New pregnancy clinic at Sunnybrook supports women with disabilities

By Marie Sanderson

The first North American clinic caring for pregnant women with a wide range of physical mobility disabilities has opened at Sunnybrook.

The Accessible Care Pregnancy Clinic cares for women who have both invisible and visible physical disabilities.  Invisible disabilities are disabilities that are not immediately apparent.  Women seeking care at the clinic may have spinal cord injuries, severe arthritis, spina bifida, a history of trauma such as a car accident, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, a history of amputation, scoliosis or be a little person.  Women may also have other conditions impacting their mobility, making them a good fit for the clinic.

“Our goal is to offer care options individualized to each women and her family,” explains Dr. Anne Berndl, a maternal fetal medicine specialist and director of the Accessible Care Pregnancy Clinic at Sunnybrook.  “Disabled women often face a host of specialists when they’re accessing the health care system.  We’re committed to providing holistic care throughout a woman’s childbearing year, with centralized care where all members of your health care team are speaking to each other.”

The clinic offers preconception counseling, prenatal education, obstetrical care during pregnancy and postpartum care including breastfeeding support.  Dalia Abd Almajed experienced the care firsthand.  Dr. Anne Berndl delivered her first child in 2015 and her second just before Mother’s Day this year.

Dalia Abd Almajed holds her newborn son.

“I was so afraid when I first knew that I was pregnant with the first baby, because I use a wheelchair with all these complications and problems,” says Dalia, as she holds her healthy newborn son, Abbas, close to her while breastfeeding.

Sunnybrook’s Bayview campus offers a wheelchair accessible Birthing Suite, although the clinic’s patients may or may not use mobility devices or aids.  The ultrasound department is in the same location as the clinic, performed by an experienced sonographer.  The health care team assesses patients’ needs ahead of time, including whether TTC Wheel-Trans will be used, to ensure a comfortable environment where women don’t feel rushed.

“Having a disability should not be a barrier to being a great parent,” says Anita Kaiser, a mother and advocate for disabled women.  “To have a service where care is holistic across the continuum of care, with physical and emotional support for women and families, is helping to address a much-needed gap in our health care system.”

The clinic has many relationships with community supports, to ensure there is a plan for women following their delivery, once they have delivered their baby.

“Mobility conditions can wax and wane throughout a woman’s life; and can affect any limb or part of the body,” says Dr. Berndl.  “You may look at a woman with an invisible disability and have no idea she requires specialized pregnancy care.  Being pregnant with a disability can be both an exciting and anxiety-filled time; we want to ensure women are supported to receive the individualized medical care they need and feel the excitement they deserve to feel.”

Marie Sanderson works in Communications at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.