When Babies Are Born to Substance Abusers
If you happened to be watching the Discovery Channel recently, you may have seen a program on women in prison who are pregnant called “I’m Pregnant and in Prison Visiting the Doctor.” It ran more than once and perhaps they’ll show it again. It featured Sarah Foote, an attractive blonde in tan prison garb, a meth addict close to giving birth. After she tried to rob someone to get money to buy drugs, she ended up in a Nebraska prison. Author Cristina Rathbone writes in “A World Apart: Women, Prison, and Life Behind Bars,” that nine out of 10 women in prison have abused drugs.
The program opens with Sarah living in the general housing, sharing a room that has two bunk beds. She wants to move into the nursery section when she has her baby. We never learn who fathered this new baby. She talks about how she wants to change her life and about how she felt when she visited a doctor on the outside. The doctor’s other patients saw her in a prison uniform accompanied by a guard and she found it degrading.
Sarah’s story is compelling all by itself. But as her story unfolds, it becomes obvious that her drug use has affected not just her, but her family members. Her mother is raising Sarah’s oldest daughter, and while you can see in her eyes how much she loves Sarah, you can also see how tired she is, and how frustrated that it has come to this. She desperately wants Sarah to give her the baby to raise when it’s born. What kind of life will a baby have in a prison? her mother asks. There will be no taking him to the playground, no other babies to play with.
Sarah’s mother brings Sarah’s oldest daughter, who looks about 10, to her weekly visits. This daughter talks about how, when her mother gets out, she’ll have to give her a couple of years to be able to truly believe her mother can care for her again. It’s hard to hear. Then the narrator mentions Sarah’s two other daughters, who live with their father. I inhaled deeply at this point. How are THESE daughters doing? All these lives….
Sarah is adamant about keeping the baby, and her mother finally comes around when she sees the nursery—a bright, pleasant, homey area, far different from Sarah’s drab cell. We next see Sarah holding her newborn son and letting her daughter hold him on a visit. She says her daughter and newborn son can’t really bond as siblings when she only sees him once a week.
At the end Sarah says she wants to have her children back together within five years and be a good mother, and you want to believe she can do it. But you can’t help focusing on how the story is not only Sarah’s story. It’s yet another example of what happens to a family when a member falls prey to addiction.
Here’s part of the program on the Internet: http://health.discovery.com/videos/im-pregnant-and-lifts-im-pregnant-and-in-prison-visiting-the-doctor.html