I worked with teen mothers who were primarily 1st generation Mexican American, early in my career.

During one birth, the mother was making great progress and was coping well having an unmedicated birth which was how she planned to do it.

She was birthing at [redacted organization name], a teaching hospital.

At one point, the attending physician told the resident doctor to give her a vaginal exam.

The mother reacted in pain and told the doctor to stop. They ignored her and then the attending told the other resident to also do an exam.

The second resident did so and ignored her pleas for them to stop.  I did not know what to do, because I was new at my job and felt horrible for not doing something, anything at the time .

During our postpartum appointment, the mother asked me why they did not listen to her. I told her I did not know but that she could file a complaint with the hospital.

i cannot remember if she did or if we did together. I was personally traumatized by the experience and could only imagine the impact on this mother.

With another young mother, I attended several prenatal appointments with her  I think after the second time, she commented that she was getting better care when I was with her. During these appointments, I sat quietly and simply observed, I was not talking with the practitioner as far as I can remember.

With a third young mother, who was incarcerated in Juvenile Hall, I was assigned by the judge to be her doula. The staff seemed very resistant to my prenatal visits. I got the impression they did not want me “interfering” with how they usually do things.

I was able to advocate on the mother’s behalf in small ways  to increase her comfort. She was pregnant with twins and very uncomfortable while sleeping without pillows.  It upset the people in charge but I was able to get her pillows of all things!

During the birth, Juvenile Hall demanded she be shackled by her arm to the bed. I was able to negotiate to release the shackles during labor and birth because she clearly was in no position to escape.

Afterwards I negotiated to shackle an ankle because she wanted to hold her babies. One of her babies had been born vaginally, while the other was born by cesarean.

All the incarcerated teen mothers wanted to breastfeed their babies but it seemed impossible to do so.  The babies either went to a family member, mostly a grandmother, or went into foster care.

I have attended over 600 births during my career and over time I gained skills to speak up for birthing mothers when it seemed warranted. Most of the people I worked with were not teenage moms, but these experiences have really stuck with me.