New Moms and Babies Are Now Healthier Thanks to Rise Up at Our Lady of the Angels | Sponsored: Our Lady of the Angels Hospital
When Rachel Hernandez found out she was pregnant, she was hit with a strong combination of emotions. She was thrilled to become a mother and enter a better chapter in her life, but also worried. Hernandez knew that to be the parent she wanted to be, she would have to overcome her long-standing substance abuse disorder.
“I was happy because I thought it was a real chance to get clean,” she said. “I hadn’t been able to do it myself, so I thought having a child would be my saving grace. I was also upset about quitting drugs, which sounds horrible, but addiction is such an ugly thing.
Despite her best intentions, Hernandez relapsed during her pregnancy and was terminated. While incarcerated, she was taken to Our Lady of the Angels Hospital in Bogalusa so that she and her unborn baby could receive proper care. That’s when she heard about the hospital’s Rise Up addiction intervention program for pregnant women. She was immediately interested in enrolling.
“I was nervous because I thought everyone was going to look at me like I was a horrible person,” Hernandez recalled. “They were actually quite the opposite. They were so compassionate and motivating. They really wanted the best for me and my daughter. They were supportive and never judgmental at all.
Hernandez continued to receive hospital care throughout her pregnancy and as she dealt with her legal issues. Due to her addiction, her daughter Raedynn was born addicted and immediately had to start a drug treatment program. At the same time, Hernandez was going through his own recovery process, taking it more seriously than ever.
“She was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Hernandez said of seeing her daughter for the first time. “I was overwhelmed with love and happiness, but also overwhelmed with these awful feelings of guilt because I had to watch my innocent baby go through drug addiction and know it was because of me. I knew right away that I had to do things differently.
Patsy Welch, the nurse director of labor and delivery at Our Lady of the Angels, was by Hernandez’s side the entire time. As with all new mothers with opioid use disorder, Welch encouraged Hernandez to breastfeed because it has been shown to work better for babies. She also offered encouragement as Rachel and Raedynn cohabited to strengthen their bond.
“You could tell how driven Rachel was,” Welch said. “She had this drive to do whatever we asked her to do.”
Dr. Ronak Shah, a Our Lady of the Angels OB/GYN who treated Hernandez, said that before Rise Up, many pregnant women were afraid to seek drug treatment for fear that their babies would be taken away from them. However, doctors like Dr. Shah and others wanted women to be under their care.
“A big part of our outreach work here is letting patients know that we want to help you transition and create a healthy environment for them and their baby,” he said.
Dr Shah said a key part of Rise Up is medication-assisted therapy (MAT), in which an opioid analogue such as Subutex is given to a pregnant woman to help treat withdrawal symptoms without creating high. The therapy has been shown to be safer than if a woman tries to quit smoking suddenly or without medical supervision.
“If a mother tries to detox at home, the fetus goes through the same thing and it can be life threatening for both mother and baby,” Dr Shah said. “It’s much safer if we switch the mother on an opioid analogue throughout the pregnancy. After delivery, we talk about completely detaching ourselves from everything.
In addition to MAT, Rise Up provides counseling services and has social workers to provide other support, creating what Dr Shah called a “one stop shop” for pregnant women trying to do what it takes to their babies.
“What we are doing here is not punitive,” he said. “We are working with Child Protective Services and other agencies so that if patients show up for their appointments, take their medications and test negative for other medications, their babies will not be taken away. .”
Today, Raedynn is a happy and healthy 14-month-old girl who is already showing off her dance moves. Hernandez, who was a stay-at-home mom, recently found daycare for Raedynn and is applying for jobs while continuing to work with a sponsor in a 12-step program. At Welch’s invitation, Hernandez also sits on an advisory board for Our Lady of the Angels. The two are so close that Welch even attended Raedynn’s christening.
“It just made me think about the goodness of God and all the work Rachel has done to bring about positive change for her and Raedynn,” Welch said. “For her to commit to God to raise her baby in the church is pretty amazing. I am so encouraged by what we are doing identifying these patients early on and getting them the right services as soon as possible. We have had quite a bit of success with patients and also reduced hospital stays for babies, so I think we’re having a positive impact.
Hernandez said she wanted to spread awareness about Rise Up because many women may not be aware of the program and feel hopeless.
“If you are pregnant and have an addiction, know that there is a solution,” she said. “For a long time I didn’t know there was a solution, and that’s one of the reasons I kept going around in circles. Women need to know that there is a place to go and a family that will welcome you with open arms. Never lose hope.”