When I arrived at prison, I was four months pregnant. I was known as #920906 to the Maryland Department of Corrections for 10 months, from September 2004 until my release on July 1, 2005.
Although I had no prior criminal record and was a minimum security inmate, I was housed at a maximum security prison because it was the only female prison in Maryland. As the months went by, I quickly learned why pregnancy in prison is considered high-risk; there was an astonishing lack of nutrition, medical, and prenatal care.
CHILDBIRTH IN CHAINS
I was beside myself. Did they really think I was going to attempt to escape with my swollen belly and baby on the way? Any woman who has experienced childbirth can attest that such a notion is absurd.
I delivered my baby girl, shackled to a hospital bed, chained like an animal, in a vulnerable position exposed to all, without family and only corrections officers by my side.
Although these officers were my only source of companionship during this humiliating, terrifying, and life-altering experience, they showed little compassion or empathy. I was restrained by my ankle and wrist the entire time. When the doctor recommended the shackles be removed, one officer responded in a monotone voice, "I am unable; it is procedure."
A SHACKLED MOTHER
Praise God it was a short delivery, and Hannah was born healthy. Although I was handcuffed the entire time, I held her for 38 hours, only putting her down to go to the bathroom. Most incarcerated women have less than 24 hours before they are forced to return to prison empty-handed. However, I was lucky to have advocates who made arrangements in order for me to have more time for attachment and bonding with Hannah.
I still recall my desire to have her heart beat against mine, bonding as mother and child, but because I was always chained by my wrist, I had limited access to fully embrace her. I could not even rub her skin with my other hand because I feared scraping her against my handcuff. Because I knew within hours she would be taken away, I tried to memorize every part of her.
When the nurse came in, my heart sank. I handed my little girl over for a complete stranger to take until my mother arrived to take Hannah home. When my mom got there, the nurse told her, "She has been crying for three hours since her mother left. Her mother held her the entire time."
My mom just looked at the nurse and said, "Would you have done any different?"
Hannah is my only child. This is my only birthing experience: shackled, chained, and strapped as if I were an animal. It is a memory I relive on every one of my daughter's birthdays. I am willing to share this intimate part of my life, because I am determined not to let my trauma be in vain.
I am only one story.
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