As part of our Gospel mission, Catholic Charities is called to care for and accompany the most vulnerable and most marginalized members of our community. As our nation faces an unprecedented rise in substance and opioid addiction, this increasingly means caring for those struggling with substance use disorder. Catholic Charities has been a longtime provider of addiction counseling and other supportive services for those with substance use challenges. Three years ago, we partnered with the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Division of Substance Use Prevention and Recovery to start a very specialized program for pregnant and postpartum women. The program, called the Transforming Lives Program, aims to do exactly that — transform the lives of participant mothers and their babies. This comprehensive program provides individualized support to women of all ages, at all stages of recovery, and at any stage of pregnancy up to 12 months postnatal. Participants meet weekly with a Catholic Charities staff member who has dual certification as a doula/peer recovery specialist. This dual certification enables us to best support mothers in their recovery efforts, while simultaneously providing the prenatal, birth and postnatal education of a traditional doula. Our doula support services focus on strengthening the mother-child dyad. We help mothers understand the birth process, proper prenatal care and ways to bond with their baby in utero. We assist with medical decision-making, are present throughout labor and delivery and assist with breast feeding if desired. Postnatal support encompasses the needs of the mother, baby and whole family unit. Mothers receive personalized postpartum support as well as child development education to ensure the baby’s critical developmental milestones are reached. As we are focusing on the pregnancy and the baby, we are also supporting the mother’s recovery efforts. This can take many forms depending upon her needs, including referral to medically assisted recovery treatment when that is the safest option for the baby’s health. Mothers are also linked with proper healthcare, attend peer support groups and are connected to a variety of necessary resources, such as baby supplies, food, housing, and mental health counseling. The courageous mothers in the Transforming Lives Program have faced significant trauma in their lives. Physical and/or sexual abuse, incarceration, generational addiction, homelessness, extreme poverty, mental health challenges, involvement in the foster care system — or, more often, a combination of these traumas — have riddled their lives. Already struggling with feelings of hopelessness that have fueled substance use, the stigma and shame associated with addiction only compounds feelings of low self-worth. The overarching goal of the Transforming Lives program is to treat participants with what we call “unconditional positive regard.” Since most often our participants have not experienced a supportive home environment, Catholic Charities staff are an unconditional, positive support no matter what. We help participants understand the best, healthiest choices for themselves and their babies, support them when they stumble, and encourage them to have confidence in their own decision-making ability. While not perfect, the results of this program are miraculous. Every mom has successes. Many are able to leave their addiction behind and begin to build healthy lives. Others may relapse or not be able to keep their babies right away. But each positive step is celebrated for the victory that it is. In the program’s “harm reduction model,” we recognize that every healthy choice leads to a healthier mother and healthier baby. Above all else, the Transforming Lives Program values the dignity of each and every human life. Catholic Charities is honored to accompany these remarkable women, who too often have felt discarded and unworthy, on a journey that can be life-giving and life-changing. For more information about Transforming Lives, call 312-391-9447.