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Inside Sunnybrook’s Accessible Care Pregnancy Clinic: Diana’s story

When Diana Drake was injured in an ATV accident, she assumed her hopes of becoming a parent were over.

“I was paralyzed and broke my back in two places,” says Diana. “My life was turned upside down.”

Five years after the accident, Diana did become pregnant, and learned about Sunnybrook’s Accessible Care Pregnancy Clinic. The clinic is the first in Canada to care for patients with physical disabilities of all types during their pregnancy, delivery and postpartum phases.

“Patients with disabilities are often highly overlooked in terms of medical care and specifically pregnancy care,” says Dr. Anne Berndl, Director, Sunnybrook’s Accessible Care Pregnancy Clinic. “There is a significant amount of bias towards people with disabilities regarding reproductive care, and stigma when people interact with the health care system.”

The clinic at Sunnybrook was designed to be not only accessible, but welcoming, with the correct equipment and space available to care for patients. Most importantly, the hospital offers a collaborative team of people who are familiar with the concerns a person with a disability may have during pregnancy and birth. This core team pulls in specialists from other areas of Sunnybrook – such as anesthesia, neurology, hematology – to ensure a healthy pregnancy and delivery.

“The vast majority of people with physical disabilities can have a healthy pregnancy,” says Dr. Berndl. “If growing a family, and becoming a parent is your dream, having a physical disability does not mean this is out of reach. You can become pregnant. You can become a parent. For most people, this is a safe choice.”

Dr. Berndl strongly recommends patients have a pre-pregnancy consultation and notes it is not always a smooth road for everyone. There are some increased risks across the spectrum, but she notes going into a pregnancy with your eyes open, and a supportive care team, is key.

The clinic has cared for people with spinal cord injuries, like Diana, as well as little people and those with severe arthritis, spina bifida, a history of traumatic physical injuries, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, a history of amputations, and myasthenia gravis.

“Patients sometimes feel apprehension and trepidation, and wonder ‘is this an okay thing I’ve decided to do…to become a parent and to start a family’,” says Dr. Berndl, who has cared for hundreds of pregnant patients with disabilities. “When you see a new parent, holding a baby in their arms for the first time, it’s a wonderful moment.”

Hear more from Diana about her journey in the video above.

About the author

Marie Sanderson

Marie Sanderson is a Senior Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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