AURORA, Colo. — A new University of Colorado Anschutz College of Nursing program called the Perinatal Peer Support Doula Program is helping mothers-to-be and postpartum mothers with substance-use disorders.
The program takes peer support specialists and provides them with additional doula training.
“We started in January so it’s brand new, and we have two peer support specialist doulas on staff so far,” said Jessica Anderson, director of midwifery services at the University of Colorado College of Nursing. “They can provide additional support for people, pregnant people and postpartum people with substance use disorders. So we take a peer support specialist doula, match them up with a pregnant person, ideally in pregnancy. And they are a cohort or team that works together through pregnancy, labor, birth, and for 12 months following the birth.”
Anderson said the 12 months after birth are critical.
“The No. 1 killer in the state of Colorado for pregnant or postpartum people is suicide. The No. 2 is actually accidental overdose,” Anderson said. “Substance use disorder is just like someone who has diabetes, hypertension, right? It's a medical condition. And so we need to provide the support to treat that condition. So if someone had diabetes, we would give them insulin or teach them how to eat. It's the same thing."
Britt Westmoreland, who is one of the peer specialists participating in the program, said it has allowed her to use her lived experience to help others.
“I was four years into recovery when I had my baby,” Westmoreland said. “Because of historical stigma, people with substance use disorder don't feel like they have rights, really, in a medical setting.”
Westmoreland said even four years into her recovery journey, when she was pregnant, she was afraid of being stigmatized.
“I still wasn't very comfortable disclosing everything to the doctors. I was on medication for panic attacks at the time… I was scared to ask for meds for my panic attacks,” Westmoreland said.
Westmoreland said after going into labor, a volunteer doula made her feel safe enough to disclose her medical history and she hopes to offer that same safe space to her patients.
“Without her, I felt like I really didn't have anybody I trusted to talk to,” Westmoreland said. “I was lucky enough to be in recovery when I got pregnant, but I understand the ins and outs of recovery, and that it's not linear.”
Westmoreland said every patient deserves support and judgment-free medical care.