What is it like to give birth in prison?



I was 28 years old when I was detained for my first criminal offense. I was also 6 months pregnant with my first child. Giving birth to a child in such an environment is a journey that no woman would want.

The day I had been dreading had arrived. I woke up early in the morning with pain in my lower back, only to find that my child had already left. I went up and down my cell phone and pressed the ringing bell. We were told someone would be coming soon, it was 5:30am. I rang the bell four more times over the next two hours, but no one came.

I was finally able to leave my cell at 7:30am. That time is always when everyone is let out. The police officer who opened the door for me had no idea I was in labor, so at that point I was clearly in pain and in severe distress. I panicked that they wouldn’t take me to the hospital.

I was faced with the reality that these people held my and my children’s lives in their hands and their actions would determine the outcome. I felt completely helpless.

I was sent to prison for three and a half months from trial to sentencing. Already six months pregnant, I quickly realized that I would spend the last part of my pregnancy in prison, where I would give birth to my son. I felt like a failure as a mother before I even started. I was scared of being put in that precarious situation and worried that I would end up giving birth in solitary confinement.

At that time, I had no idea about the procedures for pregnant women in prison, and none of the prison officers were very friendly. When I asked questions, most people said they didn’t really know the answer. My saving grace was that the other women in the wing told me what was going to happen and explained to me the mother-baby unit. [women who give birth in prison can keep their baby for the first 18 months in a mother and baby unit].

Time 2 November 2023, 2, PO Martin (Lisa Millett), Kelsey (Bella Ramsay), BBC Studios, Sally Mays
Bella Ramsay, who plays Kelsey, gives birth in prison on BBC show time (Photo: Sally Mace/BBC)

During my pregnancy, I was able to see my midwife in prison once a week, but some weeks I couldn’t because there was a huge line at the midwife and there wasn’t enough time to see everyone. For example, I needed a diabetes test that required a 12-hour fast, but the midwife didn’t have enough time to do the test three times.

As you can imagine, prison food is not optimal for pregnant women and I fell ill most of the time. I mainly ate cereal, milk, and toast. Fresh fruits and vegetables were very rare. They were supposed to deliver one piece of fresh fruit a day, but there was never enough for everyone. I was lucky that other women shared their fruit with me.

One day, the fetal movements decreased. When he told the police, he was told he had to wait for the midwife who was scheduled to arrive at 3 o’clock. day to day’ time. In the end, I became so persistent and agitated that I was taken to the hospital for observation the next day. This is a very bad habit. At this point I was feeling worried, overwhelmed, anxious, and helpless.

On the day I gave birth, when I was finally released from the cell, I was escorted to the hospital by two police officers. Thankfully, my child arrived safely, but the long wait and anxiety turned what was supposed to be the best day of my life into the most traumatic.

As soon as my son was born, I was overwhelmed with guilt that my child had to go with me to a mother-child facility (to get here I had to go to another prison). I felt extremely guilty about taking my precious baby to prison, and my mental state rapidly deteriorated. However, I quickly felt that I shouldn’t tell anyone about this as I risked being judged ‘unable to cope’ and having my son taken away.

Rather than remain in custody, I applied for and was granted bail (after previously being refused). I was allowed to go home under an electronic curfew and then stayed home with my child until the day of the verdict, not knowing when I would be able to see him again.

I hugged him and cried, then handed him over to his mother and headed to court. I was sentenced to his 3 1/2 year prison sentence so I could reapply for a separate Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) to keep his son by my side until he is released.

When I got back to the prison, I immediately asked someone to talk to me about accessing the MBU. In fact, I kept asking for her for 5 weeks. Her mother came to visit with her son several times, but as frustration grew with the uncertainty of whether her wishes would be granted, I asked her mother to take her son away. I asked him not to bring his son with him. I couldn’t say goodbye.

I cried and he cried too and I felt it was unfair to him since we already had a bond. Every time I had to say goodbye, it felt like my heart was being torn apart.

The guilt I feel for putting my son in that environment is not real. Even after all these years, I’m still touched by it. I think that’s always the case. As a mother, you want the best for your children. I always feel the need to make it up to him, even if he has no idea where his life started. I plan to tell him someday, but I feel like it would be a heavy burden for a child to understand why he has to pay for his mother’s mistakes. It wasn’t prison that changed my life for the better, it was my son. I wish I had been given the opportunity in a community judgment to prove that.

BBC time The show portrayed the women’s journey in prison very well. It accurately depicts the relationships that are formed there, as well as how prison affects relationships outside. I’m glad you showed the reality that prisons are understaffed and not a safe place for pregnant women. It’s never safe.

This is why, since I left prison, I have been involved in a campaign to end the imprisonment of pregnant women. That way, other women don’t have to go through what I and my children went through. This affects us to this day.

As told by Janie Starling

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