Going into the jail is almost like entering a different world. There are so many rules to follow. There are so many doors to buzz so you can open it just so it can slam and lock behind you. Your classroom is full of young pregnant girls. Each one has stories that you thought could not be possible. They grab at your heart. There are times they almost make you sick.
You want to cry. But you can’t.
When a woman cries, it is almost an automatic action that another woman reaches out to hug her and hold her. But in jail, you can’t do that. You are not allowed physical contact with an inmate at any time.
You want to cry with them. But you need to stay strong so the girl can continue talking to you. She needs to share. And if she wants to, she needs to cry.
But there are times you just want to cry. Maybe it is the smell of the building. The yelling you hear from one pod to another. (It is never quiet.) The story a woman just told you about being abused since she was 2. Or hearing a woman say she has no idea who the father is because she is a prostitute. Or a woman has so many boyfriends, she has to wait till the baby is born and can get an idea who the father is by the race of the baby.
When we go to the jail, two of our team goes each time. Thankfully, when one of us is having a difficult time holding it together, the other one of us is able to help the one that feels like she cannot take it. We hold our emotions until we get to the car.
Having the other educator or doula with you helps when you need to debrief right then. Once you talk it out with your team member, and hear her talk about the situation, it helps you to handle the situation better.
Attending a birth of an inmate is always difficult because you have to word everything different than you would for someone on the outside. She will be leaving her baby. She may never get to see her baby again because of loosing parental rights, adoption, or she knows she will be going to prison for a long time.
Hearing her talk at her birth between contractions, she is sharing her heart, spilling everything out because she believes you to be a safe person. You stay with her for hours after her birth to help her bond with her baby. She is crying as she holds her baby close.
You need to stay strong so she can have time with her baby and not be thinking about you crying. You come back the next day to spend more time with her to answer any questions she might have. To help her breastfeed the few hours she is with her baby. And she cries more. You need to stay strong for her.
A couple of years ago, we had a birth with an inmate that had spent most of her pregnancy in jail. We got to know her very well. She made the decision as it got closer to her due date to surrender her baby for adoption.
Because of the emotional state the mom was in, it took 3 doulas to help her have the baby, be with her postpartum, and then to sign papers for surrender and walk out with the Deputy. Each one of us that was part of her birth wanted to cry the entire time. We knew we could not. She cried. She held on to us (when they are at the hospital, we are allowed to have physical contact with them). She would cry. Then sing to her baby. Talk and laugh with us and then go back to crying. With each doula, it took so much out of each one of us. All three of us said that when it was time for us to leave, we all cried when we got to the car.
So, is it ok to cry? If you want to put HER first, no, you cannot cry. This is not about you. When you are helping an inmate in her pregnancy or her birth, it is always all about her.
How do you prepare a doula or childbirth educator for their first jail visit? I look forward to sharing my opinion with you in my next blog. Meanwhile go to www.birthbeindbars.com website and www.facebook.com/birthbehindbars and discover more stories.
****Disclaimer: This blog is from the perspective of a jail, not a Sate or Federal prison. Protocol will vary from initiation to institution.