5 things you've probably never considered about being pregnant while in prison.

As Americans, we have inherited some pretty huge problems with our criminal justice system.

People of color face incarceration at disproportionate rates compared to white people, and many people go to jail or prison when they should be getting mental health treatment instead.

A lot of these problems remain under the radar because for many Americans, prisons are out of sight and out of mind. Lately, thanks to the hard work of activists, filmmakers like Ava Duvernay, and other advocates, criminal justice reform has been in the spotlight.


But there are still plenty of injustices that take place behind the walls of prisons and jails that we don’t talk about enough.

A prime example? The way most pregnant people are treated when they are incarcerated.

Here are five things you may not know about being pregnant and incarcerated.

1. Thousands of incarcerated women are pregnant, and access to prenatal healthcare in prison is abysmal.

There’s no official, comprehensive data on how many people in prison are going through pregnancy. But what we do know is that there are 210,000 women who are currently incarcerated, and the vast majority of them are of reproductive age. The ACLU estimates that around 12,000 of these women are pregnant.

People in prison, pregnant or not, receive inadequate healthcare, but pregnancy exacerbates the need for quality, holistic healthcare and support — especially for people who are facing high-risk pregnancies. Unfortunately, many incarcerated women lack access to healthcare providers who are trained in obstetrics and gynecology, and one report found that almost half of pregnant inmates don’t get any prenatal care at all.

2. There are huge barriers to getting an abortion while incarcerated.

Your right to have an abortion doesn’t disappear when you go to jail, but for many women in prison, there are huge barriers to ending a pregnancy. Often, healthcare providers in jail and prison don’t inform their patients about their termination options. Many incarcerated women have had to go to court to secure access to abortion, but even more have been forced to continue their pregnancies.

3. Pregnant women who are incarcerated often have to deal with dehumanizing, dangerous practices like shackling.

Historically, pregnant inmates have been subjected to degrading practices like being shackled — even during labor. Although many states have now outlawed this practice, six states have no regulations that protect pregnant and birthing women — and their babies — from harmful physical restraints.

If you’ve ever seen anyone in labor, you know how huge of a problem this is. Laboring women need freedom of movement to work through their contractions, and their healthcare professionals need to be able to step in quickly in emergency situations. It’s a matter of safety, and it’s a matter of dignity.

4. Giving birth while incarcerated can be a nightmare.

Feeling supported, safe, and respected during birth can turn a challenging, scary experience into a positive one. Unfortunately, many women who give birth while incarcerated are denied even the most basic accommodations and support. Incarcerated women often aren’t given the opportunity to make decisions about their birth plans. Recently, one Texas woman went into labor prematurely while she was in a jail cell — and guards refused to assist her until her baby was born. These scenarios are unacceptable.

5. Mothers are separated from their newborns almost immediately.

Most prisons only allow mothers to stay with their newborns for 24 hours before the child is removed to be placed with relatives or in foster care. These abrupt separations can cause serious health issues for the baby, and unsurprisingly, can be emotionally devastating for the mom.

The bottom line is that the way we deal with pregnant and laboring mothers in prison is simply not working.

It’s inhumane, unhealthy, and traumatic.

The good news is that there are people who are fighting hard to make real, tangible improvements for incarcerated moms.

One program in Indiana has established a nursery so incarcerated moms can take care of their newborns, bond with them, and avoid the trauma of separation. Studies have found that the kids in these types of programs face fewer mental health problems, and the moms are less likely to return to prison.

Reproductive justice organizations like SisterSong are fighting hard to make sure that shackling pregnant inmates is a horrifying practice that we leave in the past.

The only women’s prison in Minnesota has partnered with a nonprofit that provides incarcerated pregnant people with doulas for their pregnancy and birth. The program has significantly reduced C-section rates among women who participate in the program.

And Black Lives Matter has partnered with organizations across the country for National Black Mamas Bailout Day, which raises money to bail black women out of jail for Mother’s Day. About 200 moms have been bailed out thanks to their efforts.

The root of the problem — the discriminatory, dehumanizing practices that make up our prison system — still exists. But these efforts show that we can make real change if we refuse to accept injustice.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

4-year-old New Zealand boy and police share toys.

Sometimes the adorableness of small children is almost too much to take.

According to the New Zealand Police, a 4-year-old called the country's emergency number to report that he had some toys for them—and that's only the first cute thing to happen in this story.

After calling 111 (the New Zealand equivalent to 911), the preschooler told the "police lady" who answered the call that he had some toys for her. "Come over and see them!" he said to her.

The dispatcher asked where he was, and then the boy's father picked up. He explained that the kids' mother was sick and the boy had made the call while he was attending to the other child. After confirming that there was no emergency—all in a remarkably calm exchange—the call was ended. The whole exchange was so sweet and innocent.

But then it went to another level of wholesome. The dispatcher put out a call to the police units asking if anyone was available to go look at the 4-year-old's toys. And an officer responded in the affirmative as if this were a totally normal occurrence.

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