Compulsory separation of women prisoners from their babies following childbirth: Uncertainty, loss and disenfranchised grief
There is growing evidence to show increased mental ill health in women compulsorily separated from their babies at birth (Cantwell et al., MBRRACE‐UK, 2018:56). For imprisoned women, the risk of self‐harm and suicide may be exacerbated. This article draws on in‐depth interviews with a sample of 28 imprisoned pregnant women/new mothers, 10 prison staff and observations to discuss the experience of separation from or anticipation of separation of women from their babies. Oakley (Signs, 4:607–631, 1980) reflected on the transition to motherhood with reference to the sociology of loss of identity. Women who have been compulsorily separated from their babies experience subjugated loss out of place with societal norms. The experiences of compulsory separation, in relation to concepts of disenfranchised grief, resonate with Lovell's (Social Science & Medicine, 17:755–761, 1983) research into the altered identities of mothers when loss occurs through late miscarriage or stillbirth. Additionally, this type of complex loss also denies a woman her identity as a ‘mother’. This article offers a fresh sociological perspective on the ways loss and grief are experienced by women facing separation from their babies in prison, drawing on concepts of uncertainty, loss and disenfranchised grief.