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A Doula Story: On the Front Lines of Teen Pregnancy

by Vince Rogers

In one out of nine pregnancies that occurs in the United States, the mother is a teenager. This fact is presented at the beginning of A Doula Story (produced by the non-profit Kindling Group in 2005) and the audience is reminded of the potential consequences of this reality throughout the film. Teenaged mothers are usually alone, ill-prepared, and afraid. However, with the proper support network they can deliver healthy babies, and become nurturing mothers and productive people. Director Daniel Alpert examines these issues from many perspectives by allowing us to look at the problem of teen pregnancy through the compassionate and non-judgmental eyes of Chicago based community doula, Loretha Weisinger.

Weisinger works in inner city Chicago assisting young, unmarried, poor, mostly African-American teenaged girls to cope with the demanding challenges of the miracle of childbirth through a program called "Project Hope." She does this work under less than miraculous conditions but with all the grace of an angel. Weisinger, who was a teen mother when she was only 16, has worked with these women for over a decade. She works long hours for very little pay. Her greatest rewards seem to come from watching these scared little girls become strong young mothers. She details her own very poignant story of having a child as a teen mother because she wanted to "show my mother how to love a child." Because of her own experiences, Weisinger understands that, like most mothers, "her girls" don't need to be taught how to love their babies. She believes it is her job to teach them some of the skills they need to be attentive nurturers and conscientious caregivers.

The filmmakers could not have chosen a better subject for their main character. Personally, I have never seen anyone as dedicated to a mission as Weisinger is to hers. She is on call to these young women day and night, accompanies them to hospital visits, is there with them as they give birth and for weeks after the child is born. When one baby opens her eyes for the first time and sees her mother, Weisinger tells her that "All babies love their mom's face." We are reminded time and again as we watch Weisinger share her knowledge with each young mother, that what's most important is that the babies be well taken care of now that they are here and not shunned because of their conditions.

This film will probably be criticized by some for not preaching the virtues of birth control or abstinence, or even for its lack of condemnation of the girls for having children out of wedlock. One young woman in the film was about to have her fourth child at 19 years old. We learned from Weisinger during the Q&A session following the film that this woman now has five children and has been excused from the program. This is the exception, however, and not the rule. The women in the Hope Project are required to attend school as well as participate in the program's mothering and childbirth classes.

The films director, Daniel Alpert, is no stranger to tackling controversial subject matter in the same objective yet revelatory fashion. He has been a part of Oscar and Emmy award-nominated projects such as Legacy; A History of God and No Time to be a Child. He is the founder of the Kindling Group, an independent filmmaking collective, which provides a creative, collaborative environment for independent filmmakers to develop and produce documentary films that explore significant social and historical issues. Alpert tells this story free of narration and bias. The story is told by watching Loretha Weisinger in action during and after these women's pregnancies. The film does a good job of showing how the love and compassion of one person can make an inestimable difference in a person's life, the lives of future generations, and the strength of the community.

Although the doulas in this film work amongst the poor of the inner city, the tradition of the doula is an ancient one. It is not a modern or urban phenomena or some liberal invention. The word and the practice comes from the ancient Greek, meaning "a woman who assists another woman during labor and provides support to her, the infant, and the family after childbirth." Chicago's Project Hope model has been emulated in many cities around the country. Atlanta has a community-based Doula Project administered by the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (www.gcapp.org). Research shows that the assistance of a doula can lower medical costs, contribute to a decreased incidence of problem births, and help the baby bond with its mother. The doula tradition is an ancient practice that seems to be needed now more than ever.

A Doula Story screened at the King Center Historic Site as part of IMAGE's monthly D.R.E.A.M film series. It is very well sequenced and has an economical running time of 60 minutes which is suitable for the documentary format. It is filmed in high quality color and the soundtrack is highly audible. An expanded DVD is available and is suitable for cinematic or academic screenings. It is also available with Spanish subtitles.

To order the film, or learn more about the characters and educational materials go to www.kindlinggroup.org or www.adoulastory.org.