Diana Parkinson, chair of the trustees of Birth Companions, informs AIMS members about the charity that provides practical and emotional support to women who face giving birth while in prison.
In 1996 AIMS Chair Beverley Beech, with the help of Francis Crook, Chair of the Howard League for Penal Reform, secretly filmed for Channel 4 News a woman prisoner who consented after hearing she would be shackled during her labour. The story ran for over a week. Sheila Kitzinger, who was involved with the multi - organisation group campaigning to put an end to this procedure found that some women prisoners had no one to be with them during labour and the birth of their babies. They had no one to look after them, or to provide the essential one-to-one support that has been recognised as so important in the experience of childbirth.
Women who are pregnant and who give birth during their imprisonment do not receive the support choices and care that women in the community have long campaigned for. Pregnant women and new mothers in the community can expect care which values their dignity and individual needs, and whose basic principles are usually based on choice, continuity of care and cultural sensitivity. They can look after their own physical and mental well being through access to good nutrition, education and information. They can also expect to receive the support of their family, friends and local community.
In contrast, women who are pregnant while in prison are denied many of these things. Their key disadvantages being:
Following a plea from Sheila, a small group of London-based antenatal teachers set up Birth Companions, a voluntary group to provide pregnancy and birth support to women from Holloway prison who would otherwise be emotionally unsupported and alone during childbirth.
Birth Companions aims to:
Members of Birth Companions visit Holloway prison on a regular basis to meet with women who are pregnant and to draw up birth plans with those who would like our support during the birth of their baby. When a woman in labour contacts the Birth Companions, one of our volunteers will meet her in hospital and stay with her providing support and encouragement throughout her labour. After the birth, a volunteer will visit the mother and baby in hospital, providing support and taking in items such as food, flowers or clothing for the baby.
We are now keen to recruit new members to the group. We need women who are prepared to offer their help as volunteer birth companions
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