A mother seeking help for her mental health loses custody of her children, instead—and it’s so wrong

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We've come a long way when it comes to talking about maternal mental health. These days celebrities speak openly about their experiences with perinatal mood disorders and many regular mothers share their experiences on social media. In 2019 it's okay to say "this is hard and I need help," but what actually happens when we ask for help varies and, in some instances, is downright unacceptable.

Recently an Alabama mom to a 2-year-old and a 2-month-old—we'll call her Beth to protect her privacy—showed up at her obstetrician's office seeking treatment for depression and unwelcome thoughts. But Beth didn't get the help she expected. Instead, her children were removed from the home she shares with her husband and were placed in the care of a relative.

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What Beth experienced here is not uncommon and evidence that more work needs to be done to support mothers with their mental health.

Research indicates that maternal descriptions of violent, intrusive thoughts can result in children being taken out of a parent's care when that is not necessary. But research also indicates that such thoughts are common. A study published in the journal BCM Psychiatry this year found "unwanted, intrusive thoughts of harm-related to the infant are reported by the vast majority of new mothers, with half of all new mothers reporting unwanted, intrusive thoughts of harming their infant on purpose." But preliminary evidence suggests that these thoughts are not associated with an increased risk of harm to infants.

Beth's case is similar to one out of California last year and highlights how much work needs to be done to ensure that when vulnerable mothers seek treatment the systems and people receiving them are able to help them in a way that doesn't feel like punishment.

Beth is now bravely speaking out about what happened to her. In an exclusive interview with Motherly, she explains how she went to her OB's office (with her exclusively breastfed infant in tow) to seek help for a feeling she thought was postpartum depression. She says she described her feelings to a nurse at the OB's office, including a fleeting, intrusive thought she'd had about ending her life and her baby's. She tells Motherly it was not a thought she would act on—that the thought of harming her baby repulsed her—but the fact that such an image would pop into her mind concerned her a great deal.

When the doctor came into the exam room about an hour later Beth told her story a second time, telling her OB: "I feel hopeless and I'm crying a lot, and I had this fleeting thought of hurting myself and my child," she says. According to Beth, the doctor then left the room and returned with a plan for Beth to go to a nearby Emergency Room. Beth says she was told she could keep her baby with her, would be evaluated and sent home that evening with medication.

But things did not go as she expected once she arrived at the ER. While she was waiting to be seen by a doctor she called her mother, who suggested she leave the hospital, but Beth says nursing staff encouraged her to stay. Hours later Beth was admitted to the women and children's hospital where she'd given birth just weeks earlier. There, Beth was evaluated by a psychiatrist. Shortly afterward, her husband (who had been at work) arrived. It was now after 5 p.m. and the couple was growing concerned.

With her husband and her mother-in-law now by her side, Beth decided to sign out, advising staff she wanted to seek outpatient treatment. Hospital staff tried to convince her to stay, but she decided to leave with her husband. As they left the building a security guard followed them, telling them Beth was now on a "psych hold."

As Beth tells it, while the couple was getting into their cars (they had arrived separately) the hospital issued a Code Adam (a code for a missing child or baby) for her infant daughter, but Beth was able to simply pay $14 to leave the parking structure with no issues. The couple didn't go home, but rather to pick up their 2-year-old and head to Beth's mother-in-law's house. When a neighbor called and asked Beth why there were several police cars in front of her house she realized how serious the situation had become.

Beth's mother-in-law went to speak with the police and called Beth to bring her daughters to meet police and social workers from the Alabama Department of Human Resources. Beth was not allowed to spend the night with her children and was told to be in court the next morning.

In court, Beth was told she was a danger to her children, and they were placed in the care of a cousin. "My husband, since he was helping me leave the hospital, he's not allowed to have custody of the kids. They can't come to our house. I have to be supervised with the children at all times. I can't spend the night with them. It's just a big mess," Beth tells Motherly.

The Department of Human Resources responded to Motherly's request for comment on this case with the following statement: "All information regarding child welfare investigations is confidential under state law".

Joy Burkhard is the founder and executive director of 2020Mom.org, a national organization dedicated to closing "gaps in maternal mental health care through education, advocacy, and collaboration." She says Beth's case illustrates how much nuance and support is missing from maternal health care right now.

"Our health care system is completely failing so many mothers, like Beth, who speak up because they want to get treatment. By taking a mother's babies away, the system has failed not once but twice," she explains.

Burkhard is concerned that doctors still confuse symptoms of postpartum depression (including intrusive thoughts) with the more serious postpartum psychosis, which does increase a mother's risk of harming her children. She says that while awareness of maternal mental health disorders like postpartum depression has increased in recent years, "most doctors still aren't adequately trained in the nuances of these disorders and nuances matter."

