Having my first son was an experience to remember from start to finish. I was able to experience the joys of pregnancy without any limitations. However, for the women that enter jail pregnant, this is a luxury that they are not afforded. Now, I won’t act as if these women have ended up in jail for knitting sweaters for the homeless or feeding stray kittens in the winter time. It is obvious that more times than not, the women that have ended up in jail have broken the law and it just so happens to be a terrible coincidence that they are also pregnant. While that is the case, there is a sense of humanity that should be maintained whether in prison or not. The sad reality is that for many women, that is not the case. Every prison is different in how they handle their pregnant population. One thing that is the same across the board, though, is that security is priority over safety, health, and wellbeing of mom and baby. Most prisons make some sort of effort to bring the moms to be and their newborns through the process unscathed but it certainly will not be comfortable or even enjoyable.
14 The Due Date Is Kept A Secret
The first thing I wanted to know when I found out I was pregnant, other than the gender of my baby, was when my due date would be. Once I was told that coveted date, it became the only thing I saw throughout the 9 months. When days were hard, I looked forward to that day. When days were good, still I looked forward to that countdown. However, women in prison are not given their due date. While they can sort of guess according to how far along they are and their last missed period, many women get to prison and don’t even realize they are pregnant until they are given a test. If a woman will have a scheduled induction or c-section, they will not be told the date or time until the morning of. Unfortunately, there are some inmates that will use this information to organize some sort of escape or attack on officers and hospital officials. Since the inmates have to leave the prison grounds to have their children, there is too much of a security risk to tell them the exact date and time of when this will happen.
13 Forced To Give Birth In Front Of Prison Guards
Pregnancy is a trying experience and actually giving birth is that much harder. Whether a mom is giving birth naturally, with medicine, or via c-section; the entire process is difficult. One of the things that make the labor and delivery process easier is having a support system in the actual room, holding your hand throughout the pain and anxiety. If you choose to have your spouse or a few friends, the support system is incredible and makes the entire experience much more tolerable. For women in prison that are going through labor, that is an option not available to them. They have to brave the experience with a room full of strangers and a guard from the prison. It’s not warm and loving in the least. The hospital and prison cannot risk allowing family and friends to join a mom to be during that time for security reasons.
12 Handcuffed To The Bed During Labor
When I went into labor, I was able to move and get up from my bed as I pleased. It helped me with my medicine free pain in the beginning as I couldn’t imagine just laying on my back the entire time. During the last 4 hours of labor, I had an epidural and felt like I was chained to my bed as I was numb from the waist down. That feeling of being chained to the bed is what prison moms have to go through during their entire labor. For many moms in prison, they are chained and shackled throughout the laboring experience. The shackling extent depends on the actual facility as every prison operates a bit differently but it is likely that some portion of their body will be shackled and walking around freely is totally out of the question, labor or not.
11 You Have No Say In The Birth Plan
Having a baby requires seemingly endless planning. From setting up the nursery to deciding on a name for the little one, there are plenty of things to tackle in the nine months. One of the most important things to plan is how you want the labor to go. For new moms, they jot down exactly what they want in a birth plan to ensure that everyone is on the same page. It can be a simple outline of deciding between pain meds or a water birth or a detailed plan that includes who is in the labor and delivery room and for how long. For moms to be in prison, they don’t have much of a say in how their labor will go. The options of having a doula or water birth are out the window. Simply having the option to get up and walk around during labor is not an option.
10 Mandatory Strip Searches Throughout Pregnancy
Any woman that has ever carried a baby will agree that it can be physically taxing. The body will go through unimaginable changes, especially the first time around. The entire pregnancy becomes that much more uncomfortable in the later stages when the doctor has to do cervical checks, manually. While it’s all just to ensure the health of the baby to come, it is not the most comfortable experience. However, imagine going through that same experience at every single hospital visit. While they aren’t exactly cervical checks, women in prison that are pregnant still have to go through body searches including searches of body cavities. It can be humiliating and irritating for women in prison that are pregnant to have to strip off all of their clothes and expose every inch of themselves as they leave and reenter the prison facility. However, again, it is for the safety of the other prisoners and the staff. Pregnancy should stop prisoners from sneaking in contraband but it simply doesn’t.
9 You Only Have 24 Hours With The Baby
Any mom that has given birth will agree that the moment that the doctor pulls the baby out and place it in the arms of the new mommy is the most exhilarating experience. The pain, anxiety, and long wait pales in comparison to seeing the baby for the first time. When I saw my son’s face for the very first time, my world changed in that exact moment and I felt the kind of love I never knew even existed. For new moms in prison, their after birth experience is much different. Once the baby is born, moms have a very short 24 hours to be with their child. That 24 hours include the time the baby has to be with the doctors being checked out and cleaned up. There isn’t much time left for bonding or for mom to cuddle with her newborn.
