Beth Isaacs's involvement in advocacy for incarcerated women was inspired by the request of an old friend to help advocate for her daughter, who was pregnant and incarcerated and facing denial of the chance to express milk for her newborn. Although Beth had worked in maternal-infant health for over 30 years as a nurse in labor & delivery, a childbirth educator, a lactation consultant, and a trainer of community-based doulas who supported low-income pregnant and parenting teens, she had never considered the needs of incarcerated women. This population of women had been previously invisible to Beth, and she realized this was likely true of most other people as well.
After speaking with health care providers who work with incarcerated women giving birth, Beth realized how deeply scorned incarcerated women are. She saw striking parallels between how incarcerated women and low-income teen mothers are viewed – with disdain. Beth also sensed a surprising indifference toward the newborn. This realization aroused her indignation and resolve to work for change. She concluded that we cannot afford not to care. If society neglects the future well-being of vulnerable mothers and infants, it is to the detriment of us all.
Beth responded to her friend’s request for help, and then she could not stop thinking about the issues. That began an unexpected journey to establish IBJ in 2015. Once she learned that other states have prison birth projects, she decided that she wanted to create a prison birth project in Illinois, with doula care as the primary intervention. Since that time Beth, along with a committed team of advisors, board members, and supporters have been working to build a long-lasting foundation for IBJ in Illinois.