Simone's Story

If her water did not break soon, Simone would be induced. They refused to tell her when, of course, for “security reasons”. It could be next Thursday, or two weeks from now. It wasn’t just her escape attempt, either; they told no one anything that might give them some illusion of control.
 
Simone discovered she was pregnant the same day her mother posted her bond. All weekend she’d been dopesick, unable to stomach the slop offered at chow, but there was something different about it this time — something deeper, stirring in her some atavistic desire to curl around herself and keep the world out. She had some inkling of what it might be, but they hadn’t tested her at intake, as they were supposed to do. Out of tests, she figured. Busting up dope houses all weekend, the cops had flooded the county jail and there were too many women just like her — grayish and fighting off shakes — to test all of them. 
 
Her mother, Debbie, a former addict herself, fixed her eyes as Simone climbed into the rattling Toyota. Simone was desperate to charge her phone and start dialing hookups; Debbie hesitated.
    
“What?” Simone asked, trying to hold her tone. “Can we get the hell out of here?”
 
“When’s the last time you had your period, Simone? You look puffy in the middle.” Simone stared out the window. “It’s been a minute,” she said.
 
Since the war on drugs began, the number of women in prison has risen astronomically, jumping 400% in the last 30 years. The subsequent Mandatory Minimum Statute (giving the federal government the authority to dictate the minimum sentences for drug offenses) means that, like Simone, the majority of these women are nonviolent drug offenders. Most — as many as 80% —  are mothers.
 
To mother from inside prison is something most of us cannot fathom: the missed birthdays, the paid phone calls, the loneliness and regret and self-loathing some days so deep that it’s difficult to get out of bed. These burdens, coupled with untreated addiction, abysmal mental health counseling, overcrowding and underfunding resulting in a profound lack of programming, leaves women feeling forgotten, victimized, and stripped not only of their children and their lives, but of their very humanity.
 
By the time she was sentenced, Simone was six months pregnant. Leaving the courthouse to board the bus to prison, shell-shocked by the numbers laid on her — four to eight years on the inside — Simone grappled with the fact all of this wasn’t a bad dream. She was losing her freedom, and was going to lose her only child. It was then she did something that, now, pacing in a high-security cell, she regretted every moment: she ran. Hands shackled, belly pressing against her one good blouse, she broke away from the Correctional Officer. Through sheer desperation, she made it down the stairs and across the street, where she flung herself into a pond, with the idea that she’d submerge herself and the pursuing officers wouldn’t be able to spot her. 
 
Of course, she’d been horribly wrong. For her efforts, Simone now faced additional time, and would be held in solitary confinement after the baby was born. 
 
Simone tried to ask questions of her bunkie, who alternated between ignoring her and snapping viciously that she “quit fucking whining”. She tried to be silent, and read the pamphlets from the OB, which she’d read so many times they were falling apart. They gave basic information on “preparing for birth” and included lists of things Simone could never accomplish here, notes on diet that seemed almost ludicrous, given what she was offered.
 
Some nights, shaking on the thin pad inside her cage, Simone thought of ripping the sheet to shreds and tying it to the bars. She thought of wrapping it around her neck. Tears running down her cheeks, she imagined the only scenario where she could keep her baby close to her forever. In the morning, Simone could barely forgive herself for thinking such things.
 
This is what would really happen: she’d be shackled in the van on the way to the hospital, trying to keep it together, though she knew it was the beginning of the end. Her mother was four hours away and wouldn’t be notified until Simone was already in labor. She pictured having to sign the intake forms with her hands chained together. Agonized, she imagined the cries of the slippery, beautiful girl who would only be placed in her arms after she was taken, washed and weighed. She thought of those precious few moments when she would hold her child, when, legs shackled to the bed, she would look upon the face of the only thing in her life she hadn’t yet ruined. Then, after a measly 24 hours, she pictured how her baby would be stripped from her, whisked out of the room like she didn’t belong to Simone at all, and sent to live hundreds of miles away with her mother. On the bus ride back, hollow, Simone would choke on the fact that aside from the two hugs she was allowed at visiting hours, she wouldn’t hold her child again until the girl was four.
 
Simone paced, hands spread over her belly. Eight feet forward, eight feet back. She paced, and she wept, and she tried to conjure her strength. Meanwhile, her daughter shifted inside, as though she was stretching her wings. 
 


Jacqueline Williams is a mother, activist, writer and co-founder of an up-and-coming non-profit organization called the Michigan Prison Doula Initiative, which seeks to support and empower prisoners during their prenatal, labor and postpartum process. In her free time, she volunteers for the American Friends Service Committee, a prisoner advocacy organization; she enjoys cooking, traveling and gardening. Follow her on Instagram and on Facebook.

