The following guest blog is written by Rebecca Swope, Director of CURE-Women Incarcerated
I’m writing to tell you the incredible news that Maryland has become the 19th state to take a stand against the barbaric practice of shackling women to hospital beds in labor, delivery and postpartum recovery. The Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women Act was signed into Maryland law by Governor O’Malley on Monday April 14, 2014.
But there is still more that can be done. Sign on to ensure this act is upheld and pregnant women are not shackled during childbirth.
I was one of those women.
I was known as #920906 to the Department of Corrections for 10 months. When I arrived at The Maryland Correctional Institute for Women (MCIW), I was 4 months pregnant. I had no prior criminal record and was a minimum security inmate. There was an astonishing lack of nutrition, medical and prenatal care in prison along with day-to-day dehumanizing acts of confinement.
As I reflect on the birth of my 9 year old daughter, I remember how it felt to be shackled during transport, labor and delivery, throughout my entire hospital stay by wrist and foot to the side of the bed. The hardest to physically endure was transport to the hospital in the ambulance. I was strapped at my breast, midsection, upper thighs and lower legs to the stretcher as well as handcuffed to the stretcher by wrist and ankle. I was restrained flat on my back, unable to move through my contractions, feeling as if I were being electrocuted the entire way to the hospital. Even though it may have only been 10 miles to the hospital, it was 10 miles of torture.
During labor and delivery, I was handcuffed by ankle and wrist the entire time. I was shown no human compassion or empathy, as if they forgot I was a person, just like them. Even after the doctor recommended the shackles be removed the guard said in a monotone robotic voice, "I am unable, it is our procedures."
I was blessed that day by delivering a healthy baby girl, Hannah. After she was born, I held her for 38 hours only putting her down to go to the bathroom. Most women have less than 24 hours leaving little time for the attachment and bonding needed for proper child development. I still recall my desire to fully embrace her against me, to have her heart beat against mine, bonding as mother and child. I was denied those moments because I was always chained by my wrist with limited access to my arm. I knew within hours she would be taken away, I tried to memorize every part of her, feeling her next to me.
Over the years, I was never able to grieve or heal from the trauma because it was still happening to other women. Now, for the first time in nine years, I finally have been able to shed tears knowing that Maryland has stood up and said this barbaric practice must end. Nothing will change my only birthing experience but hearing the voices of Marylanders calling for change is healing for me, more so than you can ever imagine. Now I will work to support other women who have endured what I did in order to unite as survivors -- our trauma will not define our future.
There is still work ahead in regards to accountability, education and monitoring for the state and for support and healing of the trauma for the women who have endured this horrific practice. My daughter is too young to understand our advocacy but when the day comes for me to share the details of her birth, I find comfort in knowing I can tell her that Marylanders broke the silence and said this must end.
I am so honored to work with such passionate advocates to make sure this happens.