Julia S. Tutwiler, that is.
Today is Julia Tutwiler's birthday. She would have been 176 years old today.
What would Julia Tutwiler, Alabama's first reformer of prisons and champion of women and their education, do if she knew that as many as 35 infants are born each year inside the prison named after her?
Miss Tutwiler, who is a member of the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame, founded the Tuscaloosa Benevolent Association (TBA), where women and those like her worked to improve conditions in Alabama jails and prisons. She is certainly one of the most recognized social justice advocates in our state's history.
WWJD? What if she knew that these forgotten babies were separated from their incarcerated mothers in a matter of hours? That they were at higher risk for being born early and at a low weight? That their mothers' stress levels from the isolation of prison pregnancy affects their ability to regulate their own neuroendocrine system? That they were more likely to go to the NICU than other babies? That their developmental needs were not being met with respect to bonding with their mother and receiving nutritional and immunological properties in her milk?
This is what is happening inside the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Alabama each month. As many as 82 babies, an average of 2 per month, have been born to women behind bars at the prison in the past 3 years. They are born in a hospital and separated from their mothers after just 24 hours, sometimes less. They stay in the hospital nursery for at least one day without family, and possibly longer if they are born sick. Before that, they grow inside their mothers in a prison that is in desperate need of updating, with crowded dorms, no air conditioning, and a population of women who has lost hope.
Because who feels hope when pregnant in prison? Who feels hope when there will be no family, no familiar faces in the birth room, no one to hold their hand during labor? Who feels hope knowing their newborn will be crying in the nursery when they return to prison in leg irons? Who feels hope when they have struggled with addiction, lived in poverty, lacked adequate health care, and have a history of trauma, abuse, and disappointment on the outside?
I don't know anyone that could maintain hope in those circumstances, and I'd venture to guess you don't, either.
Yet, in just 2 years, nearly all of these mothers, who have experienced the intense trauma of leaving a hospital postpartum with empty arms, will be reunited with their children. These mothers will be asked to turn their lives around, become better parents, set up a better life for themselves and their kids. By then, their babies, now toddlers, have already experienced an adverse life event which will make them more likely to live in poverty and become justice-involved themselves. These toddlers, who did not commit a crime, are cast into this life through no choice of their own.
What would Julia do?
And her giving, like yours, would be and is used directly to benefit these growing babies and their mothers. Over the past 17 months, we've reached 59 unique mother/baby pairs in our childbirth classes and support group.
We have been able to encourage self-advocacy by the pregnant mothers, and now they get 48 full hours with their infant in the hospital and are free from leg irons in the postpartum period. We've been invited into the birth room of one mother who left our program two weeks before giving birth because she wanted her family with her, and "you are my family," she told us.
Miss Tutwiler would give to the Alabama Prison Birth Project so it could continue bringing childbirth and breastfeeding education, along with birth companion support and healthy meals packed with nutrients, vitamins, Omega 3's, and protein, to these women who are pregnant, lowering the risk of preterm birth and NICU stays.
And, finally, she would be pleased that these mothers will soon have a way to remain
connected to their infants through a milk expression program. All of these interventions have proven to reduce the likelihood of negative birth outcomes for these infants and postpartum mood disorders in their mothers.
And Julia would see these mothers then grow in confidence and mothering ability, transforming into their body's and mind's mothering potential, experiencing a healthy, mothering relationship, and allowing them to bond with and provide for their infants in a way that no one else can, even when the bars of prison separate them.
Julia would be thrilled, because when these babies are reunited with their mothers, their mothers will be in a better place mentally, feeling empowered to turn their lives around and avoid returning to prison.
Now that we know what Julia would do, what will you do?
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Quotes from participants in our twice-monthly Birthing Care Groups.