Women helping women to improve birthing experiences behind bars

Published:08 March 2018

CQUni Bachelor of Midwifery (Graduate Entry) student, Renee Neilson, takes pride in assisting pregnant prisoners at the Townsville Women's Correctional Centre.

Steel bars, locked gates and heavy doors – The Townsville Women’s Correctional Centre (TWCC), at first glance, doesn’t seem like an inspirational place.

However, behind the heavy doors, CQUni Bachelor of Midwifery (Graduate Entry) students are striving to enhance the quality of pregnancy and birthing experiences for incarcerated women.

The partnership between CQUni, TWCC and Queensland Health, which commenced in April 2017, not only assists prisoners, but teaches students to plan and deliver antenatal education.

CQUni Bachelor of Midwifery (Graduate Entry) student Renee Neilson claimed although she had participated in the program since its inception, she was hesitant to get involved.

“I had previously never been near a prison and was quite scared, mainly due to my preconceived ideas of what it would be like,” she said.

“However, my passion to help women and curiosity of prison antenatal care inspired me to take a chance and challenge myself.”

Renee remembered her first transaction with the prisoners and claimed the women looked at her as if she could not be trusted.

“I sat in a large room with CQUni academics and 10 pregnant incarcerated women, and was told to introduce myself and how I was involved in the project,” she said.

“The look on the prisoners’ faces made me doubt my ability to make them feel comfortable and the program as a whole.”

Despite her initial encounter, Renee stated the program provided her with some of the most rewarding academic experiences.

“The most rewarding experience to date has simply been connecting with the prisoners and forming a solid, trusting working relationship” she said.

“It took approximately four weeks for a prisoner to allow me to take their blood pressure, let alone feel for their baby's movements.

“Despite this, I continued to show up each time and, eventually, the women came around as they could see I was committed to helping them.

“Now, prisoners request me to be present at the birth and assist them with their newborns – this really excites me.”

Renee claimed the prisoners were just people, who, despite their mistakes, had no family or friends to turn to.

“The women show me respect when I am there and are extremely thankful for someone, from the outside world, to assist them – it’s reassuring to them,” she said.

“I don’t look down on these women, instead, I just see them as women who require antenatal care.”

As part of the program, Renee said she provided information relating to good nutrition, baby movements, breastfeeding or bottle feeding, and newborn growth.

“By educating prisoners, the program indirectly encourages them to do the right thing and allows them to show facilitators they are ready to be a parent,” she said.

“By supporting prisoners, the program also indirectly assists them to improve their people skills, build relationships and express their feelings in a constructive manner.”

Renee admitted the sense of satisfaction she received from participating in the program trumped situations that tested her ability to hold back tears.

“The program has allowed me to learn so much, not just within the midwifery field, but also how to deal with people in unfortunate circumstances,” she said.

“I hope to continue to participate in the program until the end of my Bachelor of Midwifery studies or until December 2018.”

CQUni is planning to work with relevant Governments and organisations to implement the program across its national footprint.

Before the program extension takes place, CQUni academics wish to publish more research papers surrounding the program and its benefits.