Downtown Organization Helps Pregnant and Parenting Teens

Local Doulas Volunteer Services to Empower Teen Parents

By Kendall Fields

Doula Shea Hardy (right) helps teens like 19-year-old Heather Holloway (center) give birth through the organization Doulas Supporting Teens. (Photo: Alicia Holloway)

EUGENE, Ore.– Shea Hardy crouches down behind Heather Holloway, who is sitting on a bright blue birth ball with her face buried in a white hospital pillow. Hardy firmly presses down on Holloway’s hips, alleviating the intense back pain that has been creeping up on her since she went into labor eight hours earlier.

At 1:30 a.m. Holloway has been in labor for nearly sixteen hours and is delirious with exhaustion and still in excruciating pain. Her cervix has been dilated to 9 ¾ centimeters for the past three hours. The 19-year-old expectant mother has just been informed that the all-natural labor she had planned will most likely result in a cesarean section.

Overcome with fear and anxiety, Holloway begins to lose control of her contractions. Hardy is confident that Holloway can deliver this baby herself. After being a doula for six years, Hardy knows exactly what will help Holloway endure twenty hours of childbirth.

Doula: Advocate and Educator

In August 2003, Hardy joined forces with Iris Bicksler, a fellow doula, and the two formed Doulas Supporting Teens, a nonprofit organization, which offers doula services to pregnant and parenting teens in an effort to improve health in Lane County.

Organizations like DST provide free childbirth education and pregnancy prevention classes and can be linked to the decreasing rates of teenage pregnancies and pregnancy complications and the increasing rate of breastfeeding in Lane County.

A 2007 report from Lane County Public Health revealed that the fetal infant mortality rate in Lane County was:

  • Higher than the nation’s
  • Higher than the state’s
  • Higher than Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington Counties (the largest counties by population in Ore.)
  • Higher than the Portland metropolitan area

DST’s doulas educate young women and their partners about the labor experience in order to promote happier and healthier families. A doula’s role is to care for other women during childbirth by providing continuous physical, emotional and informational support during labor, birth and the immediate postpartum period.

The organization is proving beneficial for the health of many teen families.

Comparison of DST Client Averages with National Averages:(Doulas Supporting Teens)
DST National
Cesarean Section 12.7% 31%
Teen Breastfeeding Rate Upon Leaving Hospital 99% 55%
Pre-Term Labor 4.8% 12.5%
Epidural Use 37% 80%
Babies Born With Low Birth Weight 4.8% 7%

Bicksler explains that having a doula is proven to prevent complications and long term diseases such as pre-eclampsia, pre-term labor and gestational diabetes through education. This fact alone, she says, demonstrates how doulas offset costs in healthcare that would normally be left for taxpayers to pay.

Over 200 pregnant women under the age of 19 have waddled into Room 207, DST’s classroom above the Growers Market. All met by a glowing Hardy and Bicksler, who are ready to change their perspectives about childbirth, allowing them to find the strength to conquer the challenges of being a teen parent.

“What we do prenatally or at the births only plants a seed for what comes later for people. It builds a foundation that allows teens to be successful,” Bicksler says.

DST  also seeks to disprove myths commonly associated with pregnant teens. The doulas want society to know that these teenagers did not get pregnant with the intention of getting welfare benefits and they are loving and responsible parents.

“Being young [doesn’t] earn you the respect that you deserve,” Bicksler says of how society treats teen parents.

The organization aims to educate its clients in an effort to gain the respect of society and remove some of the stigmas associated with teen parents.

Hardy, Bicksler and their colleagues believe that every woman should know that she has many options to choose from during her pregnancy and labor and she is in charge of her own health.

Founding Doulas Supporting Teens

Hardy became a certified doula through the Doulas of North America to fulfill her dream of doing service work for women and children.

A fellow doula encouraged Hardy to join her in volunteering services to teens in a teen-parent program at Willamette High School. After helping several teens, Hardy realized her dream of making a difference was coming true and set out to expand her services to other schools in the area.

As she gained more and more clients throughout the Eugene-Springfield area, Hardy realized her work with young parents was extremely beneficial and fulfilling.