Back in Alabama, Beth believes the nuance was lost in her case and insists she would not have acted on the thoughts that entered her mind and was not a danger to her child. "That's not me. I know I would never do that. I just wanted help to control the thoughts," she explains.

Her case highlights some serious issues with how mothers seeking mental health help are treated, but her experience should not discourage mothers from seeking help when they need it.

"If you are experiencing intrusive thoughts about harming yourself or your baby, the number one thing is safety. If anyone is in immediate danger, call 911," says Diana Spalding, Midwife and Motherly's Digital Education Editor.

Spalding continues: "If you know that you need help but danger is not imminent, try to find a professional that specializes in postpartum mood disorders. They'll understand the nuances of what you are experiencing. If this type of help does not exist, or you find yourself in the ER, ask for an interdisciplinary approach between an ER Doctor, an OB or midwife, and a psychiatrist. Together they may be able to provide a more holistic view of what you're going through."

Meanwhile, Beth is hoping no one has to go through what she is going through. She and her husband and doing everything they can to get their children back home. Beth is seeing a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a counselor and she and her husband are attending parenting classes five days a week. She says the deadline given to her by DHR was December 23, and that she will have met all the department's requirements long before then. She is hoping to be sleeping under the same roof as her children by Christmas.

2020mom is now circulating a petition addressed to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, noting that it is "critical doctors, nurses, child protective services and judges receive training in the range of disorders and symptoms so they know when a mother is at risk of harming herself and/or her baby (with postpartum psychosis), and when she is not (with postpartum intrusive thoughts/anxiety)." More than 2,000 people have signed the petition.

If you are struggling with your mental health right now check out these resources to find the help you need, mama.

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There are few kids television shows as successful as PAW Patrol. The Spin Masters series has spawned countless toys and clothing deals, a live show and now, a movie.

That's right mama, PAW Patrol is coming to the big screen in 2021.

The big-screen version of PAW Patrol will be made with Nickelodeon Movies and will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.

"We are thrilled to partner with Paramount and Nickelodeon to bring the PAW Patrol franchise, and the characters that children love, to the big screen," Spin Master Entertainment's Executive Vice President, Jennifer Dodge, announced Friday.

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"This first foray into the arena of feature film marks a significant strategic expansion for Spin Master Entertainment and our properties. This demonstrates our commitment to harnessing our own internal entertainment production teams to develop and deliver IP in a motion picture format and allows us to connect our characters to fans through shared theatrical experiences," Dodge says.

No word on the plot yet, but we're gonna bet there's a problem, 'round Aventure Bay, and Ryder and his team of pups will come and save the day.

We cannot even imagine how excited little PAW Patrol fans will be when this hits theatres in 2021. It's still too early to buy advance tickets but we would if we could!

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Chrissy Teigen is one of the most famous moms in the world and definitely one of the most famous moms on social media.

She's the Queen of Twitter and at least the Duchess of Instagram but with a massive following comes a massive dose of mom-shame, and Teigen admits the online comments criticizing her parenting affects her.

"It's pretty much everything," Teigen told Today, noting that the bulk of the criticism falls into three categories: How she feeds her kids, how she uses her car seats and screen time.

"Any time I post a picture of them holding ribs or eating sausage, I get a lot of criticism," she explained. "Vegans and vegetarians are mad and feel that we're forcing meat upon them at a young age. They freak out."

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Teigen continues: "If they get a glimpse of the car seat there is a lot of buckle talk. Maybe for one half of a second, the strap slipped down. And TV is another big one. We have TV on a lot in my house. John and I work on television; we love watching television."

Teigen wants the shame to stop, not just for herself but for all the other moms who feel it. (And we agree.)

"Hearing that nine out of 10 moms don't feel like they're doing a good enough job is terrible," she said. "We're all so worried that we're not doing all that we can, when we really are."

The inspiration for Teigen talking publicly about mom-shame may be in part because of her participation in Pampers' "Share the Love" campaign. But even though Teigen's discussion coincides with this campaign, the message remains equally important. Advertising can be a powerful tool for shifting the way society thinks about what's "normal" and we would much rather see companies speaking out against mom-shame than inducing it to sell more stuff.

Calling out mom-shame in our culture is worth doing in our lives, our communities and yes, our diaper commercials. Thank you Chrissy (and thank you, Pampers).

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Gabrielle Union + Dwyane Wade have been blended family goals, an inspiration to those struggling with infertility and now they are an inspiration to parents of trans kids and supporters of trans rights.

