There is something extraordinary about bringing a new life into the world. For most women, the excitement is uncontrollable. There is the aspect of shopping for your unborn child, decorating the nursery and even choosing a name for this new life. All of these steps is what many mothers claim prepares them for the journey they are about to embark on.
Now think about finding out you are about to be a mother, but instead of being surrounded by loved ones, you are in prison. Although many of you may be thinking that this notion is unimaginable, the reality is that more women have had to deal with this then you would imagine.
There are many things that people do not realize about giving birth in jail. Although prisons try to accommodate their pregnant inmates, there are a lot of aspects that seem inhumane.
We thought it would be interesting to dig deep into the world of pregnant inmates and educate our readers about what really happens if you give birth in jail. This is the truth; it is the good the bad and the ugly sides of being pregnant behind bars.
15. It Is More Common Than You Think
When you hear about women giving birth in jail, most of us think that probably happens once in a blue moon. But the reality is that it is a lot more common than you think.
It has been said that between six and ten percent of women behind bars are pregnant. This means that approximately 1,400 women will give birth while incarcerated per year in the United States of America.
Think about this number for a minute. That is 1,400 children every year that will begin their life in a prison. For many of these children, the tone set at the start of their life is one that is hard to shake off.
14. Some Don’t Realize They’re Pregnant When They Go In
That is correct, most women do not even realize they are pregnant at the time. Although most women do feel some sort of sickness, they are usually brought to quarantine assuming they are sick.
All women know that if you are under a lot of stress it is common to skip your period and it is safe to say that a woman who has just been put into jail would be under a certain amount of stress.
Without anyone to talk to or anywhere to go, it is common that women find themselves in a state of shock. One inmate went on record in an interview and stated “My first month in prison was spent being sick. I was told by health care that my ‘illness’ was caused by stomach flu and that my other ‘symptoms’ were caused by stress. The day after I was released from quarantine, I was called to health care and informed that my ‘illness’ wasn’t stomach flu, but that I was pregnant. Putting the dates together I had conceived my baby the night before I was sentenced to prison.”
13. There Is A Pregnancy Unit
What not a lot of people know is that there are pregnancy units in a lot of jails. All the women in this unit are with child and it makes the pregnant inmates connect to other mothers which have been proven to be a positive thing.
However, it also makes you wonder why there are so many judges not willing to wait until a child is born for the mother to do her time.
One inmate, who was part of a pregnancy unit, went on record saying “It made me wonder of the cold-heartedness of the judges, who would send pregnant women to prison when there are other alternatives to incarceration.”
12. Mothers Only Get 24 Hours With Their Baby
A mother has her baby growing inside her for 9 months. It is an experience and bond unlike anything else in the world. The connection shared between mother and child is one that is instant and incredibly special.
This is why it makes it so hard to imagine being taken away from your child 24 hours after their birth in most states. In some states, they allow the mother 48 hours with her newborn. In order to connect the most with their child, most regular mothers spend their time skin-to-skin with their baby as well as breastfeeding as much as possible.
Many inmates who have gone through this experience claim it to be the most painful part of the entire process and it is clear why. We can only imagine how hard it is to say goodbye to your baby shortly after meeting him or her.
11. They Have To Wear Shackles At Doctor’s Appointments
Once it is brought to the inmate’s attention that she is carrying a child, the prison doctors do tests and appointments to make sure the baby is healthy. This is the norm for most women out of jail. For a lot of women, and people in general, doctor’s appointments can be nerve-racking, so imagine having to go through it in jail and in shackles.
Of course, we understand that these ladies have committed crimes, some of which were violent, but we can’t help but think there is something sad about seeing a pregnant woman in shackles.
10. Due Date Remains A Mystery
Okay, so we all know that due dates are an estimate and can be wrong, however, there is a lot more uncertainty when you are pregnant behind bars.
Inmates and their families are almost never told when the possible due date could be even if it is a c-section. Whatever the case may be, the mother will only be told she is going to have the baby the day it happens. Apparently, this is done to prevent women from getting someone on the outside to aid their escape. This is also why families are not told this information. In a lot of cases, the families only find out when the child is born and the mother is back in prison.
9. Jail Offers Childbirth Classes
Childbirth classes are something that all mothers should do. Which is why we think it is amazing that most jails in America offer childbirth classes to all inmates that are pregnant.
