Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Doula Project offers experience, support to young, single mothers

Story and photo by Jami LeBrun, Inland Register staff

(From the April 7, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Right: Jodie Orcutt and Lisa Green direct the Doula Mentoring Project. (IR photo)

The Doula Mentoring Project offered by Catholic Charities’ Childbirth and Parenting Alone (CAPA) Program matches a qualified community member to a young, single expectant mother, or a mother with an infant under one year of age. The “Doula” – a Greek word for “caregiver” – then offers support and encouragement to the young mom through prenatal, birthing and early parenting months. The successful program is one-of-a-kind, and works due to the passionate dedication and commitment of the organizers, mentors and clients who participate in it.

The Doula program was started in 1992 as a response to the increasing need CAPA workers and volunteers saw for ongoing support for pregnant women in the Spokane community.

“There are so many women feeling depressed, isolated, unacknowledged,” said Lisa Green, the co-director of the Doula Project. “They’re pregnant and they feel helpless. They don’t know where to turn. No one is excited. This program responds to that need.”

Though CAPA provided maternity clothing, diapers, and counseling, when it came to daily support, the single women were largely on their own. Once the Doula Project was born, volunteers willing to assist, and young pregnant women and single mothers eagerly sought the support of women who cared about them, their babies and their situations. Within a few short years, word spread, and young women from all over Spokane began coming to CAPA and asking for their own Doula.

Kathleen Kittilstved became a Doula mentor three years ago, shortly after her first child was born. She excitedly attended the first meeting and was immediately struck by the organization of the program. “They provided lots of training and lots of support – both for me as a volunteer and for the moms,” said Kittilsved. “I felt terribly important, like this is a program that really means a lot.”

Like most volunteers, Kittil-sved wanted to help people. However, she never anticipated how much the young moms she was matched to would teach her. From day one, Kittilsved found herself amazed at the stamina of the young mothers and their ability to overcome what were sometimes shocking life circumstances.

“So often they have so many things going against them, and yet they still manage to be good moms,” she said. “I’m very humbled by all of it. I’ve learned more than any mom I’ve been matched to. I actually can grow from this and learn from this.”

Doula volunteers are carefully selected – they must have hands-on parenting experience, a high school diploma, be at least 26 years old, and must pass a criminal background check. If they meet the minimum requirements, Lisa Green and Jodie Orcutt, the directors of the program, meet with them to ask questions, discuss expectations, and assess the volunteer’s abilities.

“The most important thing is that we are here to provide support,” said Orcutt. “We really have to make sure that the volunteer is not judgmental. We stress to them that they’re just providing support. Their job is not to change the person or pass judgment on them.”

Green and Orcutt assess the needs, hobbies and interests of both the Doula and the young moms. “It’s important that the Doula and the mom have things in common – maybe it’s their backgrounds or their hobbies or their personalities. But they have to be a good match,” said Green.

Once the match is made, the Doula and the mom meet once a week for a few hours and simply spend time together. There are no activity requirements; the two can do whatever they like and whatever they think they will enjoy together. While some go for walks or get coffee, others find themselves shopping, going to a movie or to the park, or simply sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea and planning for the arrival of the new baby. Many of the moms do not have reliable transportation, so some Doulas will take the time to help them run errands.

According to Kittilsved, the program encourages the Doulas “to do things that allow the moms to be independent. So I try to show them the resources that are out there. I really want to do something that will help her.”

The Doulas also attend childbirth classes with the moms and are often present for labor and delivery.

The Doula Project offers other kinds of support as well. The program hosts several parties each year with free childcare, raffles and prizes. They send birthday cards, look at baby pictures and watch excitedly with the mothers as their babies grow.

“We’re trying to create a community to embrace these women,” said Orcutt.

The young moms in the Doula program also have access to all the other free services CAPA provides, including counseling, childbirth and parenting classes, playgroups for their children, a clothing bank for pregnant mothers and young children, and emergency diapers.

(The Doula Project matches mentors with between 50 and 60 young moms each year. The program is now recruiting volunteers. Applications are now being accepted; training begins in the fall. For more information, call the CAPA Doula Project at (509) 325-7667.)

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