Shea Hardy holds a newborn after helping at one of her clients' births. (Photo: Shea Hardy)

At Hardy’s first birth, she realized that being a doula came very naturally to her. From the moment she walked into the birthing room, she felt an inherent ability to aid her laboring client and help the expectant dad be a supportive partner. During the labor, Hardy got into the Jacuzzi with the mother-to-be and massaged the inside of her thigh.

“I didn’t know why she felt this overwhelming urge to touch this woman in a very intimate spot,” Hardy says.

After the birth, the new mother said Hardy’s instincts helped her get through the toughest part of her natural labor.

Hardy came home from her first birth feeling as though she had finally found her purpose in life. This was her calling.

Like Hardy, Bicksler also became certified through DONA since she felt being a doula was her calling. Bicksler became a doula at 19, when she discovered that her best friend, who was also 19, was pregnant and had no support from the baby’s father.

From her experience with her best friend’s labor, Bicksler learned that teen parents are treated with less respect than other new parents.

Bicksler has always had a positive image of pregnancy and labor experiences from stories she was told by her mother about her own homebirth. As a doula she was able to help other women recognize the positivity that she feels should be associated with childbirth.

When Bicksler met Hardy in February 2003, it was as if all of the pieces fit into place. Bicksler could be a doula and an advocate for young moms. The two had great chemistry and quickly moved from being acquaintances to business partners and then to best friends.

The Woes of Being a Volunteer

DST operates solely on donations and government grants, which have been scarce in spite of the economic recession. Hardy says she spends hours applying for grants each year, hours that she could have spent mentoring teen parents. DST has had to limit the number of clients it is taking for financial reasons.

The organization found out at the end of March that it did not receive the major grant that it had been hoping for. While Bicksler and Hardy were disappointed, they plan to continue offering doula services to Lane County teens.

Although years of volunteering their services to pregnant and parenting teens for little pay has put its strain on Hardy and Bicksler, doula work to them is more rewarding than any other job.

“When I leave teaching [the birth class] or go home from a birth I am on a natural high that people don’t get the privilege of having in a job,” Hardy says, beaming.

Finding Her Own Power

Hardy leaned in till her freckled face was within inches of the distraught mother’s and said “Focus Heather, go back to labor-land.”

Holloway did. Shortly thereafter, her daughter Wednesday Rose was born with minimal medical interventions.

Holloway says, “Without Shea giving me some inspiration I would have had a c-section.”

Heather Holloway beams after the birth of her daughter Wednesday Rose. Holloway is one teen who has been helped by Doulas Supporting Teens. (Photo: Shea Hardy)

And there the new mother and father sat cooing over the newest addition to their family. A glowing Hardy watched over them, with a bittersweet satisfaction that her work was done.

Paying It Forward

Holloway is currently pursuing a degree in Early Childhood Education at Lane Community College. She plans on opening up her own daycare in the future.

She was so inspired by Hardy and the other doulas at DST that she decided to become a doula and empower other women.

In April she completed her doula training and is planning on becoming certified within the next year

She plans to work with DST as an apprentice doula to mentor girls faced with the same challenges of teen pregnancy that she was and to be an advocate for them as a doula and former DST client.


  • Quote Collection:

“There’s that smell of birth that’s very distinctive. I remember going home and every time I would breathe in deeply, for at least two or three days after, I would smell it. It was like I was still in the room. I have never experienced something like that. It’s like the smell permeated my being.”—Shea Hardy

“My own birth, it taught me my limits, that I could go past what I think that I can do and be okay. [It taught me] that I am stronger than anyone who has ever climbed Everest.” – Iris Bicksler

“When I step out of Shea’s bubble and away from my issues… and my purpose becomes something broader than that, I expand and become a better person… And it does as much for me as it does for the people that I am in service to.” – Shea Hardy

“Doulas help bring a balance to a culture and system that not only disempowers women but doesn’t reward them for the hard work that they do”- Iris Bicksler

  • Take this quiz to test your knowledge about pregnancy and labor!

About kendallrfields

I am a student at the University of Oregon.
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