Pregnancy is often a memorable, joyful time in a mother’s life. But for women incarcerated while pregnant, it’s a time of fear, loss and isolation. A group of doulas in Minnesota is working to make that time less heartbreaking for female prisoners.
When Erica Gerrity was a student in college, she worked at the only women’s prison in Minnesota. What she saw there broke her heart, particularly when it came to pregnant prisoners. She noticed they were struggling, especially postpartum.
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Pregnant women in the prison system give birth like it’s just something that happens that particular day, with no family members or emotional support. Gerrity said that the mothers she spoke to basically felt invisible — no one cared whether or not their children lived or died or how the heartache of having to let them go affected them.
So Gerrity started the Minnesota Prison Doula Project. Her goal was to help incarcerated mothers throughout their pregnancies, birth and postpartum periods. Her project has already helped over 1,000 women.
Genevive Bojado, a doula with the project, says that she knows birth can be an empowering, but also a traumatic experience for a woman. She lends her support to help women with their births. Project Coordinator Raelene Baker says that they’ve seen lower c-section rates, as well as fewer instances where pain medicine is given unnecessarily or other unnecessary interventions, and this is because the women are educated and able to advocate for their birth experiences with the doulas’ help.
The Project started in 2010 and in 2014, a bill was passed in Minnesota, allowing incarcerated pregnant women to have access to pregnancy and prenatal education as well as labor support. Gerrity wants to bring the project to women in other area jails.
According to Bojado, every woman deserves to feel heard and have a voice in her birth experience. Every woman has the right to be educated about her birth choices, regardless of the poor choices she may have made in the past.