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Redding woman spends 30 years fostering substance-exposed babies

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REDDING, Calif. - Raelene Macdowell and her husband Ted have fostered more than 600 children in Shasta County over the past 40 years.

They also have ten of their own. Three of them birth children, and seven adopted. All seven adopted children were substance exposed in the womb. One of the Macdowell's adopted daughters was one of the first substance-exposed babies in Shasta County 30 years ago.

Their children are between the ages of 9 and 52. Raelene has seen the effects drugs have had on the community, and its children, for decades.

"I've lived through babies that are heroin-exposed to meth-exposed to both to alcohol, all of it," Raelene said. "The drugs [now] are more difficult and challenging to get over and they are causing more difficulties for our children."

She said babies that are exposed in the womb go through withdraws once they are born.

"They have the shakes that older people call them. They trimmer, they have trouble sucking and swallowing," Raelene said. "They have trouble digesting, and have frantic behavior if there's a sound, the dog barks or the phone rings."

Babies going through the withdraw process need to be cared for in a special way. They need to be wrapped tight in receiving blankets. Their nerves may be more sensitive. Some babies need to have a fan blowing on them.

"It could be anything, being left alone or being afraid of being left alone or in the dark or any of those things, driving a car," she said. "Several kids that I know, a couple of them are mine, did not want to drive their car."

With all of her experience, she's been teaching parents and foster parents how to use these techniques for 30 years.

Raelene adds that it doesn't always stop after the withdraw period. Some substance-exposed babies see the impacts long term.

"One of the boys we had as a newborn we actually had for quite some time and then he was adopted and I see him as an adult once in a while and he still tremors non-stop," she said. "So, the damage was done more severely to him than maybe to another child.

She recalls being told by doctors that a baby might not survive only to watch the life come back to them just from being loved and cared for correctly.

"I've had several babies where the doctor said this baby is probably not going to live, but just with pouring your all into them they do, they survive."

Macdowell said the foster care system needs more people to care for these babies. She said they are looking for foster parents that are able to put in the work temporarily then return the babies as they start to get better. She said that may be an older couple or a couple not necessarily looking for a permanent family. That doesn't mean, she said, they aren't always looking for permanent families, as well.

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