Doula program helps young parents

Judy Harvey
For Sun-Times Media
Aug. 12 2:30 p.m.
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Here are some facts about Teen Parent Connection:

Founded in 1985, the organization assists mothers between the ages of 13 and 22.

In addition to pregnancy and parenting programs, the organization offers abstinence-based peer prevention programs to DuPage County schools.

Partners with DuPage Health Department, Positive Parenting DuPage, Robert Crown Center and YWCA Metropolitan Chicago.

Contact information: 630 790-8433, or info@teenparentconnection.org

Its website: www.teenparentconnection.org

For almost three decades, Teen Parent Connection has been aiding young mothers and young fathers throughout DuPage County. It provides support on so many fronts, from support at doctor’s visits to educational programs to baby supplies.

One of the key components of the Glen Ellyn-based organization is its doula program, which is entering its second decade. Doulas are trained staff who offer support, guidance and help empowering mothers and fathers during the final trimester of pregnancy and for eight weeks after the birth.

Doulas begin with weekly home visits to help the parents learn more about the pregnancy, their overall health, and to help prepare them for labor and delivery and newborn care. They encourage mothers to ask questions at doctor’s visits and to make their own decisions going forward.

“They have courageously chosen to parent, and we want to show them our support,” doula Christine Wulbecker said. “We want it to be their choices being made.”

Wulbecker is in her second full year of being a doula and is one of two full-time doulas on staff at Teen Parent Connection. She was previously part of the home visit team, which is a more long-term program. But she said she wanted to being there for the mothers and families during the birth process, which is such an emotionally as well as physically intense time.

“It all amps up the connection about 10 times,” Wulbecker said. “I love that aspect. We get real, real quick. And it is a trust factor letting me be there and in their lives. “

The emotional strains of childbirth are stressful for all mothers, but the circumstances around teen pregnancies can make the event much more complicated. So much depends on the mother’s family situation and whether the father is involved and his relationship with the mother’s parents.

Doulas can help defuse a volatile situation.

“I say, ‘I don’t have an agenda. I am here for you.’ I am not there to replace anybody, but I am there to support and help people,” Wulbecker said. “We want this to be emotionally positive.”

Expectant fathers at any age feel the pressure of responsibility, but that pressure can magnify in teenagers who are still struggling with their own maturation process.

“It is a lot of pressure, and there oftentimes is tension because there is a lot of growing up quickly,” doula manager Ashely Anderson said.

But most of the time, the mothers do want the dads involved all the way, she said.

Teen Parent Connection aims to keep the young fathers connected throughout the pregnancies, and the majority of those who do come into the process early through the organization’s prenatal programs and education classes stay.

“(Our programs) are giving dads ways to feel successful as they get more confident about being parents,” said Sarah Pluth, director of development. “Prenatal is the key time to get the dads involved.”

Doulas help guide the fathers as well as the mothers through the birthing process and ways to bond to the baby before birth, by reading to and talking to the baby in the womb.

“We want them to process their feelings of becoming a father and help them understand how to be there physically, emotionally, mentally as well as financially for (the mother) and the baby,” Wulbecker said.

After the birth, the doulas conduct home visits during the next eight weeks to check on the well-being of both parents and the baby. Included in those visits is looking for signs of postpartum depression and, if needed, to connect the mother, and sometimes father, with the necessary professional help.

Teen Parent Connection helps with baby supplies through incentive programs that allow parents to earn “baby bucks” to be used at its center. The organization benefits from “generous donations and community support” from many groups and individuals throughout DuPage County, Pluth said.

Baby bucks are earned by parents attending the center’s parenting education and healthy families programs or through their own decisions and actions. The latter can be anything from keeping up with doctor appointments, completing a GED program, committing to finish school and higher education, or getting a job.

“Anything that is done to better themselves,” Anderson said.

Teen Parent Connection’s parenting programs run through the child’s first five years. Participation in these programs “teaches them to be accountable and responsibility,” Anderson said.

The parenting classes are open to any parent or expectant parent between the ages of 12 and 19 in DuPage County, according to the organization’s website.

The doula program’s success has attracted regional attention. Teen Parent Connection recently received a $15,000 grant from the Chicago Foundation for Women. This marks the third time the two groups have partnered on funding the doula program.

“The foundation empowers and advocates for women, so this really is a natural fit,” Pluth said. “Their grant is hugely important to us.”

With an annual budget of $160,000, the grant represents about 9 percent of the doula program’s funds. Last year, that allowed Teen Parent Connection to serve 50 families through the doula and home visitation programs.

Overall, the organization served more than 600 young parents in DuPage County in 2013.

“Teen parents are at-risk,” Pluth said. “We want them to feel empowered through their pregnancy.”

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Learn more

Here are some facts about Teen Parent Connection:

Founded in 1985, the organization assists mothers between the ages of 13 and 22.

In addition to pregnancy and parenting programs, the organization offers abstinence-based peer prevention programs to DuPage County schools.

Partners with DuPage Health Department, Positive Parenting DuPage, Robert Crown Center and YWCA Metropolitan Chicago.

Contact information: 630 790-8433, or info@teenparentconnection.org

Its website: www.teenparentconnection.org

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