The following is a conversation Erin had with a mother in our group - Terra. She has given us permission to publish it on our blog in hopes that it will provide some insight into her experience of giving birth and being separated from her newborn while in prison. Terra is a mom of three children, and her baby boy J was born while she was incarcerated at Tutwiler for a parole violation.
Erin: What was it like to have a baby in prison?
Terra: This is my truth - having a baby while being in prison was the loneliest thing I have ever gone through and probably the most painful. Having to walk away from J was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. The Birthing Care Groups supported by the Alabama Prison Birth Project were very helpful, though. I remembered to do skin to skin with my baby like they taught us and I spent every minute I had with him. I held him and bonded with him. If he had been born on the outside, I don’t think I would have known about the importance of skin to skin. I was able to remember that even though I am an inmate, I have rights and I have a voice. I spent every second with J from the time of delivery until I had to walk away. My hope, and what I would have benefited from, is for the women at Alabama Prison Birth Project to be at the hospital with all the pregnant inmates for support when they give birth alone.
Erin: How did you connect with your son, and how do you remain connected?
Terra: I was 8 ½ months pregnant when I arrived at Tutwiler and attended one Birthing Care Group with the Alabama Prison Birth Project before I had my son. My son was born on a Thursday at 1:15 pm and I had to separate from him and return to Tutwiler on Saturday at 3pm. I had a scheduled C-section because I have had two previous C-sections. I was 39 weeks and 1 day. He was a healthy 7 pounds and 5 ounces. I was able to connect with him while I was pregnant by talking to him and rubbing my belly. I stay connected to him now by talking on the phone with him and my parents and looking at precious pictures of him that my family sends me. Phone calls home are 21 cents a minute. My family can pay for this, but so many inmates can’t afford that. If that’s the only connection you get, it can get really expensive, really fast!
Erin: You've been coming to group through your entire postpartum year. What about being a part of the Birthing Care Group helped you?
Terra: Being a part of this group has helped me more than I am able to put into words. While I am sitting in prison feeling as though no one can relate to me because I am sad and depressed and I can’t seem to figure out why. These ladies know just the right words to say or just a simple smile. Getting everyone together so we can cry if we want to and not feel like we are being judged is so important. I had postpartum depression for 7 months after the birth of my son. I hid it from everyone around me as most people didn’t even realize anything was wrong but in this support group I was able to open up and be honest and say, “No, I’m not ok." I am so grateful for Ashley, Erin, and Robin and the interns that have come with them. I am grateful that women that give birth while they are at Tutwiler are able to attend this group for one year after they have their babies. My concern now is that I will have to stop coming in November. I’m hoping I will be released soon after. But this is the only place that they know about my struggles and my truths as a mom. They are the only ones at Tutwiler that know J. They are doing wonderful work for us, and I hope Alabama Prison Birth Project can continue and grow.
Editorial note: One of the most common things we hear from the women in our group at Tutwiler is fear. Fear that the world does not know or care about their baby. Terra expressed that her identity as a new mom is connected to our group, and that the women in group and we are the only ones that know her baby. This form of connection is critical for reunification of mother and child. She also mentioned the high cost of phone calls. A 30-minute call home to her baby and other children costs $6. We know that a mother's connection to her children is the number one factor influencing recidivism. How can a mother with no money stay connected?
As we help connect mothers with their newborns, and as we head closer to #givingtuesday, consider the impact your contribution has on the future prison population, in addition to this mother and baby and future generations in their family.