Babies Behind Bars

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This post is attributed to Maya Oppenheimer & originally appeared on VICE UK.

Pregnancy can be an anxious experience for all women: fears of miscarrying, birth defects, difficult labor, and how you’ll cope are natural when you’re carrying a child. If you’re pregnant in prison, however, natural anxieties can become terrifying. What happens if you can’t get proper healthcare? What happens if you’re not let out of your cell when your waters break? What happens if you miscarry and no one knows what to do?

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Being pregnant in prison comes with myriad fears—most distressing of all is the question of whether you will be able to keep your baby. While female prisoners in the UK are legally allowed to keep their babies for the first 18 months in a secure Mother and Baby Unit, the vast majority of children are separated from their mothers. In turn, many women go into labor knowing that their baby will be lifted from their arms within hours, that they will return to prison later alone, swollen, and lactating.

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According to the NSPCC’s latest report, an average of 100 babies are born in prisons in England and Wales each year. Yet antenatal care in prisons remains substandard. Not only is there no universal standard for what prisons have to provide for pregnant women, there is no legal requirement to offer antenatal classes. You might be bearing a child but you’re a prisoner at all times. Evidence has shown, too, that women inside are more likely to experience birth defects or have stillborn babies than those on the outside.

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