Not only do they teach you how to care for your child, they also educate the inmates on domestic violence, childbirth, postpartum depression and substance abuse. This not only educates the mothers but it also allows them to feel like they are doing something beneficial for their child. One inmate explained that her childbirth instructor came to the hospital after her delivery to check up on her, something that not many ladies behind bars get.
8. Mothers Usually Lose The Baby After Three Years
There are only ten states that provide prison nursery programs in order to allow mothers to stay with their child after its birth. In some states, like Washington, children are able to stay in prison with their mothers for up to three years.
However, for violent offenders serving over 18 months in jail, there is no eligibility for participation in the nursery program. Sadly, most children with incarcerated mothers end up with a relative or in foster care.
Although it is better for the child to go to a family member, a lot of the time there is no eligible family member that can take care of the child. Instead, most children end up in the system, which can a lot of the times do more harm than good in the long run.
7. Inmates Must Go Through Labor Alone
Labor is said to be one of the most terrifying and incredible experiences you can ever be part of. This emotion-filled roller coaster is usually surrounded with the people you love most. Sadly for these inmates, that is not the case.
Although there are guards watching inmates at all hours, it is said that giving birth in prison is a very lonely experience. Yes, there are guards and doctors with you when you give birth, but there is no one else; no family, no friends, no one. In a lot of cases, families are only informed of the birth after the mother has returned from the hospital.
6. They Can Still Be Put In Belly Chains
If a woman has a condition making her a high-risk pregnancy that needs to be treated at a local hospital, there are certain things that need to be done.
For example, each time the inmate is brought to a hospital she is strip-searched. Following this, she is handcuffed and placed in belly chains during each and every time for the duration of the appointment. We can understand the cuffs, but the belly chain feels like it is a slight exaggeration. This is done for many reasons, but mainly to keep the inmate, guards, doctors and of course the baby as safe as possible.
5. They Are Handcuffed During And After
For anyone reading this who has given birth, can you picture yourself being handcuffed throughout that experience?
Giving birth in jail is a very traumatic experience for many reasons, especially this one. Although some states have an anti-shackling policy, most women claim to have been handcuffed during and after their deliveries. It is also said that some women have been placed in leg irons up until their last trimester.
This has been a topic of discussion amongst a lot of human rights activists who argue that it is a violation of constitutional rights to shackle a woman while giving birth.
4. More Likely To Suffer From Postpartum Depression
We are sure that everyone has heard of postpartum depression. It is a sort of depression that happens after giving birth and for a lot of mothers, it is a reality.
Postpartum depression is something that many women go through after childbirth. However, for mothers who gave birth behind bars, there is an even higher risk. For inmates who have just given birth, there is a sense of isolation and separation, that, in combination with the poor physical care throughout the pregnancy, leads most mothers who are in this situation to suffer afterward.
3. The Baby Can Still Get Breast Milk
Although it is not the usual scenario, for some prisoners it is possible to breastfeed. This is made possible if the prison is close to the child’s place of residence or if the fostering parent is willing to pick up frozen breast milk.
Many doctors believe that breast milk is the best thing for newborns which is why prisons will allow this if all parties are accommodating. Sadly for most babies, it becomes too much of a complication and whoever the child is with ends up taking care of the baby fully while feeding them formula.
2. Some Of Them Still Struggle With Addiction
Sadly, pregnant women addicted and currently on drugs is more common than you think. These women are usually kept in the medical section of the jail and kept on a methadone program (or other drug program).
The craziest thing about this is that if an inmate were to get off the drugs completely there is a big chance that the withdrawal will in fact kill the baby.
One prisoner opened up about one of her fellow inmates who went through this experience and stated “While talking to her, she told me about the last time she was pregnant. She went off her drugs as soon as she found out. She did not know the effect it would have on the baby. Her baby died. She thought she was doing the right thing. My heart went out to her.”
1. They Sleep On The Bottom Bunk
This may seem like a strange thing to think about when you are pregnant but the reality is that jails are all about bunk beds. It makes sense when you think about it, imagine a woman that is 8 months pregnant having to climb up on the top bunk.
This is true when the prison does not have a pregnancy ward and pregnant women are to stay with the general population. However, when this happens most jails keep their pregnant inmates on the ground tier if the pod is two storeys.
There are even occasions (not often) if the jail is not over-crowded that women who are carrying a child are given an extra mattress and pillow. Although the reality is that most jails are over-crowded making this impossible.
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