At 11 years old, Ashley Lentz was introduced to a marijuana pipe and Xanax. Alcohol followed at 13.
As a kid, she bounced from her home in York to one in Manchester Township, living with addicted relatives in both places, she said. It set her up for years of free fall, into addiction, unhealthy and sometimes abusive relationships, jail and pregnancies, the first when she was still in high school.
She got sober five years ago, but when she learned she was pregnant last year, she still lived on the edge of poverty, still faced the challenge of staying clean.
She lost her job and worried about being evicted.
That’s when she met someone who would stand beside her and carry some of the burden from two decades of life.
Lentz dropped out of high school during her first pregnancy.
By that time, she had already been a drinker and marijuana smoker.
She’d even tried crystal meth. She didn’t like the way it made her feel. After smoking it with the friend of a relative one night, she scrubbed the kitchen floor with a toothbrush for eight hours, then she had to get up for school the next day.
She cleaned up when she was pregnant, and moved in with her boyfriend. It didn’t work out, but she had become the mother of her first child, a son. Another boyfriend – and a challenging relationship – followed along with her second child, a daughter. She stayed clean through her pregnancies, but after this birth, Lentz found a doctor to prescribe anything she wanted: Vicodin, fentanyl, oxycodone, Soma and Xanax.
“It’s generational,” Lentz said of her addiction. Her grandmother, whom she lived with most of her childhood, had three makeup bags filled with pills, each bag a different size. “The big one was the mother lode.”
Those pills are also what Lentz thinks killed her grandmother.
In 2011, after years of being on and off drugs and alcohol, Lentz became a heroin addict – first snorting, then injecting. A couple of jail tours for probation violations led to recovery programs, but it didn’t work.
“I wasn’t ready,” she said.
But in 2015, high on crack and dope, she found out she was pregnant again. This time, something happened.
It was the intervention of a woman at WellSpan York Hospital, someone from the housekeeping staff who asked to pray with her. Lentz was in shackles, talking with a police officer, and the woman asked her: “Do you want to go home in a pine box? What about the baby?”
“That was it. It finally clicked. I was just really done,” Lentz said. “I just didn’t want it anymore.”
Her first sober day was May 27, 2015.
Four years later, she met Amanda Mulenga.
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In Mulenga’s 20 years of nursing, she has found herself drawn to what the medical community calls “vulnerable populations.”
The term covers a wide range of people, from racial and ethnic minorities to children, often poor and dealing with medical conditions. Many of the people in this category are uninsured or under-insured.
So, when Mulenga was offered the opportunity to help women in challenging circumstances, she rose to the occasion.
It’s called WellSpan Foundations Pregnancy Support Services, and Mulenga is the program manager. With a $400,000 state grant, she and her team provide help to women who are current or former opioid users, as well as their children.
It’s offered in five counties: York, Adams, Franklin, Lancaster and Lebanon. Mulenga’s team works between the mom and services offered locally, connecting the parent to the program that can help her. They accept mothers who are former or current addicts, either pregnant or have given birth within the last 18 months.
“I don’t care about their past; I truly care just about helping them,” Mulenga said.
Lentz had just given birth to her son Xzarin when Mulenga walked into her hospital room, offering help. Mulenga, a few months pregnant at the time, related to her as a mother and as a nurse.
“She needed help immediately. She needed to get to her appointments. She needed to see her baby in the NICU, who was going to stay in the hospital past her stay,” Mulenga said. “I was able to spring right into action.”
“Action” meant doing what the WellSpan support service does, finding local services to wrap around Lentz for whatever her needs might be.
Lentz immediately bonded with Mulenga. She didn’t know what the program would offer, but she could feel Mulenga’s sincerity.
“She cares,” said Lentz, now 32. What it meant immediately for Lentz was helping to keep a stable home for her and her baby.
Lentz went to court when her landlord threatened eviction over a $60 unpaid charge. Standing beside her was Mulenga, whose goal is to work with women to graduate out of her program and rise back into the world with courage and strength.
The story of Lentz’s journey doesn’t wrap up with a neat bow; she’s still working through recovery.
She’s been clean for five years – working through methadone treatment, which blocks her craving for drugs, and she has full custody of her two youngest children. Her oldest son visits her part of the time, and she hasn’t seen her daughter in four years, moved away by the father who has blocked her from communication.
As she told her story, Lentz wiped tears from her eyes.
Mulenga leaned toward her and said: “It’s important for you to know that you recognized it, you stopped it, and it ends with you.”
Kim Strong can be reached at [email protected]
What WellSpan’s Pregnancy Support Services has done since October:
- 96 percent of moms have had a sustained recovery, with no relapses.
- 83 percent of babies have had a shorter neonatal intensive care unit stay than the national average for babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome. Babies in the foundations program have an average stay of five to six days, as compared to the national average of nine to 13 days.
- 74 percent of moms are receiving support from community resources, behavioral health and/or drug and alcohol programs.
- 85 percent of moms work with a behavioral health therapist.