After Learning to Care for Herself, Cambria King Launched a Career Caring for Others
For over a year, Cambria King has helped pregnant women struggling with substance use disorders work toward recovery under extraordinary circumstances. The international COVID-19 pandemic has transformed an already challenging commitment into an isolating one as well.
“Early in the pandemic, when we had to halt in-person support groups and couldn’t provide additional support through the Pregnancy Recovery Center (PRC) — that was really hard for our patients,” said King, a peer navigator with the PRC at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.
King understands the particular challenges women struggling with substance use disorder face. She knows first hand the hold substance use disorders can have — and how critical support, compassion and empathy are to the recovery process.
“I became pregnant in 2015 — the result of a birth control failure. And I was terrified. Methadone treatment is part of my recovery process, and I was so worried about how it would affect the health of my baby girl. She didn’t ask to be born with a dependency,” said King.
“Pregnancy presents a unique window for women and their health,” said Elizabeth Krans, MD, an investigator with Magee-Womens Research Institute and director of the PRC. “Pregnancy can have a profound impact on women’s substance use disorders and fundamentally change their behavior. We want to leverage that window and help women begin the recovery process — for their own health and the health of their babies.”
At the PRC, the staff embraces a nonjudgmental approach to the women they treat.
“From the first phone call, we welcome women,” said Dr. Krans. “We say, ‘We’re so glad to have you.’ Moms are excited about having babies, so it’s important for us to be welcoming and excited too.”
According to Dr. Krans, doctors who treat women with substance use disorders need to make lasting connections.
“We don’t abandon our patients after delivery. These women have dynamic situations that often pose obstacles. During the pandemic, many of them dealt with job loss and related financial obstacles. Like most people, they had to juggle childcare, education and work, on top of their substance use disorder,” said Krans.
Most women who succeed in recovery have to make major life changes fairly quickly, from the people they spend time with to the rhythms of their daily routine. King was no different.
“I had to learn to care for myself in a completely new way,” said King. “Over the course of my recovery, I was diagnosed with ADHD. A lot of my dependency was related to handling those symptoms. I had to learn new ways to manage.”
The PRC incorporates maintenance medication for women in recovery while pregnant. In addition, it embraces the belief that the best medicine for a baby born with a dependency is its mom. PRC staff help educate women about breastfeeding and the importance of skin-to-skin contact.
The PRC staff includes ob-gyns, three registered nurses, two peer navigators and two social workers. The navigators are women in long-term recovery for substance use disorder. They build relationships with patients and help coordinate their care. One of the qualifications for becoming a peer navigator is a one full year free of substance use. King was just on the edge of this goal when a position became open.
“I wanted to work for the PRC so badly. I asked Dr. Krans about the possibility of applying, and she advocated for me despite the fact I was still tapering off methadone. I’ve been with the PRC since 2019, and I couldn’t ask for more meaningful work,” said King.
“Cambria works with more women than anyone else on our team,” said Krans. “Her ability to empathize and connect with patients has been absolutely remarkable.”
According to Dr. Krans, the more normalized substance use disorders become, the easier asking for help and entering recovery will become for women. “We need to look at substance use disorders the same way we look at conditions like diabetes,” Krans said. “Nobody wants to struggle with this disorder. With the correct treatment strategies and support in place, women can recover and lead healthy, meaningful lives.”
According to King, the role of maintenance medication has been key to recovery. “I want women to understand that their recovery will include many facets, including therapy, medication and peer support. They can get all of this at the PRC, and this is why the program is so successful.”
According to King, her recovery has given her the freedom to be the mom she’s meant to be: “My recovery gave me a reason to hope. Now I get to help other women. I’m extremely grateful.”
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