Three women from Alabama flew to Minnesota. Why? What do we think we can do and learn from this trip? We have the support from our States’ Department of Corrections. We know Childbirth Education and Doula-ing. But we need to know how to build and sustain a non-profit centered on caring for pregnant incarcerated women.
On paper, we will only serve 20-35 pregnant and post-partum mothers a year. That’s not very many women. But it is also the babies, those mothers’ other children, grandparents, fathers, and the community and climate in Alabama that will be impacted by our program. We have preliminary studies that show that women who receive education and doula care in prison have lower preterm birth rates, c-section rates, and recidivism. These women have a stronger bond with their babies by increasing breastfeeding rates, by continuing to have a connection with their baby and other children while they are behind bars, and increasing their self-efficacy as a mother.
Our mission with the Alabama Prison Birth Project is to meet mothers wherever they are: regardless of background. Every mother deserves a second chance and every baby and child deserves the chance to live a healthy, happy life. By helping mothers find the power within themselves to cope and overcome the circumstances they find themselves in and bond with their babies, the climate of a stressful environment can be altered.
But, what did we learn on day one? We need support. And not just “We are proud of you!” although we appreciate our friends and families’ enthusiasm; but sustainable, streaming funds to bring this program to Alabama is critical.
Today we will be sponges. We will soak up the experiences of two women who started a prison doula project in Minnesota 12 years ago. What challenges did they face? They had to convince their Department of Corrections that this programming was beneficial. Visit after visit, they listened to the women pregnant and alone behind bars. They developed a curriculum that met their needs and answered their questions. They wrapped their arms around these mothers in birth, showing the medical staff and officers that we can still find the human being within the bad choices and wrong paths taken. The culture surrounding these mothers on the inside has shifted. They are in greater contact with their families and home communities. They are using milk expression to maintain lactation until they are reunited with their infants. Most importantly, these mothers are shown what a healthy, mothering relationship looks like when they themselves are mothered by doulas. Raelene Baker, the Minnesota Prison Doula Project Coordinator, shared a story about waiting at the Minnesota prison for several hours, kept outside the group room while a security issue was resolved. When she was allowed into group, the mothers were surprised. They thought she had certainly left and there would be no group meeting. Rae stayed for 30 minutes, and they had a short group. The Minnesota doulas built trust. Modeling trust and being available, these moms understand better what a mother does for her child.
Today we will sit in on this safe space. We will ask the mothers, if they are willing to share, what we can do for the moms in Alabama who are giving birth without a doula. We will ask them how this experience has changed them and their family dynamic. We will listen. What they say is important.
Thanks for following along, and for your positive support. If that support could be translated into a monetary donation, of any value, we’d be very grateful. Most importantly, these unborn babies would be grateful for their mother’s milk, for their mother’s desire to bond, to imprint, and to stay connected to them in a way that is more possible through our program.