising her and finds the sweet spot.

"I feel safe that I'm not going to be hurt. I have my Nana and my Poppa and two teacher aides and I've got the whole school supporting me". 

Grace is so worth it. She has intelligence, insight and resolve way beyond her years and with the right help her carers think she can flourish.  

"I'm going to be brave, I'm going to be strong, I'm not going to let anything get to me."

Watch the full story on TVNZ1's Sunday programme at 7.30pm tomorrow.

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