A few weeks ago I watched a show about women who have babies while incarcerated. This particular episode centered on a pilot program where inmates, based on their crimes and behavior have a chance to keep their babies with them in their cells and followed two women through their journey. It was one of the most gut-wrenching things I have ever seen to the point where I had to avert my eyes to keep from crumbling. As expected there was one happy ending and one devastating.
I see a lot of pregnant women in the workshop I lead with inmates. For most this is not their first pregnancy nor does the unborn baby have the same father as its siblings. There is no joy in the mother’s eyes, no rubbing of the belly, no astonished look when the baby moves or kicks. The prison-issued uniform is the only set of maternity clothes they will wear.
In the tv show, the audience is set-up to anticipate the ending of one woman’s story. She has been incarerated for a violent crime and is taken to a hospital, in shackles, to deliver her baby. She already knows that because of her crime, she will be unable to keep her baby with her in prison. She is unsure who the father is and won’t know until she can see what color his skin is.
She delivers her baby without much fanfare, noone clapping or cheering her on except for the female prison guard who has accompanied her (she had noone else in her life who had any interest in being there). The baby boy is placed on her chest for a minute or two, his skin color still a bit murky, and taken away to be cleaned, measured and weighed while his mother is taken to her hospital room.
She is allowed 24 hours with him. We see her bottle-feeding him, their eyes locked together in that way that mothers and their babies do. He is then placed into the arms of an Amish woman whose family will foster him until his mother’s sentence is completed. He is brought in for a visit a month later and she is very grateful to the family and seems resigned that they will, in fact, be the ones to raise him.
Today in my class there was a woman whose baby is due in two weeks. She prayed that he wouldn’t be delivered in the prison infirmary but in a nearby hospital. Her fellow inmates soothed her as best they could and a woman in the front turned to her and askd, “Is it okay if I tell her,” (meaning me), “about his name?” The pregnant woman nodded.
“She has an autistic son and he’s the one who picked out the name for the baby.”
One by one, the other women started to put their heads down to cry, one getting up to pass around a box of tissues.
“What’s his name going to be?” one asked.
“Christian.” There were encouraging compliments on the choice.
” My son has never expressed any interest in the baby yet and said, ‘This is going to be a special baby.'”
The mother doesn’t know how long her sentence will run, but the baby will be raised by her husband and undoubtedly loved by the brother who named him Christian.