Meth Baby Turned Farm Girl
Sam—as she’s known to friends and family—was born with meth in her system. She was raised in Waukee, Iowa, by her adoptive parents, along with five older sisters.
As a “meth baby,” Sam faced challenges from the very beginning. She had light and touch sensitivity—making common experiences like brushing her hair or playing in the sun painful. She struggled with a learning disability at school. And the other kids made fun of her for the way she came into this world.
Still, Sam had a fairly happy childhood. She adored her older sisters and dreamed of being like them—popular party girls with a wild side. Her grandparents ran a farm, and Sam would often help with chores or selling sweet corn at their stand. Her grandma told her she had a green thumb. A love of Iowa’s rich, fertile land was born in Sam. It would never fade.
But as she got older, Sam started to grow concerned about her past. As a little kid, she figured that adoption was normal, that no one lived with their birth parents. When she grasped that she was different, that her mother had given her up, Sam felt a new type of pain.
“I realized that my birth mom didn’t change, didn’t give up drugs for me,”
she says. “That hurt me.”
Around the same time, her home grew unstable. The wild streaks of her older sisters turned treacherous. They got into drugs, ran away from home, had violent fights with her parents. Teachers and classmates began to see Sam as the last sister in a line of “bad girls” who couldn’t be trusted. And her parents were too occupied with her sisters’ drama to pay much attention to Sam’s increasing loneliness and sense of loss.
“It was hard for me to understand why no one was there for me,” says Sam. “It was heartbreaking that no one was there.”
A Gateway to Drugs
Because of her mother’s choices, Sam had always hated the idea of drugs. But as her older sisters grew addicted, the idea seemed more appealing. Plus, if she got into a little trouble, she thought, maybe her parents would notice her, as they did her sisters.
Sam started using marijuana at age 11, along with cigarettes and alcohol. The marijuana helped her depression and became an escape from the unpredictable trauma of her life.
“I felt like nobody noticed me doing good,” says Sam of that time. “I wasn’t rewarded for my good behavior. So I decided to go against what I stood for.”
The attention she was craving, though, didn’t appear. Even when she was caught with drugs, nobody punished her or told her to clean up her act. “Nobody ever said no. I kept doing drugs to get the attention, and then I started to like the drugs,” says Sam. “I didn’t want to live without them. It was my hobby.”
By age 13, she was trying pills. At 15, she started cocaine.
By the time she was 18, she was using meth.
During this time, coping with life sober became increasingly difficult. Her depression and anxiety worsened, and the only cure seemed to be more drugs. At school, she was picked on mercilessly. The school didn’t care. “They thought my sisters were bad, so they figured that I was lying, that I was bad too,” Sam remembers.
By the time she was 16, she had gotten into 13 fights at school; she was trying to defend herself, and the drugs made her mean. She graduated from high school early to escape that environment. But then she had nothing left in her life but the drugs.
Samantha describes her teenage years as “hopeless.” At times, she would try to get her life back on track by getting a job or planning for college. But then another misfortune—a sister running away, a bad fight with a friend, a bout of anxiety—would come along and knock her down.
“It got to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed without meth,” Sam says. “I couldn’t move without it. I just felt sick. I shut everyone out.
“I was a monster. I was not myself.”
A Positivity Test
By this time, Sam knew what meth addiction felt like. But suddenly she was feeling strange. She began gaining weight, when meth users are often skeletal. She was sick all the time. A thought occurred, and she took a pregnancy test. It was positive.
“Deep down, just on instinct, I had this warm feelings” says Sam. “I was so excited.”
But then reality hit, along with the fear. She was addicted to meth, just like her mom. Thoughts flew through her head: Could she turn her life around for her child? Could she do what her mother didn’t?
“I knew immediately I had to quit,” says Sam. “The pregnancy gave me
the reason I needed to quit.”
“I knew that now I had someone to love me. I knew that if I loved my son, I would get the love back that I didn’t have in my life.”
