Sydnie Arnold, Doula


What makes a birth experience of an inmate different than the birth of any other baby? Logistics. The inmate awoke around 4 A. M. thinking she had to go to the bathroom. This was baby number 4 for her. She knew what contractions felt like. She had never experienced this need to “keep going to the bathroom”. This gets the guard’s attention. The inmate is told, “your water broke”. Jail personnel scurry around making preparation for transportation to the hospital. They call Birth Behind Bars to let the doula on call know an inmate is being taken to the hospital. As EMS arrives contractions begin. The inmate recognizes theses contractions, as strong and active. This baby is not going to tarry. On the way to the hospital the mom tells the EMS attendant that she feels a lot of pressure and may need to push. He tells her to hang-in there they are only 10 minutes from the hospital.

 The contractions continue to get stronger longer and closer together. As the mom is transported from the ambulance to the Labor and Delivery floor, her first request is for pain medication. The nurse must check the progress of labor before she can admit the inmate and get permission to administer pain medication. The inmate tells the nurse that her cervix was 4 centimeters dilated at her last prenatal appointment. The inmate’s cervix is now completely effaced and 7 centimeters dilated. The baby is really low. With the first contraction after receiving medication the inmate tells the nurse she needs to push.

Mom is told, “we are still waiting for the mid-wife to arrive.”  Another contraction comes and goes. The inmate tells the nurse and the deputy, that she needs to push and is going to push with the next contraction.  As she starts to push, the midwife enters the room “gowning-up” and putting on gloves as she greets the inmate. As the inmate pushes again the nurses set up equipment that the midwife may need for baby’s arrival.  Push number 3 and the baby is born.

Oh, do remember that the doula was called as the jail personnel were making transportation preparations? Well, the doula, arrived 4 minutes after the baby was born. Unfortunately, she could not drive as fast EMS. The sequence of events that I have included in this birth story came from the birth mother herself. Part of providing postpartum support is listening to the mother. All mothers need to tell their birth stories, especially our mothers from the jail. As they hold their babies and look into their eyes and tell you this baby looks just like their other children when they were born. They tell you how the grandmother has “fixed up” a room just for this baby and this baby has a sister who cannot wait to be a little mother to this baby.

 The Birth Behind Bars doula and a deputy are the only people besides medical personnel that are allowed to be with the mom during her postpartum stay in the hospital. Because of the limited access of who can be with this mom, we look for ways to commemorate this mom’s achievement of bring a new life into this world.  We bring toiletries and a “special meal” from a close by restaurant to the mom.  We also, bring a special outfit for the baby to wear when it is discharged. 

As her doula, I want to help her use this time to create memories. I take a lot of pictures and explain to her Birth Behind Bars will develop these pictures and send them to her.  As I listen to this mother and watched her tilt her head a certain way to maintain eye contact with her baby, I thought about the emotions that she was experiencing. About how these emotions were not any different than other moms that I have supported. The difference is the amount of time this mom has to spend with her baby. All the love that she is trying to convey is to be concentrated into a very small amount of time, two days.  Two days to memorize this baby’s face. To give all the kisses any one mom can give, to nuzzle, to hug,, to smile at and tell this baby how much it is loved. Two days to bond for a lifetime.