Grey's Anatomy has always been excellent at tearing out our hearts and stomping on them with their plotlines. Sometimes that happens when it comes to the fate of our most beloved characters, others when we learn the fate of a patient of the week. This week, we found ourselves crying for the fates of the thousands of pregnant, incarcerated women in this country, not to mention their children.
Pregnancy and childbirth are such common events in TV and movies, birth classes in real life have to outline all the ways that labor doesn't look like the tropes we see onscreen. But we could use a few more episodes like Grey's' "You Can Look (But You'd Better Not Touch)." It follows three of the Grey Sloan MDs as they go to a prison to treat 16-year-old Kristen Rochester (Anna Jacoby-Heron), whose unborn baby has a life-threatening tumor. The medical details of her case aren't the point, however. What's eye-opening is the treatment of the mother-to-be, as Mic points out.
So many elements of incarceration are about dehumanizing convicted criminals. They lose their right to privacy, property, and even human contact. For Minnesota's Prison Doula Project, the department of corrections had to change their strict no-contact rules to allow birth coaches to assist women in labor. Contact was so rare for Kristen that she nearly flipped out when Arizona and Jo began her exam.
The lack of attention to prenatal medical care is another sensitive matter considered here. In reality, the standards across different prison systems vary widely, on the show, only because Kristen's lawyer pulled some strings could the doctors come in for the procedure.
One issue we saw illustrated quite clearly onscreen was the practice of shackling during labor. Only 18 states prohibit it (and many of those are still uneven in enforcing the law), despite the fact that medical professionals have declared it unethical, according to Elle. As we could see Kristen struggling in handcuffs during most of her labor, it's a pretty harsh punishment.
While we're talking about fictional women in prison, Orange Is the New Black has given us a view into the awful aftermath of pregnancy in prison. With the exception of a few programs that have nurseries attached to prisons, most new mothers get only 24 hours with their newborns (more if they've had a C-section) before they're given to someone else. While Dayanara (Dascha Polanco) tried so desperately to set her baby up with a stable home while she served time, it looks like her daughter is going into the foster system.
If Grey's and OITNB managed to make you feel compassion toward female prisoners you hadn't felt before, you don't have to just sit at home and cry about it. Visit The Sentence Project or one of the justice reform organizations OITNB author Piper Kerman recommends here to take action beyond the screen.