The withdrawals came fast and hard. She couldn’t get out of bed for days. Rent was due, but she didn’t have the money. In the midst of withdrawing from meth, Sam was evicted. She ended up on the streets—homeless, pregnant, and sick from withdrawals. It was the lowest point in her life.
Sam went to stay in a homeless shelter, but she was assaulted on her second day there and left in a panic.
The struggle to stay positive—to keep hoping for a better life—was almost too much for her. But Sam is a determined person.
“I struggled and fought. It was hard every day. I hated it. I cried.
I didn’t have anybody there for me.”
“Honestly, the only thing I wanted to do was go back to the drugs,” she says. “But feeling my son inside me, I knew that wasn’t an option.”
A Light in the Dark
Just when things seemed the most hopeless one of her sisters referred Sam to The Lighthouse, a transitional living shelter in Des Moines that offers long-term shelter to young homeless parents and their small children. After settling in there, she gave birth to her son William completely sober.
“The moment I had my son, I had this overwhelming feeling,” she says. “When I was into drugs, I never wanted a child. I never thought I would ever have a child. So the fact that I had my son in my arms, it finally hit me: I’m a mom.”
“Every day I look at him the way I did when he was born, and
I see his smile and his eyes, and I love him.”
Soon after William’s birth, Sam was selected for United Way of Central Iowa’s HOPE (Health, Opportunity, Prosperity, Education) Initiative—an integrated and comprehensive approach to removing barriers for single-parent families and connecting them to resources in education, income, and health.
Intense case management through the HOPE Initiative—of which The Lighthouse is a part—helped Sam enroll in college, find a job at Hy-Vee, and get child care for William. Her case manager Michelle helped her fill out the FAFSA and connect her with other resources. Although the financial support was useful, it was the emotional support that really helped Sam turn her life around.
“Michelle has really helped me gain my independence,” says Sam. “She told me: ‘Get out there; you can do it.’ She has always been there to push me.
In January of 2015, when William was six months old, HOPE helped Sam and William get their own apartment and furnish it with kitchenware and other necessities. Sam never thought she would escape homelessness or gain independence. Now, when she comes home with her son at the end of a long day and realizes that the apartment is theirs alone, she tears up.
“When I was younger, it really hurt that people weren’t there for me,” Sam says.
“But now it has hit me: I have people who don’t even know me, but they have
stepped up and pushed me so much.”
Sam is now enrolled in DMACC, where she was elected community outreach liaison for the Student Activities Council. In the spring, she will start at Iowa State to earn her degree in farm management.
“I used to be so afraid to ask for help. But by asking for help, I have accomplished a lot: school, work, being a good mother. I don’t think I would be where I am today if I didn’t have people to help me.”
Fields of Dreams
With her life back on track, Sam has returned to her roots—the gardening and farming she learned from her grandparents.
After she earns her farm management degree, Sam plans to work as a manager for a private farm to earn enough to invest in her own acreage. She wants to have a farmhouse on her own land, where she’ll grow almost all of her own food and teach her son the family business. She dreams of sheep and cattle; soybeans; garden produce like tomatoes, peppers, and onions; and, especially, sweet corn.
“I want the ultimate farm. That’s my dream. I want to have a little bit of everything. People will know my last name,” she says with a soft laugh.
Every time she goes to class, Sam holds onto that dream—but it is a deeper hope that truly guides her: The hope for her son.
“Growing up, I didn’t have any hope at all,” Sam explains. “It was really hard for me to imagine a better life because I was hurting so much.”
“I didn’t think I could ever be anything more than a drug addict. I didn’t know
I had the strength and power."
“Now that I have my son and I’m going to school and my life is almost completely together, I have so much hope. I see my son having a much better future than he would have had if I hadn’t stopped the things I was doing.
“I still struggle doing things on my own. But my worst day now is better than my best day in my old life. My worst day now is better than my best day high.”