A Friend to Teen Moms

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Having a baby can be tough for any woman. For teen moms, it can be especially challenging. Allie Sakowicz, 16, is here to help. A junior in high school in Park Ridge,Illinois, Allie is a certified doula (pronounced: doo-luh), a trained volunteer who assists during labor and after childbirth. Choices recently spoke with Allie.

Choices: What does a doula do?
Allie: A doula is a non-medical support professional. Doulas don’t take blood pressure, monitor the baby’s heartbeat, or anything like that. We’re there to support the mom during the last few months of her pregnancy, when she goes into labor and delivers the baby, and during the postpartum period (the time after the baby is born). We provide support for her. For instance, during labor we might give her a massage or suggest she try breathing techniques to deal with any discomfort she’s experiencing.

Choices: Why did you choose to be a doula?
Allie: I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was 2. I’ve always had an interest in medicine. I think the librarians at my local library were a little confused when I was checking out pregnancy books when I was only 9! When I was 11 or 12, I saw a TV special on doulas and I became interested in trying to be one.

Choices: How did you become a doula?
Allie: Several different organizations certify doulas. I went to DONA International. It stands for Doulas of North America. There are several steps to becoming certified. You need to attend a workshop, complete a reading list, attend classes, and be present for three to seven births.

Choices: Can anyone become a doula?
Allie: Anyone can, as long as they finish the certification requirements. It’s not an easy process. Some doulas get certified in four months. For others, it can take four years. It took me two years.

Choices: How many births have you attended so far?
Allie:
Seven.

Choices: Is it hard to fit your doula work into your school schedule?
Allie:
I’ve shadowed nurses at different hospitals and worked with some doctors to get that number. I’ve been lucky that our local hospital and some others in the area have taken me under their wing and helped me learn. A lot of the births have been during the summer, but some have been during the school year, like on days off or weekends. It’ll never come to a point where I get called out of history class to attend a birth. It’s always when I’m available.

Choices: What is the toughest part about being a doula?
Allie:
There are births that last 40 or 50 or even 60 hours and a doula never leaves the room. I was at a birth once that was about 40 hours, and you don’t know if you can keep going. You do run on adrenaline to a point, but going 40 hours when you’re used to being awake for 18 or 20 hours is a lot of work.

Choices: You work specifically with teen moms. Why?
Allie:
I think I can build a relationship with them pretty well. Being a teen myself helps me connect with them better. If the mom knows she can come to me with any of her concerns, I’ll listen like a friend. But I’ll also have the knowledge that comes with my training.

Choices: How do you meet the moms-to-be that you work with?
Allie:
I work with the doula community here in Chicago. We’re a very tight-knit community. If any doulas in the area have teen moms that they’re working with, a lot of times they’ll give them my name.

Choices: How long before the birth do you meet the mom?
Allie:
A month or two. We meet several times before she goes into labor. We’ll have coffee or breakfast together and get to know each other. We’ll communicate by phone and texting and e-mail. Then when she goes into labor, she’ll know how to contact me and we’ve already built a bond between us.

Choices: What is the most rewarding part of being a doula?
Allie:
My favorite part is looking at the mom’s face after she sees her baby for the first time. I love watching moms transform right before my eyes when they realize that they have this whole new blessing and responsibility.

Choices: In your experience, how is a teen mom’s pregnancy different from that of an older mom’s?
Allie:
I think teens have additional struggles. All the moms that I work with—some of them are still in high school, and some are getting ready to go to college—all have to deal with things like how they are going to handle going to school and being a mom and what to do about earning money to pay for the baby’s needs. There are all these different challenges, but in the end, the baby is the most important thing, and moms of any age realize that.

Choices: Has being a doula affected your view about becoming a parent yourself?
Allie:
It shows me the amount of work it takes to be a parent. I want to be a doctor and I don’t want to have kids until I’m done with medical school and my residency as a physician. I have much respect for teen moms. I don’t think they get enough credit. Having to go through school, working a job, dealing with raising a child, and maybe even trying to maintain a relationship—these are all issues for a teen whose a parent to deal with. It’s not easy to do at all.

Choices: How old were you the first time you attended a birth?
Allie:
I was 12. I wasn’t there as a doula, I was shadowing a nurse. I was invited to attend the birth and it kind of set the course of my life. I still think about that first time every day. Anytime I’m struggling in school or need some inspiration, I look back to that day and remember I’m working so hard.

Choices: What do you do when you’re not helping teen moms?
Allie:
I’m also a freelance writer. I was a member of the Kids Press Corps at Scholastic for a couple of years. Now I write mainly for medical publications. I like to take complex medical studies that are done and break them down for the general public. I’m also interested in journalism, and I’d like to combine medicine and being a writer someday.

—Interview by Christy Damio

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