Psychosocial Support Services in the CFDT and SDU

Learning that your baby has a birth defect is a stressful, life-changing experience. To help you cope, the Center for Fetal Diagnosis & Treatment (CFDT) and the Garbose Family Special Delivery Unit (SDU) offer a wide array of counseling and support services to families. We are here to help with any psychosocial or emotional needs that may come up during your care. Because we know that caring for you means caring for those who mean the most to you, our support services are available to your family as well.

Your family has access to supportive services during the prenatal course, at the time of delivery, throughout your postpartum recovery, and while your baby is in the Newborn/Infant Intensive Care Unit (N/IICU) or Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU). These services are made possible at no charge due to philanthropic support.

Our team can:

  • Help you cope with your high-risk pregnancy as well as your baby’s hospitalization
  • Direct your family to local resources, both at CHOP and once you return home
  • Remain involved with you after discharge if needed

Through education and consistent support throughout the prenatal and postpartum period, our team can help you and your family cope with the emotional impact of having a baby with a birth defect.

Social work services in the CFDT and SDU

Receiving a diagnosis of a birth defect during pregnancy is stressful for any family. As a key part of your care team, our social workers provide support and guidance during your journey with us.

Social workers help you and your family navigate through your pregnancy and provide you with resources before, during and after delivery in the Garbose Family Special Delivery Unit.

How our social workers support families in the CFDT/SDU

You will meet with a social worker at the beginning of your care and will see the same person regularly during your appointments. Your social worker will connect you to the other team members within the Center for Fetal Diagnosis & Treatment (CFDT) and throughout CHOP who are involved in your care, and also to outside resources as needs arise for you or your family.

Our social workers can provide:

  • Emotional support during the stressful times of your pregnancy, particularly as you get close to delivery of your child(ren)
  • Referrals to counseling and support groups
  • Lodging and transportation options for appointments, relocation or hospitalization
  • Assistance in being excused from work/school or disability and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) paperwork
  • Assistance with understanding your insurance benefits and finding additional benefits that you may be eligible to receive

Meet our team's dedicated social workers, Jessica Hertzog, MSW, LSW, and Elizabeth D. Morris, MSW, LCSW.

Social workers also work with parents coping with the hospitalization of a sick infant, locating resources back home, and preparing you and your baby for the transition to home. Learn more about how social workers can help during your child’s time in the N/IICU.

Child Life services in the CFDT and SDU

A certified child life specialist has knowledge in child development and specializes in working with children and families in the hospital setting.

The Center for Fetal Diagnosis & Treatment has a dedicated child life specialist, Elizabeth Olsen, MS, CCLS, who is specially trained to help your child(ren) cope with the birth and hospitalization of their new sibling.

Our child life specialist is available to talk with you about how to help you and your child(ren) adjust and cope with your baby’s diagnosis and hospitalization in the ICU after delivery. The use of age-appropriate education, play, preparation and supportive activities help reduce stress and provide you and your child(ren) strategies to cope with the complex medical situation in a positive way.

Several strategies offered by the child life specialist include:

  • Age-appropriate language and resources to help you explain the diagnosis to your child(ren)
  • Preparation, education and support for siblings visiting the baby in the Hospital for the first time
  • Supportive therapeutic activities for mothers on bed rest
  • Strategies to help you stay connected as a family if you have to relocate or be separated for an extended period of time
  • Preparation for the transition of bringing a new sibling into your family
  • Supportive activities to help siblings when visiting you in the Hospital
  • Assistance in creating memory making items in the event of the loss of your baby

Child life services are also available to you and your family during your baby’s time in the N/IICU or CICU.

Psychology services in the CFDT/SDU

Learning about your baby's diagnosis can lead to many complex emotions. The Center for Fetal Diagnosis & Treatment is the first fetal treatment center to have a dedicated clinical psychologist on staff who focuses solely on providing emotional support and counseling for families with prenatally diagnosed birth defects.

