TRAVERSE CITY — Crystal Thomas made a pact with herself: never forget what it’s like to be a teenage girl.
A teenage girl with a big, pregnant belly is still a teenage girl. So Thomas, a 31-year-old social worker, took “her teen” prom dress shopping at the mall, knowing there was a slim chance the 8-month pregnant girl was going to the dance. They wriggled on taffeta, silk and sequins. They twirled, they modeled, the teen laughing about how sweeping dresses became miniskirts when tented up over her belly.
Thomas took her for a smoothie afterward, and both raved about their time together, a match made by Traverse City’s Women’s Resource Center’s Teen Doula Program. “Doula” is used loosely in this case, as volunteers are not licensed childbirth experts. Rather the program matches up pregnant teens with volunteer mentors who commit to helping the teen prepare for parenthood in whichever ways the teen allows.
Thomas has attended five births through the program, but not every teen wants their mentor in the delivery room.
Marjorie Rich, the program’s doula client advocate, matches by personality. She recently matched two lonely types who’ve formed a strong bond. But it can be as simple as finding common ground in vampire novels or fast food French fries.
“The important thing is that the mentors are strong, dependable adults in this girl’s life,” Rich said. “Most of these girls don’t have that at home.”
The Doula Teen Parent Program, is run out of Traverse City High School, covers Antrim, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Grand Traverse and Benzie counties, and provides labor, delivery and parenting support to moms and dads. It also provides a weekly empowerment group and access to a baby pantry. They serve parents aged 20 and younger.
One Kingsley teen said her doula “kept her baby from being born on the hospital floor.”