‘I Had No Idea How Much Time I Would Get With My Newborn Son’

As a new campaign launches to prevent pregnant women being sent to prison, an anonymous mother describes her experience

Pregnant in prison

by Anonymous |
Published on

I was six months pregnant with my first child when I was remanded to prison, awaiting sentencing. I was 29, terrified, and it was the first time I had seen the inside of a prison. My child was due in three months and I had no clue what would happen to him.

I found out, through talking to other women in the prison, that there are mother and baby units where women who give birth in prison can keep their baby for the first 18 months. There was a small light at the end of a very dark tunnel. At least he would know I am his mum. But, from staying with complete strangers to being unable to eat because the food made me physically sick, my emotions were a rollercoaster. The guilt of being pregnant in prison ate me up, and still does.

I became increasingly anxious as I wasn’t given a lot of information about what would happen when I went into labour. When that day came, I was so scared that they might not get me to hospital in time and I’d have my baby in prison. My contractions began at 5.30am, so I pressed the call bell and was told someone would be with me shortly. They came two hours later when the whole prison landing was unlocked. By this time I was very uncomfortable and agitated. I felt that I couldn’t protect my child until someone let me out.

Five hours after pressing the call bell, I was taken to hospital, escorted by two prison officers and cuffed to one of them. When I asked if I could be uncuffed – as is procedure for women in labour - I was told I should be grateful they put me in long cuffs and not short ones. The pain got worse and I felt so uncomfortable asking for help so I held it in until I couldn’t any longer, and was screaming. I was begging for them to tell my son’s father and my mother that I was in labour, but they ignored me. Eventually a doctor took me to the office so I could call them, and said she was disgusted by the officers’ behaviour.

My son’s dad and my mum luckily got to the hospital in time to see my son arrive. They placed him on my chest and I cried like I have never cried before. I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel. I was happy my son had entered the world safely, but the circumstances were horrible and I had no idea how much time I would get with him. My heart was full with love, but breaking at the same time. My mum, and my child’s dad, were asked to leave after an hour. Then I was escorted through the hospital with three officers.

I was taken to a new prison that had a mother and baby unit (MBU) and was put into a holding cell with my newborn. We were left there alone for two hours before being taken to the unit. I had no buggy so was carrying my newborn in a car seat - less than 24 hours after giving birth. When the door shut and we were alone in our room, I broke down. All I could think was that my beautiful, innocent baby should not be here.

The next week was unbearable. He was my first child and I had nobody to turn to. The other mums just seemed to get on with it, although I learnt later they were also struggling. I applied for bail as my mental health had deteriorated so badly while on the unit, and was allowed home on an electronic curfew after a week. I was so happy to be able to take my son home, and have support from family and friends. I hadn’t been sentenced yet, but was told they would be recommending a custodial sentence not be given because I had my son.

As I kissed him goodbye, tears flowed down my face and I couldn’t catch my breath. I didn’t know when I would see him again.

The day of sentencing came and I didn’t want to let him go. I felt like my heart was splitting in two. As I kissed him goodbye to go to court, tears flowed down my face and I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. After everything we had been through, I didn’t know when I would see him again.

I was sentenced to prison for 12 months, and it felt as though my whole world fell apart. I was very lucky that my son was with my mum, but she couldn’t keep him for the whole length of my sentence so I knew I had to try to get back on the MBU.

From the day I arrived in prison, I spoke to the administrator every day to try and get a place. It felt like a battle. In the meantime, I had to ask my parents not to bring my son to visit any more as, every time the visit finished, I was inconsolable and my son would cry too.

After over a month, I finally got a place on the MBU but it was a bittersweet moment. I was so happy that I could have my son with me, but we would still be in a prison behind locked gates. I couldn’t take him to feed the ducks or to the park. The simple things I never thought I would take for granted. I felt I was being selfish by having him with me, and he was missing out. He shouldn’t have been there, and I will live with that forever. The guilt never goes away.

I never want anyone to go through what I went through, which is why I am part of a campaign with Women in Prison, Birth Companions and Level Up to stop pregnant women going to prison.

Prison is not a safe place for any pregnant woman or baby. It causes toxic stress and trauma to both mother and child – and even short sentences can have a lifelong impact. What happens to a child in their first 1001 days, including pregnancy, lay the building blocks for their future.

Pregnant women in prison don’t receive the same level of care as in the community and the Government is putting women and their children at risk. I was in the MBU with my son for 11 months, but I had my second son at home and that’s when I really realised how much care I missed out on.

In prison, urgent needs can’t be seen to quickly - I needed to go to the hospital for reduced movements when heavily pregnant and it took five hours before I was seen by a doctor in a hospital. Anything could have happened in that time and I was just left locked in a cell worried out of my mind. I was able to have my son safely in hospital but others aren’t so lucky, like the woman who had a tragic stillbirth in Bronzefield prison in 2017.

This is why the Government can and must strengthen the law so magistrates and judges have a legal duty to look at every alternative to prison for pregnant women.

Sign the petition here

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