There is this very distinct pause I notice whenever I tell people about my internship. I think people generally don’t know how to react when you say you will be working with incarcerated pregnant and postpartum mothers. I totally understand the lack of words, as I sit here trying to write out my thoughts, I feel the same pause. I want to do justice to this organization and the work that we do, and I want to do it in a way that can change people’s hearts.
Sometimes after that pause and slightly awkward exchange I get asked why, and the simple answer would be that I needed an internship to graduate. I was happy to find one that overlaps with my current major (human development and family studies) and what I want to go to school for next (certified nurse midwifery). And while that answer is short and sweet it doesn’t really sum up what drew me to this kind of work.
First, I have to explain how I came across and then became totally obsessed with the idea of becoming a certified nurse midwife. Through research for a paper, I found out that the United States has the highest infant mortality rate as well as the highest maternal death rate of all developed countries. This shook me to my core. As a person who has wanted to have babies since I was baby, this bothered me. How do we have such an advanced medical system that costs 9 times more than other developed countries and fail so deeply in something that should be safe? I continued this research to find that one reason is the over-medicalization of an otherwise normal event. In the United States pregnancy is treated as a medical condition rather than a biological norm, and the problem starts there. Aside from high-risk pregnancies, there is no need for many of the procedures that are standard in all deliveries in the states. In short; we have seriously over-complicated a very normal process, and it’s hurting us so much more than it’s helping.
Now for the part you’re most curious about: the prison part. Why do I have the desire to help people who have committed crimes? Here's where I want to stop you for a second and ask: are you really so different from some of these women? Who has never broken a rule? Some offenses are minor and some aren’t, but I think an important step to recognizing that people who are incarcerated are still people is acknowledging that what makes most of us different is our circumstances and privilege, not our choices. I am also a firm believer that a lot of the world’s problems could be solved if people were willing to see things from a perspective different from their own.
One of the first things I learned about incarcerated, pregnant women is that they are more likely to give birth to premature and low birth weight babies, among other problems that may develop from a lack of quality prenatal care and nutrition. Additionally, the lack of family and partner support during delivery due to prison protocol can cause a traumatic experience for mom and baby. As a human development and family studies major, I have learned time and time again about the importance of early life experiences on children and the importance of parent child bonding (which begins even before the baby is delivered). Regardless of your feelings about those who have committed crimes, the growing baby is completely innocent and deserves as fair a shot as any at a good life. All of these are reasons I felt drawn to this organization.
I think the main thing to remember is that people are people, no matter the situation and no one deserves to be given up on. Two lives are being changed in this program each time we meet with these women. Their life is changing because they are being told they can be a good mother and they are getting support they need to give their baby the best they can from the start. The babies' lives are being changed because that baby gets a better chance at being healthy and having a relationship with its mother. All of this encourages lower rates of return to the prison system by mothers and by children later in life. This program makes an impact on society as a whole. I am making an impact, even if its starting out small, and not many people my age can say that.
Before my first visit to Tutwiler, I imagined prison as what I’d seen on tv or in movies, and although I tried my hardest not to assume things about the women I would be working with, I am human. I had preconceived stereotypes in mind. My first meeting with these women looked very different than that. I saw a group of stressed and anxious new and soon-to-be mothers trying to do right by their babies. Asking questions that any pregnant woman or new mom would ask and taking the time to educate themselves on pregnancy and what to expect once the baby is born. These moms are really no different from any other moms, and I think that is important to remember. All moms want to be good moms, and all moms are going to make mistakes. The important thing is that these women are trying to give their babies a better start in life. We need to acknowledge that.
I love the work I do for this internship, and I love the experience I am gaining and the valuable things I am learning by working here. My only wish is that everyone could see what it is I see in these women and in this program. It has only been a few weeks, but I already feel so passionate about this work. I can’t wait to spend the next four months working for these moms and babies.
APBP could not be successful without the hours our interns put into growing the program. We accept interns from Human Development and Family Studies, Communications, and other majors. Our interns are our army, and we are grateful for their passion and heart. If you are interested in interning with us, we have an opening this fall.