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Inmate Mama Does What's Natural

She came in screaming and handcuffed. "A real gypsy" they whispered, and rolled their eyes as they set about maneuvering her onto a gurney. Her cobalt eyes were a sharp contrast to her cap of dark curly hair and pale skin, but otherwise, her vibrant full skirts and laced-up boots fit with the description. The darker complexioned older woman with her seemed more like the fortune-telling type but maybe that was because she wasn't pregnant and about to give birth.

There were a lot of interesting cases during my Ob-Gyn rotation in PA school. Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, NY saw quite a few incarcerated patients and it only made sense that some of them would be pregnant women. This soon-to-be mom was one I'd never forget and inadvertently taught me something in the wee hours of that night. She was full of contrasts- some fascinating and some disquieting. She was beautiful, yet she was unkempt. She was about to become a mother, yet her handcuffs were bangles of a tempestuous life. Her guttural shrieks were the loudest of labor calls on the ward that night and I figured they didn't offer Lamaze in prison. She fought with the people trying to help her, resisting any calm words from the woman that came to comfort her or the medical team. In between the calls of protest though, she would whimper about being allowed to hold her baby and her desire to have her infant feed at her breast.

I found myself feeling annoyed—thinking: "You should have thought of that before you did whatever it was that landed you in jail!". As I observed her I realized she needed to anticipate embracing her baby to get her through this- the labor and all that had come before. Perhaps her screams were indeed louder- but maybe not because she was wild in nature, a criminal in the beginning, middle and end. No, her despair wasn’t purely born of the labor pains but an instinctual need to nurture her baby and the fear that she would not be allowed, even if for a short while. And then there is the baby, who when he arrived, looked like any other rosy, healthy baby alert for just a short bit, while he searched for his mother. Of course he'd calm her when no one else could. Watching her hold him and deftly put him to breast forced me to check her chart- had she latched a baby before? She certainly acted like this was her first time in labor and indeed she was a P1G0- a first pregnancy. Yet there she was, a most graceful picture of successful breastfeeding.

So, peel away the layers, the handcuffs, the clothing, the fact that she was from a mysterious community, and all she had left was her simple desire to nurture. For her and her boy at that moment, it was enough. For me it was too... I didn't want to know what happened next; when the baby was taken from her or where he would be during the rest of her prison term. I wanted her story to end with the beautiful image of a mother nourishing her infant so naturally at his very first feed.

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