When my phone rang early one morning, my first instinct was to roll over and hide under the covers, but my heart knew better. The call was to tell me an inmate was in labor, and ask if I could head to the hospital to support her. I agreed and began the quick “doula dash” of getting ready.
Usually we get to know the moms we support as they attend Pregnancy Class while incarcerated. But with this inmate, we knew nothing about her, except her name, and that she had only recently arrived at jail.
On my drive to the hospital, many questions ran through my head…who is she? What does she need? How is she handling this transition? When I arrived at the hospital and knocked on the door to meet this woman for the first time, I had no idea what to expect. I first introduced myself to the deputy who was in the room, and then quietly introduced myself to this mom, whom I found in tears. She was being assessed in triage and was very confused by what was going on. I calmly explained what my purpose was and that I was going to be there with her and provide support to her throughout her labor. She looked at me as if I was joking – I knew this was a lot for her to take in. I told her how there are people who work in this program who care about her. I explained that we usually get to know the inmates that are expecting, but since she had only recently been incarcerated, we didn’t have that opportunity to meet before.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath; I could tell she was processing all this information. As more tears came from her eyes, she told me this was her first baby, and she explained this was hard for her as she always expected her mom to be with her, and that she didn’t want to be alone.
Giving birth is an emotional event when you have your family there with you. This mom didn’t have that – instead of her own mother that she wanted to have at her birth, or the baby’s father who is in prison, she had me and a deputy. While this was far from her ideal situation, she immediately expressed gratitude that she did have someone to lean on as she finished her journey from woman to mother.
After further assessments, the doctors came to the realization that this mom was not in active labor, but because she was past her due date, they were going to induce her. The nurse explained the process to her, and I could tell by the look on her face, she still was confused…so much going on, so quickly! I sat down next to her to further explain what was going to happen, and how I was going to return early the next morning to be with her when they started the induction process .
I arrived back at the hospital around 5:30am the following day. As soon as I walked in, I greeted the new deputy who was there. I then turned my attention to a sleepy mama. She sat up, and said she was so happy to see me again. She was handling the induction process well, but we both knew there was a long way to go.
Throughout the rest of the day, we talked in between moments of her resting, and she explained how having a baby like this was her wake up call. A family member was going to take her baby while she finished out her incarceration. She knew she needed to follow a different path so she could be reunited with her baby, whom she so desperately wanted to meet. By evening time, it became apparent to staff that this mom’s baby girl needed to be born soon, and mom agreed to a cesarean section. She was worried I wasn’t going to be with her, and she said she couldn’t do it alone. The nurse put her mind at ease that I would be following her into the operating room.
After the operating room was prepared, the deputy and I went in, and I sat by mom’s head, stroking her hair and breathing deeply with her. I reminded her she was not alone, and while I knew that I wasn’t her mother, that I was there by her side no matter what. It only took a few minutes before the doctor announced she was about to meet her baby girl…tears ran down her face as she heard her baby’s first cries, and as the nurse brought baby girl over for her introduction. The look on a mother’s face when she sees her baby for the first time is priceless! After numerous ‘I love yous and sweet kisses, the nurse had to take the baby to the nursery.
Mom handled surgery well, and it was not long before she was reunited with her baby girl back in her room. You could see the love this mom had for her baby, as the nurse gently handed her over. If she wasn’t kissing her, she was telling her how much she loved her. After a little while, she looked up at me and said ‘thank you,’ as tears streamed down her cheeks. She didn’t need to say any more…I could tell what this meant to her by the look in her eyes.
It was already the next day by the time I left the hospital, and mom was happy to hear that I would be coming back later to visit. On my drive home, all I could think of was this mom and her baby, and how she only had a few precious moments to be with her before returning to jail.
I returned to the hospital in the afternoon and greeted the deputy and then said hello to mom – her first words were asking how I was feeling. She told me she was worried about me since I had been up for so long! I told her how thoughtful that was, and she then went on to tell me how her baby girl was doing great, and that she was a peaceful baby. I watched as she lovingly took care of this sweet newborn, feeding her, changing her diapers, and swaddling her. It took everything I had not to tear up, as I knew that these moments she had with her baby were going to end soon.
A few hours later I knew it was time for me to get going. I thought the hardest part of this was going to be fighting off how tired I was. In reality, the hardest part was saying goodbye to this new mother – I wanted to do more. She gave me a big hug and told me she couldn’t have done it without me. I told her it was my pleasure to have been part of this journey with her and that I will always remember her.
I encouraged her to take this experience and grow - to picture a new life for herself and her baby. As I left the hospital, tears welled up in my eyes, as I wondered how this mom’s story would end. While I may never know the ending, I know I helped her bond with her baby and I know how important this is for the baby as she grows up. I hope what I did was enough.