by Vince Rogers
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
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