Fran Biel on every woman’s right to a healthy pregnancy

Women with disabilities face particular challenges during pregnancy and childbirth. There are scales and exam tables that may not accommodate them and that there is a lack of medical information in accessible form — and there is still little information about their experiences during pregnancy and childbirth. Research assistant Fran Biel works in Willi Horner-Johnson’s lab in the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health, where they are gathering new information that could improve the experiences of this population. Fran was a co-author on the lab’s recent publication on time trends in births and cesarean deliveries among women with disabilities.

What are you researching now—and why does it matter?

Every woman should be able to give birth if she wants to – she should be able to have a happy, healthy pregnancy and a positive birth experience. In Dr. Horner-Johnson’s lab we’ve conducted some of the first research on this population. We now know that women with disabilities become pregnant at about the same rate as women without disabilities. They also experience cesarean births at a much higher rate. That’s good knowledge – good for providers to be aware of and good for women to know.

What’s been your most exciting moment in discovery?

Our research is a big deal from an equity perspective. Women with disabilities are participating fully in society, but pregnancy and childbirth can be a challenging, lonely time if they don’t happen to be at a center where there is a lot of experience with pregnant women with disabilities. What’s exciting for me doesn’t happen necessarily in a particular moment, it’s the knowledge from a public health perspective that accumulates over time.

What’s your day-to-day life as a researcher look like?

We’re always working on several projects – some are nearing publication, some are in data analysis phase, some are in the stage where we start deciding what questions to ask.  Always, though, I’m aware that we’re uniquely equipped to answer the questions we’re asking. And to find the questions that haven’t been asked yet. What could that information tell us?

About In the Lab

In the Lab looks at the people in the laboratories who help make OHSU such a vibrant research institution. In each post, researchers describe their current work and answer the same three questions.