Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? 

My name is Jessica Chester but I go by J.R. I worked as a sexual health educator, family planning educator, and a community health worker for Parkland Health Hospital System in Dallas County from 2010-2020. I started working there as an intern when I was in college. In October 2020 I was promoted to a position in the same division at Parkland focused on injury prevention in children. I am now the coordinator of the Dallas County Child Death Review Team focusing on the prevention of child injuries and deaths. In my current role, I am also the Data Coordinator for the Dallas County Intimate Partner Fatality Review Team. It’s a little morbid, a lot of death. I’m still getting used to that part of it. I know that it’s so important to properly review these cases to prevent them from happening again in the future.

I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but I’ve been in Texas since I was seven years old when we moved here for my mom’s job. I graduated from Garland ISD, and then attended the University of Texas at Dallas. I began working full time at Parkland right after I graduated. 

Tell me about your doula business.

I have five kids ranging in age from 15 years old to 17 months old. Their names are Skylar, Ivory, Kameron, Ava, and Jessika. My business, Begin with A’KIS, is named after them. “A’Kis” is four of their first initials in reverse order. I started my business before Jessika was born in 2019. I was 17 years old when I got pregnant for the first time. I was always very maternal and knew what I wanted. I knew I didn’t want to be in the hospital when I gave birth. I knew I wanted to breastfeed my baby.

That didn’t go as planned because my mom was nervous about me giving birth outside of a hospital. I found a midwife with hospital privileges as a sort of compromise. I loved my midwife, but the whole experience still felt very “hospital-y.” I didn’t have the natural birth I wanted. My first two kids are less than a year apart. I was pregnant with my first child, Skylar, during my senior year of high school and my second child, Ivory, during my freshman year of college. I went to college with two kids and I was successful academically and I was very involved in campus life.I joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated and I was also a member of the “Power Dancers,” official UTD dance team.  I was able to do all of that because of the support system I had.  

After I graduated from college, Marcus and I got married. There is a 9 year gap between my second child, Ivory, and my third child, Kameron. Kameron was born 6 years after my college graduation.  I didn’t like my experience with the doctor with my third and fourth babies. I felt like I was being told what to do. I didn’t like that I was being told who could be in the room and what my body could do. At that point, I hadn’t heard of a doula before.

Because of my own experiences, I knew I wanted to support others through their pregnancy and birthing process. Doulas help to decrease the number of c-sections and birth complications. I wanted other people to have the positive postpartum, birth, and breastfeeding experiences that I didn’t have.

I didn’t have a successful breastfeeding experience with my first two babies because I didn’t have education around it. At the hospital, they threw bottles of formula at me even though I told them that I wanted to breastfeed. My son, Skylar, had lost weight after birth because of fluid I was given during his labor. This is normal, but I didn’t know that. I was pressured to give him formula because of his normal weight loss. I didn’t know how to support my baby. When I was pregnant with my third baby, Kameron, I got educated on breastfeeding. I was able to be successful with these last three babies. I’m really proud of my knowledge as a doula and the way I’ve been able to support other families to have positive experiences. It has been wonderful.

Jesika was an “oops” baby, but I did finally get my natural birth at home like I always wanted. I had her at home in a birth pool. It was the experience that I’d wanted since I was 17 years old because I had the knowledge to do it. My family trusted me. I am my own favorite client. I thought it was too late to have my perfect experience, but we ended up having Jesika. I never thought I would receive that gift. I want to be a resource for people. 

My doula business definitely coincides with my work at Parkland. It’s been nice to get connected with both worlds and pull in my knowledge on both sides.

What was your experience like being pregnant as a teen?

In high school, I was pregnant throughout my senior year and then gave birth at the end of April. I was dealing with the stigma, the whispering, and teachers treating me differently. But, I didn’t lose any friends, and I was a straight A student. That didn’t change due to my pregnancy.  

Freshman year of college, I was dealing with a pregnancy and one infant. My mom was a big support while I was doing homework and studying. Marcus was watching Skylar during the day while I was at school. Once Ivory came and we had two babies, things got a lot harder. That was rough. Ivory was a little more crazy. He was always wanting to be with me. I only got a few hours of sleep at night. I had to get up extra early to take them both to day care. I worked out my class schedule to match with day care hours. 

It was rough because of the lack of sleep and rigorous curriculum. I graduated with a double degree in Molecular Biology and Business Administration. That made my classes even tougher, especially in junior and senior year. When I graduated, Skylar was four years old and Ivory was three years old. They got to grow up with my sorority sisters and everyone on campus knew who they were because they were always there. 

Senior year of college, I had a business class presentation and Ivory was sick. I had to do my presentation while I held him because he didn’t feel good. You just do what you have to do. You’re on campus with a stroller and baby bags. Yes, it’s a lot but you just do it. It’s your life. You have to do it. Sometimes I look back and I’m like, wow that was a lot. 

What would you want teenagers to know?

For teens who are pregnant or parenting – do you, booboo! Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do anything. Don’t let anybody get in your way. Do your own homework about what you want to accomplish. When someone decided to discriminate against me because I was a young parent, I didn’t realize it. My academic advisor who I depended on to help me pursue medical school lied to me and told me I was on track and doing everything right. I was in all of the correct classes. However, my advisor told me not to pursue the health professionals academic advisors. She told me that I only needed to see her as an advisor, because “I was on the right track.” That was completely false, and following that advice was my greatest mistake.

I didn’t find out until senior year that she had misled me. I had always been on top of it but I trusted the wrong person. I was so behind and discouraged. I was angry. My grades went down. I felt no motivation. I felt like everything I worked for was down the drain. I hung on to that anger for so long. It hurt so deeply. I wanted to be a doctor since I was in diapers. 

DO YOU! Do your homework, do your research! You can be a damn good parent as a teenager. Don’t give anybody your power. I’m still going to medical school. It’s been on the shelf, but I’m not counting myself out. I’m 34 years old, not 80. I would be a better doctor today than I had been back then. It’s never too late. Your dreams may be deferred, but not over and down the drain. 

For those who are not pregnant, you have plenty of time to become a parent. There is no reason to be in a rush. The reason I say that is because in my 20s, the thought of being 30 sounded so old to me. I wanted to be young with my kids and run around with my kids. But honestly, I enjoy parenting so much more now than I did when I was younger. I love all my babies to death, but now I get to just be a parent with my baby after work. You can give your babies so much more when you’re older. Give yourself the gift of waiting to be a parent. When you’re a parent, the rest of your life is on someone else’s schedule. When you’re young, you want to be able to get up and go. You have your whole life ahead of you to become a parent. Give yourself the gift of adolescence and young adulthood. Enjoy it. Babies will be there when you’re truly ready.