March 14, 2014 7:55 pm

Everyday Hero: Prenatal care for teens without judgement

Above: Meet the Ottawa doctor who believes in the power of a second chance for pregnant teens and their babies.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this online story incorrectly said Alycia Westfall had a history of drug abuse. That reference has been removed. Global news regrets the error.

An Ottawa doctor is delivering prenatal care to pregnant teenage girls who might feel judged while sitting in the waiting room of a regular doctor’s office.

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Obstetrician-Gynecologist Dr. Nathalie Fleming believes teenage moms-to-be deserve a chance to have proper care, as do their babies, without having to feel like they are getting stared at.

She said stigma prevents many teens from seeing a doctor in those crucial first months of their pregnancy.

“Adolescents don’t go to the hospital or prenatal clinics the way adults do,” she told Global News. “There have many barriers.”

So, 10 years ago she approached St. Mary’s Home – an agency that provides services and programs for young pregnant women, young parents and their children.

Fleming suggested they add a teen-oriented prenatal clinic to the variety of services St. Mary’s already offered.

“It was such a novel idea,” said St. Mary’s Home Executive Director Nancy MacNider. “We both stopped in the moment and looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s try it.’ It was so exciting.”

Now St. Mary’s Home has become a one-stop shop for teen moms, where they can also get free meals, nutrition classes and even free yoga classes.

Alycia Westfall was a pregnant, high school dropout at the age of 16.

Now 21 years old, she credits Fleming with helping her get her life on track.

“If I was a young mom living elsewhere, I don’t really know where I would turn for help,” Westfall said.

Libby Sabourin, 18, also knows what it’s like to be judged because of a teen pregnancy.

When she got pregnant, at the age of 16, she was addicted to drugs and living on the streets in Toronto.

“There [were] much older women there that [were] pregnant and looking at me like, ‘What are you doing here,'” she said. “It made me feel very unwelcome at the doctor’s office,” Sabourin said.

Her child was taken away by authorities, but she’s expecting again. She’s 12 weeks pregnant, but she’s also seven months sober and receiving prenatal treatment from Fleming.

Fleming’s research has shown that teens who seek help soon have lower rates of preterm labour, C-sections and low birth weight.

After a decade of working with St. Mary’s, while balancing jobs at two Ottawa hospitals and a teaching position, she’s now working with the province of Ontario to roll out more clinics.

*Compiled for the web by Nick Logan based on a report by Shirlee Engel.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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