Community Newspaper Group EXCLUSIVE
A SUBIACO-based service for pregnant women addicted to drugs and alcohol is attempting to break the stigma attached to substance abuse problems.
The Women and Newborn Drug and Alcohol Service (WANDAS) run out of King Edward Memorial Hospital is delivering healthy newborns and changing the attitudes of health providers and society on how mothers with substance abuse problems should be treated.
The service, whose midwives deliver about 200 babies a year, has been running for more than two decades and is the only service of its kind in WA and the largest in the country.
The two midwives leading the service, Angela O’Connor and Renate McLaurin, said the women who came through the service were courageous for admitting they had a problem and seeking help.
Ms O’Connor said addiction was a disease and not a personal failing, with many of the women having been through extreme trauma in their lives.
“We don’t focus on their drug and alcohol use, we focus on giving them high-quality pre-natal and post-natal care,” she said
“We are very protective of the women. There is a huge stigma attached to drug and alcohol use during pregnancy, but no-one knows the path these women have been down to get where they are.
“We find that these women are never portrayed in a positive light and how brave they are. We see women who are keen to make changes and try hard and no-one is harder then they are on themselves.
“They are courageous for coming forward and disclosing their addiction and being focused on the wellbeing of their baby.”
The service offers a multi-disciplinary team approach to improve the health and well-being of the women and their babies, with midwives, an obstetrician, parent education, social workers, an addiction specialist and 24-hour monitoring available.
Ms McLaurin said even as midwives of the service, there was a stigma for them.
“It’s not a sought-after field and people often wonder why we would want to help pregnant women who are using drugs and alcohol,” she said.
“Often people assume that we have a background using drugs and alcohol because we work in this field, but if we were diabetic specialists, you wouldn’t automatically assume we had a background with diabetes.
“The message is these women are no different to anyone else and they deserve the best standard of care.”
The WANDAS success rate is high, with many women going on to stop using drugs and alcohol.
Ms O’Connor received a Churchill Fellowship last month to travel to Canada and visit drug and alcohol programs and get tools to implement at WANDAS.
Ms O’Connor said the best part about the service was bonding with the women and their families.
“The relationships we form are different to any other clinic, because we spend so long with them,” she said.
They were proud of the services provided and their team, she said.