8 You Have To Wear Chains While Breastfeeding
After giving birth, inmates are not given much time with their babies. They really aren’t given much at all after they give birth. In common situations, after giving birth, doctors and nurses place the baby on the new moms chest and offer to assist in helping the newborn breastfeed for the first time. It is a special moment that I remember clearly after having my son. It is a moment that stands out more than anything else during my labor experience. I really felt the bond with the little life I created. For moms in prison, they have to spend that sweet moment in chains. The nursing experience is not the easiest though it is irreplaceable. Trying to nurse for the first time with a tiny baby while being shackled is tough but it is required for most institutions.
7 Pumping Is Usually Prohibited
For me, breastfeeding was very important. If I wasn’t able to breastfeed my little one, I would’ve been alright with that however, I wanted to breastfeed as long as possible if the opportunity was given to me. Though I wanted to exclusively breastfeed, I also had to go to work and finish my last year in college went meant pumping. Being able to give my little one the benefits of my breast milk even while I was away was great and impossible without pumping. Moms in jail aren’t given the opportunity to pump milk and deliver it to their babies. This is the case for most facilities and it is not ideal for the babies or the moms as there is no way for the inmate to dry up the milk as it comes in.
6 The Baby Will Get Taken Away By Social Services
For many women that are pregnant in prison, the after birth situation is just as unknown as the actual pregnancy. For women that aren’t in prison, they give birth to their children and if their health checks out, they aren’t sent home with their bundle of joys. For the women that are in prison and have to go through the pregnancy and labor process while being locked up, there is no special homecoming once the baby is born. Leading up to the actual birth, the moms to be have to figure out where the baby is going. For many inmates, they don’t have stable homes for the baby to go to while they are in prison finishing out their sentence. In this case, the baby has no other option than to be given to social services and put into foster care. This could last a few months to several years and even result in the baby being adopted, if the mother agrees to it.
5 Inmates With High-Risk Pregnancies Are Treated Poorly
Pregnancy is unpredictable. The first half can go smoothly and suddenly, out of nowhere a mom can experience early labor making her high risk during her pregnancy. For most high risk pregnancies, doctors suggest that the mom to be stays off of her feet and avoids any strenuous activity including being intimate with her spouse. Some moms can’t even walk up stairs during their pregnancy to avoid going into early labor. Moms in prison have reported that during their high risk pregnancy, they have still been required to go through a physically straining body search that includes squatting and coughing. In a delicate state, that can cause moms to go into preterm labor. It is a fine line between security and the health of baby and mom.
4 Doctor Appointments Are A Nightmare
Pregnancy is one of the most unpredictable times of any woman’s life. From the moment the two red lines pop up on the pregnancy test, the only thing a mom to be can be certain of is that she is strapping down for a wild roller coaster. With that being said, women in prison are not exempt from the unexpectancies of pregnancy. Even though they are locked behind bars for various amounts of time, they still have to deal with the ups and downs that come with creating a life. For some women that have high risk pregnancies while in prison, the medical facilities are not able to handle the level of constant care that mom and baby need which mean frequent hospital visits. During these times, the mom to be has to wear belly chains and handcuffs throughout the visit. It is, without a doubt, an embarrassing experience for any woman let alone one carrying a child. However, the guards and the hospital staff must keep safety a priority, no matter what the situation is when it comes to prison inmates.
3 There's No Such Thing As Special Treatment
Many women going into prison as pregnant mothers-to-be have the misconception that they will be placed into separate facilities for pregnant women only. However, the reality of the situation is that many prisons and jails are overcrowded and understaffed. This means that creating an entirely different wing for pregnant inmates is fairly unrealistic. While some facilities are able to offer this, it is more common than not for pregnant inmates to be tossed in with general population. For the moms to be, this can be dangerous as prisons are known for fight outbreaks, drug use, and general unsavory environments for women that are carrying children. It’s a terrible situation but it is the reality of being pregnant in prison. There is little to no special treatment.
2 You Have To Wait For Medical Attention
Since most moms in prison have no clue when their baby is actually due to come since due dates are kept a secret from inmates, the entire experience is full of unknowns. Labor contractions can actually be preterm labor that needs to be addressed right away. For a mom that is not in prison, this means heading to the hospital or doctor to be checked out right away. However, in prison, there is no such thing as a hospital transport that is right away. If a mom is in an emergency need that cannot be handled by the medical staff in the prison, she has to wait for enough guards to be present on her way to the hospital. This can mean waiting for up to 3 officers to come before the actual ambulance is called or before the inmate is shackled and taken to the hospital.
1 All Women Have To Be Tested For Pregnancy
Whether you are likely to be pregnant or not, every single woman that enters into a correctional facility has to be tested for pregnancy. This is for the knowledge of the inmate as well as the staff. There is nothing like wondering if you are with child during a stint in prison. For many women, this is the first time they realize that they are with child. It must be a daunting experience to enter prison and find out that a baby is on the way during a situation that is not preferable for creating a life. If a pregnancy test turns up positive, there isn’t much that the staff will have to offer. Most facilities will provide a standard check up to determine how far along the inmate is but that is about all to come until the arrival of the baby.