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The following is an excerpt from a video interview with Perez Ridley, a community-based doula from Atlanta, Georgia — during HealthConnect One’s National Action Summit, February 2012.
I am a doula. I support pregnant and parenting teens.
By the time I was sixteen, I had two daughters and I just remember how difficult it was. I never forgot what it felt like to be a teenager. So having the opportunity to help young ladies just like me, to be a role model, to be a leader, to teach them about healthy relationships with each other, you know, that’s what keeps me going. If I could just reach one, I’ve done my deed.
My family’s been very supportive. At the time I started, my daughters were like 13 and 14 and now they’re 24 and 26, so they’ve been at the hospital during births. My husband’s been in the waiting room. They’ve been very, very supportive.
The women I work with – that’s something I try to speak to other doulas about – It’s very important that young people see healthy relationships that we have with one another. In my community, it’s really hard with women, you know – trusting one another, because we have trust issues, and just being able to communicate with one another and know it’s okay to care about one another, I have the opportunity to lead by example. For one, the team that I work with, I’m able to call them at any time no matter what’s going on. I’ve had death in my family and my coworkers, I look back and see them at funerals, you know, and at birthday parties, and no matter what’s happening with me, they always support me – not just in my work but personally. I’m able to pass that on to young ladies, and they’re able to pass that on to other young ladies that may never get introduced to the doula program.
I think about how I’ve grown as a person. In the ways that I’ve grown, I’m able to pass that on to my clients, to watch my clients grow. Or to watch my client breastfeed and say, “Ms. Perez told me about breastfeeding,” even if their mother tells them, “You gonna spoil that baby,” they say “Perez say you can’t spoil a newborn baby.’” That makes me feel great.
I’ve been on this journey now for over ten years. I love being able to communicate with different women, being able to share my experiences and learn so much from different people in different programs.
I remember I thought I knew everything about teens because I’ve always worked with young people, and I realized … I didn’t know everything. I found “me” during doula training. I grew up during doula training.
Twenty-five years ago, I was a teen mom about to have my second daughter. They were seventeen months apart and I didn’t have a doula. I didn’t have support. I had them at the county hospital, and I just wish I would’ve had someone like me. And I always think about that little scared young lady, you know, having her second child, every time I come in contact with other new moms. I always tell them I was once sitting in your seat.
Women need each other. I feel that we really, really need each other. And it’s ‘ok to be there for one another. That’s what doula has brought me and that’s what I’ll continue to give. I was a teen mom. I will be a doula until the day I die. I don’t want to do anything else but continue to support my sisters.