A former inmate who discovered she was pregnant while in prison has opened up about what it was really like to give birth behind bars.
Hayley Ryder, 28, from Atlanta, Georgia, revealed she was not allowed to know her own due date and had to have an armed guard stand by her hospital bed during labour.
She began her two-year sentence at Lee Arendell State Prison in January 2021 for a nonviolent drug offense after a doctor discovered she was pregnant during a routine medical exam.
But instead of telling Hailey, who was already a mother of two, that she was expecting, she said she was simply told she would move to a different prison and be transferred to a smaller facility in Georgia.
When she was finally told she was pregnant, Hayley said she was given very little information and never even received ‘reassurance’ from a doctor that ‘everything was fine and going well.’
Former inmate Hayley Ryder, 28, from Atlanta, Georgia, has opened up about giving birth behind bars – revealing that an armed guard had to stand by her hospital bed while she gave birth.
She said she had ‘no access to anything’ except a single dictionary so she could look up pregnancy-related terms and was not allowed to know her due date until she was 22 weeks.
In addition, the terrible living conditions in prison made her pregnancy more difficult. Convicts slept in metal, twin-sized beds with 3.5-inch-thick mattresses, fitted sheets and blankets. They were not allowed to use pillows.
Although Hailey said she was given an extra mattress when she was expecting, she ‘didn’t sleep much.’ Also, the food was not suitable for a pregnant woman.
‘Everyone knows gel food is absorbent, but it’s especially bad when you’re pregnant. It was not the kind of pregnancy diet I would wish on anyone,’ she told the Today Show during a recent interview.
The hardest part was the ‘isolation and punishment’, Hayley said, adding: ‘It was a dark time.’
When the expectant mother went into labor, she explained that she did not want to alert the guards immediately because she knew that her baby would be taken away from her immediately after birth.
‘Going into labor means saying goodbye,’ she said. ‘Last night I wanted it with my baby.’
The next morning he was taken to the hospital in a prison van. She was not allowed to call any friends or family, including the baby’s father, meaning she had to make the delivery all alone.
Hailey had just begun her two-year sentence at Lee Arundel State Prison (seen) for a nonviolent drug offense in January 2021 when she learned she was expecting.
Hayley was in labor for around 17 hours and the entire time an ‘armed guard’ had to stand at the end of her bed with a ‘360 view of everything’.
‘I was alone, apart from the armed officers. I have never seen him in my life, but he saw the birth of my child,’ she reveals.
‘[Thankfully] The nurses treated me kindly – not as a prisoner – and I didn’t have to wear handcuffs.’
After welcoming her healthy baby girl, Hayley said she was allowed to hold the newborn, but the moment was overshadowed by her realization that the baby could be ‘taken away from her’ at any moment.
According to Today, the facility’s policy allows convicted new mothers to stay with their babies for a total of two hours after childbirth.
‘Meeting your child for the first time is a once-in-a-lifetime feeling. But having a baby while incarcerated completely takes it away from you,’ Hayley said.
‘I couldn’t even think about her little face, her hands or her skin or how good she felt in my arms – I knew they were coming to hand me over to her.’
She later stayed in the hospital for three days and was allowed to spend three hours with her daughter each day.
But saying goodbye was absolutely heartbreaking for the new mum – especially as she had no idea what to expect.
‘They had me put him in a bassinet and wheel him out into the hallway,’ she remembers.
‘I asked where he was going and who would be in charge of him, but they said I wasn’t allowed to know.’
Hayley (seen in 2015) welcomed a baby girl while in captivity and called the days after the birth ‘the most painful’ and ‘darkest days of her life’.
She was then taken to Lee Arundel State Prison and called the days after the birth ‘the most painful’ and ‘darkest days of her life’.
‘My womb hurts. I was pushing my breast milk down the fungus-infested sink. I was devastated,’ she said.
‘I didn’t have the essentials. It was unhealthy. It was gross. It was the most painful, darkest day of my life.
‘It was as bad as you think, being three days postpartum and sharing a bathroom with 75 people during the day and 25 at night.’
Hayley said she did not tell her fellow inmates that she had just given birth because it would be ‘perceived as a sign of weakness’ and would likely ‘put her in danger.’
Fortunately, with the help of a non-profit organization called Motherhood Beyond Bars, she was encouraged to contact her parole board and apply for early release.
This was granted and after a total of 10 months behind bars, he was sent home.
After her release, she learns that her newborn daughter has been given to her partner, Patrick.
Admitting that it was ‘a lot of work’ while learning to come home and be a mother of three, Hayley said ‘things [were] It’s going really well now.’
The family bought their first home last summer, and she now works as a program assistant for Motherhood Beyond Bars. He is also two years sober.
‘It’s great to be able to give back,’ he concluded. ‘There’s a lot of damage and a lot of renovations to be done, and it’s not happening.’
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