Amy Jaral, a 35-year-old mother from Alameda, Calif., had been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day since age 15. When she became pregnant with her son, Hunter, she found the motivation to quit — but quickly discovered she needed help.
After researching several smoking cessation programs, Jaral found the Fontana Tobacco Treatment Center at UCSF Medical Center, which offers classes and consultations with doctors and nurses trained in treating tobacco addiction. Jaral says it was her phone conversation with Suzanne Harris, a certified tobacco treatment specialist at the center, that convinced her to enroll in the program.
"Suzanne was super warm and welcoming," remembers Jaral. "She didn't judge me at all for being pregnant. She just wanted to support me as best as she could."
Had you tried to quit before on your own?
Yes, I tried to quit at age 24. I was successful for one month. I quit cold turkey and was completely uneducated about nicotine replacement therapy.
Being pregnant was your motivation for quitting, but did pregnancy also make it especially hard to quit?
Yes, your body absorbs nicotine at a faster rate when you're pregnant. And my anxiety level was so high during my first trimester that quitting smoking seemed impossible.
Why did you choose the UCSF Smoking Cessation Program?
I called several programs before I chose UCSF. UCSF was convenient and cost effective. The program only costs $55. And most importantly, Suzanne — she was non-judgmental and super caring. I finally had found someone that truly understood my plight and wanted to help me.
What was the most effective aspect of the program?
Nicotine replacement therapy combined with the support I received from other classmates. The support from other members was instrumental in helping me quit and stay smoke-free.
How long did it take you to quit? Did you use any medications?
It took me one month to quit and I used the patch as well as the gum. I am now considering getting the nicotine inhaler.
What was the hardest part of quitting?
Giving up my morning cup of coffee with a smoke and enjoying those few minutes of alone time was the hardest part.
I still miss smoking. There are days that I crave a smoke. But my commitment to my son far outweighs the urges I have for nicotine. I don't ever want my son to know me as a smoking mother. I don't ever want him to be waiting for me to finish my smoke so that I can be with him. Every time I look at him, I am grateful that I do not smoke.
Research shows that half of all women who quit smoking during pregnancy relapse within six months of delivery. You relapsed when your son was a few months old. Why do you think this happened?
For me, I quit smoking for the baby I was carrying and not for myself. The stress of caring for a newborn combined with not using nicotine replacement therapy led to me starting again when my son was a few months old. This was a very difficult time for me. The stigma of being a smoking mother weighed heavily.
How did the program help you quit a second time?
First, the class educated me on nicotine replacement therapy. I didn't know how to use the patch until the class. Second, the support I received from Suzanne and the other class members was monumental in helping me succeed.
I also started bike riding as a way to reduce stress and that has really helped me stay smoke-free.
Now that you're tobacco-free, how has your emotional and physical life changed?
Everything about my life is better. The time I would have spent smoking is spent on my 3-year-old son. I am so grateful that he doesn't know me as a smoking mother. My partner is delighted that I quit and reminds me of that every day. My whole world is so much better because I am no longer a slave to nicotine.
What advice would you give other mothers-to-be who are trying to quit?
Don't be hard on yourself. Quitting smoking is already such a milestone, but quitting while pregnant is especially challenging. It's important to know you're doing the best you can.
Interviewed February 2014 by Abby Sinnott.
Tobacco Treatment Center
2330 Post St., Suite 420
San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: (415) 885-7895