Earlier this month Wade appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and spoke about his 12-year-old daughter Zaya coming out as transgender and Union posted a beautiful video + caption to Instagram, inviting fans to "meet Zaya."

This week Wade appeared on Good Morning America, explaining that Zaya has known she was transgender since she was 3 years old.

"Zaya has known it for nine years," the proud dad said on GMA, adding that he credits Zaya (who was assigned as male at birth) with educating him and helping him grow.

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"I knew early on that I had to check myself... I've been a person in the locker room that has been a part of the conversation that has said the wrong phrases and the wrong words myself," he told GMA's Robin Roberts. "My daughter was my first interaction when it comes to having to deal with this conversation...Hopefully I'm dealing with it the right way... Inside our home we see the smile on my daughter's face, we see the confidence that she's able to walk around and be herself and that's when you know you're doing right."

It sure seems like Wade and Union have been doing it right. When Union posted a video to Instagram earlier this month introducing Zaya it was clear the tween's dad and step-mom have her back.

In the video Zaya is riding in a golf cart with her dad and dropping wisdom. She says: "Just be true to yourself, because what's the point of even living on this earth if you're going to try to be someone you're not?...Be true and don't really care what the 'stereotypical' way of being you is."

Union was so impressed by her step-daughter, captioning the video: "She's compassionate, loving, whip smart and we are so proud of her. It's Ok to listen to, love & respect your children exactly as they are. Love and light good people."

Later in the week Union addressed criticism of Zaya's transition on Twitter, writing: "This has been a journey. We're still humbly learning but we decided quickly w/ our family that we wouldn't be led by fear. We refuse to sacrifice the freedom to live authentically becuz we are afraid of what ppl might say. U have the ability to learn & evolve."

Zaya's big brother is also on her side. Newly 18-year-old Zaire posted the cutest throwback pic from when he and Zaya were just little kids, noting how the siblings were and are best friends.

"Man, I remember bugging my mom as a kid telling her I wanted a brother so bad. I was the only child looking for company and someone to look after and take care of," Zaire began his caption. "I have been blessed to have my best friend, Zaya with me for 12 years. We did everything together … we fought, we played, we laughed and we cried. But the one thing we never did was leave each other behind."

Zaire continued: "I've told you that I would lay my life down to make sure you are ten toes down and happy on this earth," he told his younger sibling. "I don't care what they think Z, you are my best friend and I love you kid, and if it means anything, just know there's no love lost on this side ✊🏾"

We are so impressed and inspired by the love Zaya's family is showing her (and other kids by sharing this story publicly). You've got this Zaya!

[A version of this story was posted February 12, 2020. It has been updated.]

News

Back in August the the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Contigo announced the recall of millions of Contigo Kids Cleanable water bottles—about 5.7 million of them.

Now, the CPSC and Contigo are recalling millions of water bottles and the replacement lids that were given to consumers as part of the August 2019 recall.

"Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled water bottles and the replacement lids provided in the previous recall, take them away from children, and contact Contigo for a free water bottle. Consumers who received replacement lids in the previous recall should contact Contigo for the new water bottle," the CPSC states.

Millions of Contigo Kids Cleanable water bottles were originally recalled after it became clear the silicone spout could pose a choking hazard.

"Contigo identified that the water bottle's clear silicone spout in some cases may detach from the lid of the water bottle," Contigo stated in a notice posted to its Facebook page back in August.

According to the CPSC, "Contigo [had] received 149 reports of the spout detaching including 18 spouts found in children's mouths" before the original recall.

Now, the CPSC reports "Contigo has received a total of 427 reports of the spout detaching including 27 spouts found in children's mouths."

All of the recalled water bottles have a black color spout base and spout cover.

This week Contigo expanded the recall. The original date range was for Contigo Kids Cleanable Water Bottle from April 2018 through June 2019. Now it is for bottles purchased through February 2020, and all the replacement lids.

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If you are looking for some alternative water bottles, here are a few of our favorites:

Hydro Flask

Hydro Flask features an easy-to-drink (and clean) top, a silicone bottom that won't scratch your furniture.

Motherly has tested these with a two-year-old and an eight-year-old and found these bottles are perfect for Pre-K to elementary school.

$29.95

CamelBak

The CamelBak is a big hit with little kids as it is easy to maneuver and it's a big hit with moms because it is easy to clean in the top rack of the dishwasher. CamelBak Eddy 12 oz Kids Vacuum Stainless Water Bottle

$14.99

Skip Hop

The designs on the Skip Hop stainless steel bottle keep kids happy and the silicone sleeve keeps the bottle from falling out of little hands! Bonus points for a flexible straw that is easy to clean!

$17.99


Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

{A version of this story was originally posted August 27, 2019. It has been updated.]

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