I spent my Valentine’s morning at Tutwiler Women’s Prison with 18 inmates. Nine of these mothers have birthed their babies while incarcerated, four of them within the last month. Alabama Prison Birth Project (formerly East Alabama Birth Village) has now been once a month for the last year. We get an hour and half with these women; once a month. These mothers have taught us so much about birth, friendships, showing up, getting proximate, bonding, and loss during these twelve visits. We went in thinking that we would be doing LOTS of childbirth education. We thought we knew what they needed. One session, several months ago, four women got up and walked out. The topic that day was how to bond. You know what we learned that day? That these women know how to bond and there is a better way to share ideas with them. We are learning every day.
When we started we were scared, not necessarily of the inmates, but of the processes. I had never stepped foot into a prison before last March. There is no quiet; the slamming of the metal doors is real and loud. There is always movement. People, inmates and staff, are everywhere. The privacy at a prison doesn’t exist. The smell is a musty, stale cigarette odor that lingers on your clothes and in your hair. We were told to not find out why these women are incarcerated to keep a healthy distance with them. I don’t ask, but sometimes they tell. And we know the statistics. As our Auburn University intern, Haleigh, has called them, these mothers are the most invisible, visible population in our country. Many of these mothers are at Tutwiler for non-violent drug offenses, bad choices, and the cycle of addiction and poverty.
Why are we doing this? What do we think will improve? I have been a nurse for 13 years. I trained to be a Registered Nurse to use my intellect and my heart to provide the best care to those that needed it the most. I have told many that the loss of our first baby and then the birth of our son, my transition into being a mother, changed the trajectory of my life. I am now a trained childbirth educator and birth, bereavement, and postpartum doula. Slightly different than what I set out on 13 years ago working as an RN in a hospital. I know firsthand how becoming a mother, whether for the first time or the 9th time, has the power to change a woman. We believe that every woman is the best mother for her baby. How does that translate to a mother giving birth while in prison? She gets to make choices every day. She gets to decide where for baby will be raised until they are reunited, if she gets that chance in life. She gets to decide what food she puts in her mouth, what songs to sing to her baby, what memories she writes down in her journal. These women have a choice in how they mother and parent when they are released back into our communities.
Today, a mother told us that she feels like she is forgotten.
We need your help to shine a light on these mothers. This is a time in their life that the choices they make every day will have an impact on their lives and the lives of their children. Alabama Prison Birth Project wants to go in weekly. We never have enough time. We bring an array of healthy foods that are inaccessible behind bars. We know that if they can have access to these foods, once a week, their babies will benefit. We have a partnership with the Minnesota Prison Doula Project and have access to a weekly childbirth curriculum created just for pregnant inmates. We also are ready to provide each of these women a doula at their birth. We want to be their support during one of the most significant events of their lives; the birth and the separation from their babies.
Forgotten? Not if the Alabama Prison Birth Project, and you, have anything to do with it.