She For a Better Life

As we approach general elections in Kenya, I am perplexed over women's voting patterns. We are still divided along tribal lines, yet as women we have the same needs and more to lose if we vote in an incompetent government.

I have yet to hear leaders being put to task about serious issues affecting women. What we see is a couple of leaders handing out some sanitary pads to a rural girl's school and then thinking they have done a whole lot for women.

Government-issued sanitary pads
I would like to see a leader who fights for us to have government-issued sanitary pads in public toilets. They did that for male condoms, so surely they can do the same with pads and give women the dignity they deserve. It is not just young girls in rural schools who cannot afford pads. At an average of $1 per pack, pads are still very expensive for women in Kenya.

Child care services
For me to be able to work and achieve certain goals, I want the county government to facilitate after-school care programs and daycare for our children. We can no longer can afford domestic help. My male counterparts can work in the office until late in the day, but I have to rush home. Then they wonder why women are not offering themselves up for leadership roles. How will I do that when I am juggling work and taking care of my children?

Access to well-funded legal services for women
The few entities that offer legal services for free are overwhelmed! If I am trying to get child support, it is an emergency — I need it now. I also need to be made aware that these services are available. Many women do not know that they have certain rights.

Health care for women
Just this past week, we lost a woman due to complications during childbirth. That is just ONE case that was highlighted. In this day and age, we should not lose women — healthy women — to something as natural as childbirth. Access to reproductive health services is vital. Access to preventive health care is also very important. The rise in cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes is preventable.

Women’s nutrition
Women's nutrition has also been ignored. We moved from the era of women not being allowed by tradition to eat certain food because they were reserved for men, to women starving themselves because they are saving the food for their children. We need leaders who will be able to put measures and policies in place that will see the government provide or supplement food for households going through hard times. These are usually women-headed households.

While promising to build a road is good, how useful will it be if half the population is sick, hungry or battered? As women, we need to get back to basics and fight for what is really important to us. We are the majority voters, yet we always get the raw deal. Can we agree on a few fundamental needs and fight for them using our vote?


Felly Oyuga Owiro is a writer, a cartoonist and a single mum to four children. She is Kenyan, and lives in Nairobi.

Rule Your Mind With Your Own Self-Love

This post was originally written for and first published on The Village Magazine

Women, mothers, I ask you: what do you see when you look in the mirror? When you strip off your clothing, when you let your eyes fall upon your naked figure, what thoughts fill your mind? Do you scrutinize every dimple, every roll and every stripe with critical eyes, or do you marvel over each curve, each line, and each glowing inch?

It took me a long time and a lot of careful intention to get to the place I am today — to the place where I sit in wondrous awe of my body, and to lie in comfort with the driving passions that fill my mind. Even though I grew up under the wing of a strong and confident mother, and was taught by example to pay no mind to what others thought, societal norms and the mainstream media did not escape me; and as such, I fell into that deep chasm of self-criticism, -disdain and oftentimes pure loathing — particularly during my teenage years. We’ve all been there — we’ve all found ourselves at 14 years old, wondering why our breasts are so small, our thighs so thick or our hair too this or too that — we think that if only we were six inches taller, that our weight would be more evenly distributed; or that if only we were six inches shorter, we’d not have to feel like we’re being gawked at everywhere we go. We conjure up just enough reasons as to why we’re not quite up to snuff, and soon we’ve descended into a mindset that envelops us in some true warped knowing that we come up short or that we’re not worthy of reverence.

Then enter motherhood: that season that throws at us a deluge of hormones, confusion abounding, a body perhaps sliced, ripped or torn to shreds, and a new little earthling to care for first and foremost. We see postpartum bodies being Photoshopped all over the media, judged left and right, and we can’t help but hold ourselves to the same unrealistic standards: why don’t our pre-pregnancy jeans fit yet? Will our breasts be this engorged forevermore? And in the years that follow, what we wouldn’t give to have those giant, leaky boobs back… because now they’re deflated and pulled down by gravity; and surely nobody finds these appealing, we think to ourselves. Not really, anyway.

I look myself up and down in the mirror and I like what I see — I need to make that abundantly clear. BUT: there’s a lot of fine print that accompanies that sentiment. I am not without doubt, hesitation or reservation. I wrestle with compartmentalizing the flaws in my body: sagging breasts are excused for having provided my daughter with life and comfort for four years. My soft stomach, though, does not get a pass. A pregnancy does not excuse me from looking exactly the way I do now, I think; that must be blamed on my occasionally poor eating habits, my regular consumption of alcohol and my lack of regular exercise. I allow only so much pregnancy-related bulk before I put my foot down and blame the rest of it on myself. There’s no excuse for looking exactly like this, I tell myself. I am still beautiful, but I’m not treating my body the way I should. And that’s the truth.

The deluge of self-deprecating thoughts that fill my mind usually come around the time that I have my period, because I’m bloated and short-tempered; forgiveness is in high demand and in low supply.

