When the phone rang in the middle of the night, I knew who the jail was calling about. I had been with this inmate the week prior when she was in “false labor” at the hospital. Her due date was soon, and although she had been hoping that her baby would hold out until she got out of jail, that wasn’t the case.
I gathered myself and headed out to the hospital that the inmate was supposed to be at…only to find out that EMS had transported her to another hospital closer to the jail because she was so far along in her labor. This meant that I had another 30-40 minutes on the road before I even got to her. At this point I worried that I wasn’t going to make it in time. But the trip left me plenty of time to think about this mother, her baby boy, and the tough road ahead of both of them.
When I arrived at the hospital and went to her room, I could tell that it was a close call! The inmate smiled through the flurry of activity and said, “I didn’t think you were going to make it.” I assured her that I wouldn’t miss it for anything and immediately went to her side.
She took my hand and held tightly through her contractions, moaning, and wriggling around on the bed, obviously close to the end of her labor. In between contractions, she closed her eyes and rested her head on my hand, thanked me for being there, and cried over what was about to happen.
Although it seemed like a lifetime to her, it was only about 10 minutes after I arrived that she began to push. And after only about 3 pushes, her sweet little baby boy was born! There were tears and kisses and more tears as he was placed on her chest for the very first time. She said his name aloud, the name she chose was to remember her father whom she lost very early in her life. She was a proud mother loving her son.
After the initial rush of activity, when things calmed down some, we finally had time to talk. As she held her baby, she told me how horrible she felt. This woman had been on a methadone treatment throughout her entire pregnancy and felt guilty for what she “had done” to her baby. I took this time to tell her that she didn’t do anything to her baby; she did what she had to do to keep herself and her baby healthy during her pregnancy. I assured her that she was a good mother. She cried and kissed him more, and apologized to him through her tears. It is times like this when it is hard to hold back my own tears, but this is what we do.
Baby boy went to the nursery for his initial checkup, and this left us time to talk alone. She thanked me again for being there and said that she didn’t know how she could have done it without me; that even though she doesn’t really know me, she was so grateful that I was there for her. At that point, there was nowhere else in the world I would rather be…
We used this time to tackle the hard questions. We talked with the nurse about her baby boy’s health, how the methadone was going to affect him, how he would be treated for withdrawal. We discussed where her baby was going to go while she was incarcerated. We talked about her plans after her release from jail. Some of these questions were not answered before I left that day, or even before she left to go back to jail. Some of them won’t be answered for months or years to come. But, it felt good to talk about them, and to try and address the ones that we could. I encouraged her with positive words and told her that it wasn’t too late. It was never too late for her to make a good life for herself and her baby boy (she also has an older son).
As she held her baby, I could see that she was starting to get tired. I offered to hold him while she got some rest. I held him for a while. She rested, but didn’t sleep, just stared at him and smiled and cried.
When it was time for me to go, I assured her that someone would be back to visit her and her baby boy tomorrow. She hugged me and held my hand as she thanked me one more time for what I had done for her. And as always, I felt like it wasn’t enough….it never feels like enough.