Victoria Dicks was an 18-year-old recent high school graduate when she discovered she was pregnant.
It wasn’t something she’d planned, but she knew she wanted to keep her baby.
On the advice of her sister, she contacted the Young Women’s Resource Center, which connected her with a doula, someone trained to assist expecting mothers and provide support after the baby is born.
The Des Moines-based nonprofit has offered doulas since 2004 to help young mothers such as Dicks navigate what can be an overwhelming situation.
The group says the program is working.
According to the Young Women’s Resource Center, clients who receive doula support are:
- More likely to attend all prenatal appointments
- More likely to have a baby born at a healthy birth weight
- More likely to initiate breastfeeding and continue past 6 weeks
- Less likely to experience postpartum depression
The YWRC often serves women who have experienced abuse, and those traumatic experiences can affect how they approach pregnancy and bond with their child, said Ashley Ezzio, a doula and the center’s childbirth and perinatal specialist.
Doulas can help navigate challenges during pregnancy or birth through education, and physical and emotional support.
That, in turn, helps new moms become more confident and empowered, she said.
“Doulas are that advocate,” Ezzio said. “This is very much about what the mother wants.”
Teen moms, by the numbers:
The birth rate among Iowa teens has dropped more than 50 percent since 1991.
In addition, fewer Iowa teens ages 15-19 become moms compared to their peers across the rest of the country:
- Among Iowa teens: 19 births per 1,000 women
- Among all U.S. teens: 22 births per 1,000 women
Empowering young Iowa women
Guidance counselors from Des Moines and Southeast Polk schools refer pregnant teens to the Young Women’s Resource Center.
Others come to the group on their own.
The nonprofit provides transportation to the center, located off Fifth Avenue in downtown Des Moines, and helps women ages 13-21 navigate what comes next.
Its goal “is to give our participants all the information — fact-based, medically supported information — about what all their options are and empower them to make a decision that’s best for them,” said Erin Moran, spokeswoman for the YWRC.
For some teens, that might mean aborting the pregnancy. For others, it’s adoption or raising the child themselves.
Those who choose birth are paired with a doula, who will teach them what to expect during their pregnancy and provide one-on-one instruction for a healthy delivery.
Doulas meet with clients at least three times during the pregnancy and often keep in touch by phone and text message, building a relationship and encouraging them to call with questions.
They accompany their teens to the hospital and stay throughout the delivery.
After the child is born, doulas meet with them in their homes several more times to offer guidance on everything from breast feeding and bottle feeding to dealing with sleepless nights.
It’s “an added person in their lives who is well educated in the best evidence and research,” said Ezzio, the center’s perinatal specialist.
Supporting a mom
Dicks remembers the first meeting with her doula when she was six months pregnant.
Shannissy Catron brought a folder of educational material to share with the teenager at her West Des Moines home.
As they went through each card, Dicks said she remembers feeling overwhelmed by how little she knew.
Catron provided the reassurance she needed.
“Look at how much you do know,” she recalls her saying.
The Waukee High graduate said she often felt that doctors and nurses didn’t take her seriously or listen to her concerns.
But working with Catron was different. She didn’t feel judged. She felt accepted.
Even after her son was born, Catron helped Dicks navigate the baby blues and breast feeding.
Now a mother to an 8-month-old, Dicks said it was an empowering experience.
“I’m so proud of you, mama,” Catron told her during a recent reunion.
How can you receive doula support?
DONA International recommends asking the following questions when searching for a doula.
- Where did you receive training?
- Which organizations are you certified through?
- What techniques will you use to help me move through labor?
- How will you interact with my medical team?
- How will you support my partner through this process?
View the complete list online at dona.org.
Around the Des Moines area:
- The Young Women’s Resource Center offers services to women ages 13-21.
- The Central Iowa Doula Association includes certified birth and postpartum doulas
- Mercy has a volunteer birth doula program.
- A number of locally owned doula companies are available in the central Iowa area.