JAS Hans, a third-year medical student at UBC, had just started a rotation at BC Women’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in April, working with doctors as they cared for BC’s most fragile infants.
One particular family stood out to Jas: a mom who is new to Canada and caring for her baby all by herself, which resonated with his own family’s experience. It was during rounds, 10 days into his placement, that Jas noticed the nervous look on this mom’s face so he asked her how she was doing. The NICU can be an intense environment filled with anxiety and stress of new parents worrying about the health of their premature babies.
The mom revealed that she was worried about the future and needed something to look forward to, to be reassured that things are going to get better. It was at that moment, Jas felt compelled to share his family history. Like this new mom in the NICU, Jas’ mom, Kulwant Hans, was a new immigrant to Canada. Kulwant and her husband, Jaspal, arrived to Canada 25 years ago and were expecting their first child. What was an exciting time turned tragic when Jaspal suddenly died at the age of 26 leaving behind Kulwant at 10 weeks pregnant.
Feeling alone and depressed, Kulwant was having a difficult time grappling with the death of her husband and the thought of raising a family on her own. At a follow up doctor’s appointment to talk about her mental health and receive results of her ultrasound, Kulwant learned she was having twins. Her family doctor, sensing the shock of the news turned to Kulwant and said:
“I don’t know what will happen, but I hope one of your twins becomes prime minister and one at the very least, a doctor.”
Little did he know, the kindness of these simple words gave Kulwant the hope she desperately needed to take each day, one day at a time. She clutched onto this message, which helped her get through the toughest moments of her pregnancy.
Kulwant delivered two baby boys via emergency C-section on December 7, 1994 at Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH). Jas and Paul, named in memory of their father Jaspal, were born preterm at 34 weeks and spent two weeks in the NICU at RCH.
“I felt good to be reassured by the NICU doctors because I was very scared for my babies and myself. The nurses and doctors were so nice and kind,” remembered Kulwant. “At that time, mothers weren’t allowed to stay with their babies. It would have made the world of a difference to be able to stay close to my sons like how it is at BC Women’s NICU.”
Seeing the mom in the NICU reminded Jas of his mom’s recollection about how alone and scared she felt when he and his brother were born. Jas felt he needed to connect with this mom to give her the same hope that a doctor had once given to his mom.
“I’ve never really talked about this with anyone, let alone patients but today this mom just needed something to believe in and I thought I could help, just like how Dr. Mcallenen helped my mom all those years ago. It felt refreshing being able to help in this way, it felt human.”
If it wasn’t for his mom, Jas, would not be able to realize his goal of becoming a doctor. Kulwant attributes her tenacity to get by as a single mom experiencing postpartum depression and financial strains to the positive words of Dr. Mcallenen and the help he provided by connecting her with social services.
Jas is still figuring out which medical area he wants to focus on, but feels drawn to caring for children. As for a career in politics, Dr. Mcallenen’s other wish for the Hans boys, that is still up in the air.
New Beginnings Maternity Clinic provides maternity care for new immigrants who do not yet have provincial Medical Services Plan coverage.
Learn more about reproductive mental health and resources to get help.
(Article and photo courtesy of BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre, Provincial Health Services Authority)