Pregnant women are sent to jails and prisons around the country, which can often become a complicated process. If they have less serious court cases or charges, they might remain in jail until a few weeks before they are supposed to deliver. Once the time comes, they will be released and allowed to deliver on their own terms and at their own cost. However, if their court cases are serious enough, they might be sentenced to prison, and in many cases, they will deliver while they are serving time for that case.
Either way, it is very rare for a patient to deliver at the jail or the prison. They are often brought to a local hospital for a few days for childbirth. A family member or adoption agency may get involved in determining where the child goes while the mother is incarcerated. In some cases, they will lose custody of the child. Each case is unique. After a few days, assuming there are no complications during childbirth, the inmate will be brought back to the prison. In just a handful of states, the baby will be allowed into the prison in a special area.
This next story comes from a prison where Darla Shumaker had been sent for three years for her several crimes.
Dave McMillian was the nurse that arrived on that fateful day. He had been working hard the first half of his evening shift with getting supplies, passing medications, and taking care of any medical issues in the women’s unit. This was an overnight shift. Sometimes things go smoothly, and sometimes they don’t. In this prison, the women’s unit was a significant distance away from men. Darla claimed to have gotten pregnant and found out when she arrived at the jail, even before coming to the prison. This was an overtime shift for Dave, and he hadn’t been on the unit in some weeks prior to today. Dinner had been finished a few hours before, and it was approaching the time where all the inmates would be locked down.
A phone call came from the unit, and Dave answered. “Hello.”
“Is this a nurse?” asked an officer that Dave recognized.
“Hey Jacobs, it’s nurse Dave. What’s going on?”
“It is Darla Shumaker. She has been on bed rest for pregnancy. She came out to play some cards with a few of her friends.”
“One of the other inmates came and said that Darla’s water broke.”
“On my way.” Dave grabbed a go-bag with important supplies, including a blood pressure cuff, IV supplies, a delivery bag, and much more. The goal is for no female inmates to deliver at the prison, but emergencies happen and, it is best to be prepared.
The nurse’s office was a few minutes away from the unit, and Dave gathered the supplies, got into a cart, and drove to the unit. When he arrived, it was chaos. Five inmates and several officers were huddled around Darla. She was screaming and crying. Some of the women inmates were sitting near Darla. They had put a pillow and blanket on the inmate. Cool clothes were draped on her forehead. One of the older women was helping Darla to breathe.
Dave rushed to the patient and placed a blood pressure cuff on her arm. He said, “Darla. I’m Nurse Dave, and we are going to help you. What happened?”
Through her tears, Darla said, “We were…playing cards. I felt a sharp pain in my stomach.”
One of the other inmates added, “She told us about the pain, and she became so pale. She started holding her stomach, and that was when we noticed the puddle. I got up and ran to get an officer.”
“How long ago?”
“Ten minutes, maybe.”
Turning back to Darla, Dave asked, “Then what happened?”
“I started feeling these strong contractions. I’ve had three other kids. These were far stronger than the Braxton-Hicks contractions I’ve been feeling for the last several months.”
“How far along are you?”
Darla didn’t answer this question. She began squeezing the hands of the other inmates. Through gritted teeth, she said, “Another contraction.” Darla’s face contorted, and she began screaming. It was impossible to understand what she was saying.
Another officer added, “That is the fourth contraction since I’ve been here. All about five minutes apart.”
“How far along are you?” Dave repeated.
“Eight months and some change,” Darla hissed. Her face was bright red, and she was sweating.
Dave checked the blood pressure. It read 175/100. There was fluid on the floor and a wet spot between her legs and down one side.
“The baby wants to come,” Darla shouted. “And right now!”
Dave checked the belly. It was protruding out as if she could have a baby at any time. The abdomen was hard, and she screamed out in pain when he touched her stomach.
Into a radio, Dave said, “We need to call an ambulance to the women’s prison. We have a possible emergency delivery.”
The men and women around the section jumped into action. The ambulance was called. Chains were gathered, and a gurney was brought in by two other nurses. Dave began working on getting an IV started. Clothing and other supplies were collected by Darla’s cellmate. The ambulance did not take long to get to the prison. Darla had another few contractions in the meantime. The entire time, two of the women inmates helped her breathe slowly and rubbed her forehead.
“Don’t push,” Dave said. “Keep calm and keep breathing.”
Darla was moved onto the gurney, and she had handcuffs placed on both arms. She was wheeled out of the section. Most of the women in the area came out and started clapping and yelling well wishes to Darla.
Dave and another nurse directed the gurney to the front of the building where the ambulance was waiting. Once they arrived, the paramedics took over.
The first paramedic asked, “Give me the details.”
Dave explained what was going on.
To Darla, the paramedic asked, “How far along?”
“Thirty-eight weeks. My due date is in 12 days. It’s a girl, my first. I’ve been in prison for five months. I’ve had four other children, all vaginal births. My BOGYN is Doctor Sheila Graves outside of prison. I have been seen weekly here in prison. Last week I was dilated to a two.”
They assessed her blood pressure, contractions, and IV placement. The paramedics thanked Dave and the other staff, put Darla into the back of the ambulance, and drove away.
Dave let out a long sigh of relief. He worked the remaining of his shift and went home the next morning.
He was scheduled to work later that night, and he was eager to get to work and find out what had happened with Darla. When he arrived, he noticed several balloons attached to his chair. Three pink balloons and one that read, “It’s a girl!”
Dave was surprised at the welcoming gift. He had never known another nurse to get similar gifts. As he approached his desk, he found candy cigars on top.
“Glad to see you, Dave,” a voice said from the corner.
Dave glanced up to see his supervisor Dorion step into the room. “Congratulations on such a smooth departure.”
“Did everything go okay with Darla?”
“As well as can be expected.”
“Did something happen?”
“Nothing happened, except you got fooled.”
“What do you mean?”
“The ambulance arrived at the hospital, and they were ready for an emergency delivery. The funny thing is that she wasn’t even pregnant.”
“What?” Dave cried. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Not at all.” Dorion’s smile grew.
Dave said, more to himself, “That’s why her story changed.” He had remembered her saying she had a different number of previous pregnancies and when she had found out had changed as well. He had chalked it up to stress. “I’m an idiot.”
“No! She faked out the paramedics and even a doctor. It took two additional ultrasounds to finally figure out that she wasn’t pregnant. She was screaming and crying and sweating like crazy. The entire time she insisted that she was pregnant.”
“I can’t believe it. Was she faking the entire time or was there something else?”
Dorion said, “She has convinced herself, the other inmates, and even some of the staff that she is pregnant. You were filling in, but we’ve done a few ultrasounds and pregnancy tests over the last three months. The girl is convinced that she is pregnant.”
“Unbelievable,” Dave replied. “She had other inmates bringing her food and massaging her feet.”
“From what the doctor of the unit said, she really thinks that she is pregnant. It is likely that she urinated on herself.”
“It’s a girl!” shouted another nurse, and several people started laughing wholeheartedly.
Dave never forgot this experience going forward.