Doulas in Minnesota are Helping Incarcerated Women Give Birth

Erica Gerrity was just a student working at the Minnesota Department of Corrections Shakopee location, the only Women’s prison in Minnesota.

“I was noticing that the pregnant women there were really struggling they were looking really really sad, particularly in the postpartum period,” said Gerrity.

Mothers in the prison were giving birth without family members, loved ones or any emotional support to help them. Gerrity Recalls many said they felt invisible.

“They were naming the fear of going to give birth by themselves in the prison, and the fear of going to say goodbye to their children, of people not caring if their babies lived or died,” said Gerrity.

Gerrity wanted to help incarcerated mothers before, during, and after birth. And that’s why she started the Minnesota Prison Doula Project.

“In 2014 a bill passed to limit restraints on incarcerated pregnant women, and also to allow access to pregnancy and prenatal education support and labor support.”

Doulas help educate women and emotionally support women throughout their pregnancy, birth, and even postpartum.
“For me I understand birth to be one of the most empowering experiences of a woman’s life, and it can also be a traumatic experience,” said Genevive Bojado, a Doula with the project.

Studies have shown that having Doulas significantly helps birth outcomes.

“We see lower incidents of a c-section or even just different unnecessary pain medication or other sort of interventions, just because we educate them and they can advocate for themselves during the birth experience,” said Raelene Baker, the Program Coordinator of the Project.

Since starting in 2010, the Minnesota Prison Doula Project has helped almost 1,000 women, and have attended around 120 births.

Now, they’re working on making their services available to women in jails including St. Louis County, and rural areas.

“Every woman giving birth, every person giving birth, deserves to feel heard, to have a voice, and to be educated about their choices,” said Bojado.

But Gerrity believes those accomplishments only scratch the surface of many deep problems the country faces because of Mass Incarceration, and only is only the start of a much bigger conversation that needs to be had.

“We have 5 percent of the women population in America, but 30 percent of the world’s female prison population… that’s 2 times more than china and 4 times more than Russia,” said Gerrity.  “When we think about countries and how they treat the women in the world that are not maybe the greatest countries in terms of female and maternal incarceration we are at the top of that list.”