Mothers and their babies share a deep bond. It’s a connection new research shows actually begins during pregnancy and is so powerful that it can influence a child’s future well-being. This discovery is incredibly important, especially for mothers grappling with drug addiction, homelessness or trauma. For them, these stressors can disrupt normal maternal bonding, leading to a cycle of vulnerability that can last for generations.
Now, a new study led by Dr. Ron Abrahams (pictured right), director of BC Women’s Fir Square Combined Unit, is seeking to show how regular ultrasounds can be used to break that cycle by helping women struggling with substance use connect with their unborn babies.
Breaking the cycle
As a young general practitioner, Abrahams routinely saw women recovering from drug addiction have their babies removed from their care immediately after birth – a practice he found totally unacceptable. In 2003, to address the needs of these women, Abrahams established BC Women’s Fir Square Combined Unit, the first program of its kind in Canada dedicated to keeping moms with their babies as they stabilize and withdraw from substance use.
In a groundbreaking study currently underway at Fir Square, Abrahams and his team are using bi-weekly ultrasounds to help patients connect with their unborn babies and feel more positive about their pregnancies. Abrahams believes that the comfort and connectedness the mother feels when she sees her baby is then communicated to the baby itself. He also believes that seeing the baby helps influence the mother to make healthier choices.
“When the women first see images of their fetus, they walk around the ward, saying ‘Look at my baby, you can see his hand, see his face.’ Clearly, the last thing on their minds at that moment is using drugs,” says Abrahams.
Abrahams is currently evaluating the results of this study in hopes of developing the use of ultrasound among vulnerable expectant women as a standard of care across Canada.
The early results are certainly encouraging. “The focus switches from self-medicating and trauma to their babies and themselves, as well as to going back into the community,” says Abrahams. “If something as simple and accessible as regular ultrasounds can help facilitate this process, we should use it."
After completing a clinical fellowship in Reproductive Imaging at the University of British Columbia in 2002, she served as the Medical Director for the Reproductive Medicine Program at BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre from 2005 to 2013, which includes the Early Pregnancy Assessment Clinic and the Recurrent Pregnancy Loss Clinic. She is currently a Clinical Assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of British Columbia, and maintains a University affiliated private practice. Her interests involve a variety of women's health issues such as recurrent pregnancy loss, early pregnancy and gynaecologic imaging.
Photography by Ian Durning
For 18 years, Dr. Wee Shian Chan has single-mindedly pursued her passion – researching and treating medical complications in women. In that time, Dr. Chan has amassed expertise in an extraordinary range of women’s health issues and has become one of the world’s preeminent authorities on thrombosis in pregnancy. Now, as Head of BC Women’s Department of Medicine, Dr. Chan is advancing health care for women – from maternity to maturity. “BC Women’s is primed to take a leadership role in women’s health across Canada,” says Dr. Chan. “I see one of my roles as being able to harness the collective strength of all our physicians’ expertise here and work together as a team to provide the very best care for women throughout their lives.” As a clinician and also the Lead of BC Women’s Obstetrical Medicine Group, Dr. Chan will continue her research and clinical practice in the diagnosis and treatment of deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism in pregnancy – the leading preventable cause of maternal death as well as in other areas relating to reducing maternal morbidity and mortality.
“My passion for research, teaching and clinical care comes from my desire to help patient navigate through pregnancy as seamlessly as possible, one-at-a-time” says Dr. Chan. “My greatest joy is to be able to do this with my heart in charge.”
Written by Ann Collette
Photography by Robert Lyons