I find myself swooped up by the hurricane of responsibilities and of day-to-day busyness; by the chaos of chasing after my little one, and by being a partner to my husband. I feel regularly like I’m failing at both, even though the first thing I sacrifice in order to maintain order is myself — my desires, my priorities, my hopes and my joys. These things fall by the wayside and there I stand in the middle of a storm with nothing to show for it. And all the while, my hair just keeps getting longer, and my stomach softer.

These feelings wax and wane over the course of any given month, and before too long I find myself back to marveling over that naked body of mine in the mirror. I demand of myself to look at that work of art; to consider all that it has done — both for myself, and for my healthy and thriving child. This body of mine, I decide, is a temple, and my mind a raging fire.

Women, mothers, I ask you: how intentional are you in fostering a love for all that which propels you forward? To love others, we must first love ourselves; and that love is as physical as it is emotional. We need to nurture our desires, raise up our passions and hold tight our deepest desires. We must love our every curve, and eradicate the notion that we are to look a certain way in the days, weeks and years after having given birth. We must embrace all that we are, all that we have accomplished and all that we stand for.

Women, mothers, I implore you: give yourself every ounce of love that you pour into those around you. Allow it to multiply, and watch it flow freely from you once you’ve permitted it to pump fervently through your veins. You are worthy, you are powerful and you are a source of unremitting glory. You are everything, and you are so much more.


Sandy Jorgenson is a Twin-Cities-based writer who's set out to change the way we think and talk about identity, self-image and our experiences with motherhood. Familiar with the struggle and grief of miscarriage and of infertility as well as with the joy and chaos of parenthood, Sandy believes that the easiest way through the mire is together — so through her writing, she aims to reach out to those who have not perhaps yet found their voice or a hand to hold. Find her at sandsmama.com, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Abortion Bills and Reproductive Coercion

Recently, the Oklahoma House passed a bill that would force any woman seeking an abortion to get the permission of a man. While this is clearly dehumanizing and infantilizing women, there is another critical flaw to this plan.

The people it hurts the most are women suffering domestic abuse.

Over the course of the last few years, a lot of attention has come and gone to the question of why some women stay in abusive relationships. The #whyIstayed hashtag has, for over a year, remained a constant stream of stories explaining why so many victims either will not or cannot leave. Perhaps most chillingly, a woman who leaves an abusive partner has a 75% risk of being murdered by their abuser, and that risk doesn’t go down for three months.

But women who stay in these relationships don’t merely face emotional abuse, financial restrictions and physical assaults. In California alone, more than 20% of women in family shelters report being the targets of a form of abuse called Reproductive Coercion. This means their abusers use their fertility as a weapon against them. When a woman tries to leave her partner, he can sabotage her birth control, and through impregnating her, gain more control over her life. When she’s pregnant, she has reduced work opportunities and greater financial needs. She needs insurance access, she needs food, she needs money, and every need she has is another weapon her abuser can use against her.

However, while some abusers may use pregnancy as a weapon, others see it as a provocation. 40% of abused women say that their partner’s physical violence began during their pregnancy. This is not a new problem. Women have been seeking abortions to protect themselves from their abusers for a hundred years, and more. For the state to tell an abused woman that the only way she can protect herself from an abuser is to ask him for permission to seek help is not just insane — it directly endangers the lives of these women.

The anti-abortion measure in Oklahoma isn’t a way to ensure that more babies are born — it is a clear path to ensuring that more women die. If the Oklahoma state legislature is so intent on ending abortions, putting women in risk is the wrong way to help. Instead, Oklahoma should invest in shelters for women and their children in an effort to reduce the number of women seeking abortions in the first place. Oklahoma should also invest in domestic violence prevention programs, in an effort to ensure that abusers are not granted access to firearms used to murder those trying to flee. They should also invest in providing free birth control to women who are still too frightened of the risk that accompanies leaving their abusers. 

Domestic abuse is a critical issue, and one that the current administration has decided not to address. This means that now more than ever, each state must work to protect victims of domestic violence rather than endanger them further.

For the women still scrolling through #whyIstayed, who know how to clear their browser histories with a single click and who live in fear of what their partners might do, we must do more. We must all be willing to reach out and advocate, to help shelter our friends and to put their assailants behind bars. We must be willing to see domestic abuse for what it is — a slow climb toward inevitable death — and therefore treat it as a critical issue for pro-choice and pro-life activists alike.


Lea Grover is a writer and speaker in Chicago. Her writing can be found in Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and The Establishment, among other magazines both online and in print. Lea speaks about sex-positive parenting and on behalf of the RAINN Speakers Bureau. Her current projects include a memoir about the similarities between battling brain cancer and mental illness, and a series of children's books.
Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience is out now! Buy your copy here.