When Kassidie Baldwin discovered she was pregnant last year, she was very afraid.
But Baldwin, 19, and her boyfriend had someone looking out for them during this crucial moment in their lives: a "doula" from a Glen Ellyn-based nonprofit group called Teen Parent Connection.
There are challenges for any pregnant couple, but for teen moms and dads those obstacles can be even greater. To make the journey a little easier, Teen Parent gives them a companion along the way.
Headquartered at 475 Taft Ave., the group offers a three-pronged "Doula" Program for DuPage County parents-to-be ages 12 to 22, Executive Director Becky Beilfuss said.
(The group also provides many other services, including school-based pregnancy-prevention education programs.)
"Doula" is a word that essentially refers to a female servant, Supervisor Ashley Anderson said.
"And in our world, it's in the birth world, so it's one woman serving another through their labor and delivery and sometimes even their pregnancy journey," Anderson said.
The free program recently received a $15,000 grant from the Chicago Foundation for Women. Foundation Program Officer Elizabeth Hartig says her Chicago group has contributed more than $53,000 to Teen Parent Connection in recent years.
The Doula Program is divided into three parts: a prenatal support group, childbirth education classes and home visits.
In prenatal groups, attendees learn about the pregnancy process, such as early signs and how to deal with discomfort.
The groups also give parents-to-be a chance to meet others facing the same issues.
"So what this group is used for a lot of the time is, you know, they just found out they're pregnant, so they're talking about feelings related to that, they're talking about what was it like when they told their parents, how their lives are changing," Anderson said.
The group often discusses common challenges, such as morning sickness.
In the childbirth education classes led by doulas, curriculum is centered on delivery and labor preparation, covering topics such as nutrition, exercise and what labor is like, Anderson said. They also discuss issues of postpartum depression and newborn care.
Both the groups and classes are eight-week sessions and take place at a local church.
The third part of the program is the home visits made by doulas. Beilfuss said home visits generally begin around 22 weeks and doulas make weekly visits until the baby is 2 months old. The doulas do many things during the visits, including sharing information and developing birth plans.
The program also links teens to resources they may need, such as housing, medical providers and day care.
Parents-to-be do not have to do all three parts of the program, Beilfuss said.
On the big day, participants can ask for a doula to be at the hospital for the birth.
Doulas also can help parents after the child is born with issues such as bonding with the baby and development.
Christine Wulbecker, a bilingual doula at Teen Parent Connection, said they ask parents questions regarding their experiences with the birth.
"The birth is such an impactful moment for both mom and dad ... whether they stay together in their relationship and choose to co-parent together or separately, it's a very big moment," she said. "And so we as doulas, we're kind of the emotional guardians of that moment."
Wulbecker says helping young parents can have a lasting impact.
"I think not only these teenagers but these babies who are being born are the future of DuPage County," Wulbecker said. "And so getting them started with the best possible beginning is only going to help the workforce, it's only going to help our eventual leaders."
Baldwin, who had her baby last September, says her doula provided needed emotional support.
"It was really good, she helped me a lot," Baldwin said. "She was there to support me when I was down or whenever I needed somebody to talk to."
To contact Teen Parent Connection, call (630) 790-8433 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.