Culture & Conversation Maternity and Birthing

Project Teenbirth and the Importance of Unconditional Support: A Q&A With Birth Advocate Melinda Morales

Gloria Malone

"Providing pregnant teens an environment free of prejudice and shame can unlock so much of their potential, allowing them to love themselves for who they are and not what society has depicted them to be."

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

Melinda Morales is a Florida-based doula and the founder of lovebirth, which offers doula services for women, teens and young parents, and the LGBTQ community. What started out as a traditional doula service—only offering support in pregnancy and delivery and private childbirth classes—has grown into a business providing a full spectrum of care that not only supports people through pregnancy and delivery but abortion as well. Its newest program, Project Teenbirth, is one that Morales is especially excited about.

Rewire spoke via email with Morales to hear about her motivations for launching Project Teenbirth, how she thinks teen birth differs from non-teen birth, and what teen parents need more of from their loved ones and support systems.

Rewire: Some people might say that focusing solely on pregnant and parenting teens isn’t necessary. Tell me what motivated you to focus specifically on pregnant and parenting young people in your work?

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Melinda Morales: My own experiences of being a pregnant teen and young parent led me into my doula work focusing specifically on pregnant teens.

During my pregnancy, even though I knew exactly how I wanted my birth to unfold, I was treated like an ignorant young girl who just didn’t know better because I was 16. During labor I was disrespected, I was yelled at, I was told to shut up, and was given zero support from the entire medical staff. Thankfully, my ex-husband was there. He was my “doula.” I honestly don’t think I could have managed alone in such a hostile environment without his support.

The birth of my firstborn left me with many unanswered questions of why was I treated like I did not deserve this child I just gave birth to—questions that went unanswered until I had my second son, at home. I became pregnant with my second son at 21, and man, what a difference having a birth team of supportive people who understood the organic process of labor and believed in me made on my overall birth experience. Of course I was still shunned for having another baby so young. However, I was given options, support, and education this time around which was everything. Shortly after I gave birth to my second son, I knew that as long as they were surrounded by respect and genuine support other teen moms could feel just as empowered as I did.

Rewire: It sounds like not only was your support system necessary but perhaps your age difference played a role in people allowing you more agency. Now as a birth professional and someone whom has experienced child birth as a teen, how would you say working with pregnant teens differs from working with pregnant non-teens?

MM: Damn, good question. There’s too much damn shame and stigma that surrounds early parenthood. When working with pregnant teens versus pregnant non-teens, my whole mind shift and approach as a birth advocate changes. For a pregnant teen, you have to be there, like really be right there with them 200 percent. They’re surrounded by so much negative bullshit and a bunch of “if’s”: “If you didn’t get pregnant, you’d finish school.” “If you didn’t get pregnant, you’d find a good job.” That’s all bullshit.

Our mindset with young pregnant and parenting people has to be uplifting, strong, sincere, and genuine. In that environment there are no “if’s.” Let me tell you, I know a lot of non-teen women who have kids and don’t have their shit together. So yeah, it’s harder for teens, we all know that. But it’s not just due to their age but because society makes it that way.

Hopefully through our efforts, others will start to empower young parents just as they would an older woman that was transitioning into motherhood.

Rewire: With your more than ten years of doula experience, what do you think is the most necessary form of support for pregnant and parenting teens?

MM: Supporting teen and young parents goes way beyond the scope of being a doula and childbirth educator. They need postpartum support and education just as much.

When it comes to pregnant and parenting teens, one of the most important ways in supporting them, I’d have to say, would be by giving them not just support, but unconditional support. Pregnant and parenting teens can sometimes get basic support, if you want to call it that, from family and friends. I call it basic because it’s support that is in some ways forced. The support is given out of pity or from feeling obligated because that teen mom is their daughter, sister, or the likes.

The other necessary form of support would be building a sense of trust with them. Of course, there’s education on the birthing process and removing the fear of the unknown. But with teen moms, it really comes down to building trust, empowerment, and showing them that you believe they are capable—nothing less.

Rewire: Is that what lovebirth’s new program Project Teenbirth seeks to accomplish—unconditional support for pregnant and parenting teens?

MM: Yes, it is. I’m so excited to finally launch Project Teenbirth. It’s been a long term dream of mine that is finally coming into fruition.

Project Teenbirth is a nonprofit community outreach program offering full spectrum doula services and childbirth preparation classes exclusively for pregnant teens and teen/young parents.

Our focus is on teen maternal public health issues, reproductive rights, and creating a positive and safe platform for them. Giving a pregnant teen the knowledge and emotional support to make their own informed choices when it comes to their body and baby is not only empowering, it’s also healing. Providing pregnant teens an environment free of prejudice and shame can unlock so much of their potential, allowing them to love themselves for who they are and not what society has depicted them to be. At Project Teenbirth, we hope to be able to create such an environment so they can grow, fall in love with who they are and who they are becoming, which in turn, will assist in them being the best parent they can be.

Some of the other resources that will be offered through Project Teenbirth include: childbirth preparation classes, parenting workshops, and our #CommunityLove closet, which consists of gently used infant clothing that is donated to us and given to teen parents in our community.

Rewire: That sounds wonderful. Tell me a little bit more about how Project Teen Birth differs from lovebirth?

MM: The biggest difference is the age of the families I support and advocate for. Through lovebirth, the majority of my families have been older established families. I started lovebirth with the intent of it being pregnancy and labor support for teens, but even though it has been successful, I wasn’t reaching pregnant teens in the capacity that I really wanted. They needed their own space, something just for them. So I decided to create a nonprofit that offers doula and childbirth preparation focused only for pregnant teens and teen parents.

One way Project Teenbirth aims to support teen and young parents postpartum is with our #CommunityLove closet. Through it, we’ll be able to provide some of the basic necessities a new parent usually find themselves in need of, such as: gently used infant clothing, blankets, playpens, bottles, or breast pumps—just some of the basic primary needs of early motherhood. What’s dope about the closet is that all of the items in it are donated from other parents within our local communities. For me, it’s like my visual example of what I think one of the many ingredients of genuine support and ‘community love’ would look like.

I also feel really strongly about helping young moms in becoming successful. I want them to know that they are still capable of all the dreams and goals they had before becoming pregnant. One of my goals for Project Teenbirth is for us to be able to offer educational scholarships for young parents who would like to further their education. Even assistance with providing permanent transportation so they can go to work, school, take their baby to daycare and doctor appointments. They need to know that by them creating life, their life didn’t end.

Rewire: How can people support the work you are doing through Project Teen Birth?

MM: If anyone would like to join our movement in changing the birth experience for pregnant teens or young parents, contributions can be made on our website, www.projectteenbirth.org or via PayPal at [email protected]. All monetary support allows us to help a pregnant teen through pregnancy and childbirth, offer childbirth preparation classes, workshops, and more and so that we can further our training, allowing us to be a better resource for them. They can also support us by making infant clothing donations to our #CommunityLove closet, and by volunteering.

If anyone is interested in becoming a part of the Project Teenbirth family, we have several open positions in need of people who have a heart for teen and young parents. For questions or to learn more, email us at [email protected]. And don’t forget to stay connected with us across all social media platforms under @proteenbirthorg.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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