Joanna C.M. Cole, PhD, has specialized training in the care of the pregnant mother and works closely with other members of your care team to provide therapeutic services to you and your family during the prenatal period, while in the Garbose Family Special Delivery Unit, and in the intensive care units after your baby is born.

How our psychologist supports families in the CFDT and SDU

As part of a multidisciplinary team, psychologists provide comprehensive mental health services for patients and their families.

Our dedicated psychologist can offer:

  • Education about the risks of perinatal and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders
  • Individual, couple's and family therapy sessions to identify, understand and balance the emotional toll of the pregnancy in the context of your other life stressors
  • Skills training in strategies to manage symptoms of anxiety, traumatic stress and depression in response to your baby's diagnosis
  • Encouragement for couples to discuss thoughts and feelings together and work on effective communication skills
  • Help in addressing sensitive issues such as a history of infertility, past trauma and loss, mental health and/or substance use challenges that can complicate your ability to cope with your baby’s diagnosis and course of the pregnancy
  • Strategies to address pain and stress reduction, and to manage bed rest after fetal surgery
  • Instruction on relaxation techniques to help with sleep and daily worries, and ways to emotionally prepare for fetal interventions, the labor and delivery process, and your baby's care after delivery (listen to guided relaxation audio recordings)
  • Pregnancy options counseling and support for those expectant parents who face grief while preparing to deliver their baby through palliative care

Learn more about how a psychologist can help your family in the N/IICU after your baby is born.

Psychiatry services in the CFDT/SDU

Sometimes psychiatric conditions, including mood and anxiety disorders, emerge or worsen during a pregnancy or during the postpartum period. This is even more common in women experiencing complications in pregnancy.

At times, medications may be helpful and even necessary during pregnancy or in the postpartum period, though decisions about the use of medications while pregnant or when breastfeeding can be challenging to make. 

How our psychiatrist supports families in the CFDT and SDU

Our staff psychiatrist, Sarah Mathews, MD, specializes in the management of psychiatric issues that occur during pregnancy and the postpartum period. She is available to meet you if needed for a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation once you have begun treatment in the CFDT.

During your evaluation, she will obtain a full medical and psychiatric history, as well as assess current symptoms. She will review potential options regarding treatment, including medication and psychotherapy interventions. Together, you will review the risks and benefits for each treatment option, as well as the risks and benefits of untreated psychiatric illness. She will provide support in making these sometimes difficult decisions, and attempt to answer any questions you have regarding all of your options.

Dr. Mathews is also available for follow-up visits to continue management of medications or assessment for need of medications throughout the remainder of your pregnancy and into the postpartum period. You may choose to continue to meet with Dr. Mathews until the time your baby has been discharged from CHOP. Following discharge, continued care may be available in Dr. Mathews' outpatient practice at the Penn Center for Women's Behavioral Wellness with locations in University City and Center City. She can also help connect you with an alternative option in your community.

Spiritual care

Our chaplain, Laura E. Palmer, MDiv, is available to help support your spiritual beliefs and needs. Having a high risk pregnancy often triggers spiritual questions, doubts, and challenges. You may find that your faith becomes even more meaningful to you, and appreciate being able to pray with the chaplain, receive communion, or visit with a priest, imam or rabbi. The chaplain is available to meet with you during your outpatient visits, or while you are in the Hospital's Special Delivery Unit after the birth of your baby.

Our chaplain often baptizes babies in the delivery room, or soon afterwards, when grandparents and other family members can be present. At times of loss, bereavement support is always available. Our chaplain will often write a special “Going Home” prayer to help families through the wrenching moments of saying a final goodbye.

Our chaplain offers a compassionate and nonjudgmental presence and a willingness to listen to whatever doubts, fears or questions you might have with the goal of helping you feel as supported in your own faith tradition as possible.

For additional support, an on-call chaplain is available 24/7, whom your nurse can page at any time. Learn more about spiritual care available at CHOP.