Pregnancy is a special time in a woman's life, but if her life is already in upheaval, it can be even more difficult.
That's especially true for women who are in jail. According to the Atlantic, as many as one in 25 women are pregnant when they are placed behind bars (and sometimes they become pregnant while in prison too). That means a lot of stress and worry on top of the angst of their legal situation. While there are more programs that provide hope in some places, many pregnant inmates also face substandard medical care and the possibility of losing custody of their baby once behind bars.
In recent years, cases of miscarriage, health issues and even women screaming for help only to give birth alone behind bars have made the news. It's not the ideal situation for anyone, much less for a mom-to-be.
Here are 15 pics that show how pregnant women are treated in prison.
15 Substandard Prenatal Care
Prenatal care is one of the most important factors in determining a healthy outcome for the mom and baby. Some people might think that women behind bars get free access to health care 24-7, but the truth is that prison health care is notoriously substandard, according to Vice. Many facilities share doctors, and there are lots of reports of women complaining of issues and not seeing doctors for days.
14 Extra Worry
Stress can cause all sorts of issues for the baby's development, according to the March of Dimes, and we can't think of a more stressful setting for pregnancy than prison. Incarcerated women have the worries of the things that go on behind bars, plus worries about court, about things back home and about what will happen to the baby. Many times they only get a few days with the baby before it goes in to foster care.
13 Some Babies Stay With Mom
According to the Atlantic, nine states offer the opportunity for women to take care of their babies in prison. For some, it's just a few months, for others it's up to three years. These programs allow women who have shorter sentences a chance to raise their child instead of having them go into the foster system, where they might not be reunited after they get out of jail.
12 Uncomfortable Sleeping Situation
All pregnant women know that by the end of the third trimester it can be nearly impossible to find a comfortable position to sleep in. Lots of women use extra pillows to prop themselves up and finally catch a few zzzs. But that's not an option for women who are pregnant in prison. As you can see in this photo from Shadow Proof, they have a thin mattress and pillow, and they have to make the best of it.
11 Laboring Alone And Afraid
Every mom has a unique birth story, but a recent case in Colorado showed major flaws in the prison system. According to USA Today, the woman was writhing and screaming in pain, but the deputy didn't want to bother the nurse. So she ended up giving birth by herself on her bunk.
10 Trips To The Hospital
Whenever a pregnant woman worries that something is wrong, she calls the doctor or heads to the hospital, but that is an ordeal in prison. According to Reason, many women have ended up suing their prisons because they are denied trips to the hospital. One woman lost her baby because of the delay of getting transferred to the hospital, including having to wait while the deputies made a stop at Starbucks before getting her medical treatment.
9 Some Moms Pump In Prison
According to Next City, a California prison started a program earlier this year to allow moms to pump breastmilk for their babies. The prison doesn't allow the babies to stay with their moms, but it allows the moms to maintain a connection by pumping three times a day under the direction of a doula. The program is new, but let's hope that it spreads across the country for the good of the moms and the babies.
8 Some Jails Trying Virtual Doc Visits
Because of the problems of prison health care, the University of Arkansas has begun a program to try to help. According to the Marshall Project, the medical center based at the university is engaging in virtual health visits with prisons across the state. That is because of a high number of miscarriages and the tragic death of a newborn born in a toilet. They are hoping that earlier and better care will help end tragedies in prisons.
7 Giving Birth With A Guard By Your Side
Giving birth can be a humbling experience, and many women would prefer to only have a few people around, such as their husband and the doctor. But if you are pregnant in prison, you will probably give birth with a guard by your side, even in the hospital. In some places, female inmates are shackled while in the hospital, but luckily some places are changing their policies about that, according to NPR.
6 Miscarriage Rates Are High
Miscarriage is a tragedy that can impact any pregnant woman. But according to NPR, the rates of miscarriage in pregnant women are higher for women who are incarcerated. There is also a much higher incidence of abortion, and some women have sued correctional institutions claiming that prison officials push them into making that choice.
5 Most Don't Get Long To Bond
While some prisons do allow moms to take care of their babies in prison, most women have only a few hours, at most a couple of days, to bond with their newborn. It's possible for the baby to go live with family members, but it's more likely to enter into the foster care system. Sometimes that means that the mom will get visits with the baby, but that's not always the case.
4 Some States Allow Childbirth Classes
In some prisons, pregnant women are on their own, but many are getting better about educating moms-to-be while they are behind bars. Some have classes on things like nutrition — although there may not be many options in the mess hall — and childbirth. This helps women to prepare themselves for what can happen during labor and delivery, according to Refinery 29, and it might help prepare them for the short time they get to be with their baby.
3 Doulas Can Make A Difference
As traumatic as labor can be for any woman, doing it alone with only a guard by your side can be so much worse. According to Forbes, the rates of interventions like inductions and cesarean are higher among the incarcerated too. Recently, in some places, women have been paired with volunteer doulas to help them and advocate for them during the birthing process — and that can make all the difference.
2 Sometimes The Baby Doesn't Make It
Unfortunately many times the baby born to an incarcerated woman doesn't make it. Like the miscarriage rate, the stillbirth rate is also high for women behind bars and they also might give birth early. Part of this might be due to poor nutrition and other issues that might have been true before they came to prison, but the care behind bars doesn't help matters, according to statistics from John Hopkins Medicine.
1 Postpartum Depression Can Be More Extreme
According to Medicalxpress, women can suffer a lot of postpartum issues after giving birth in a prison. That's especially true if the baby is taken away after a few days. Their medical studies have found that prison nurseries cause better outcomes for the mom and the development of the baby. Plus, they have been shown to reduce recidivism for the moms after they leave prison.