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

Perfectly normal feelings resulted in a perfectly NOT normal response. We need to do better.

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

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.

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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Time-saving formula tips our editors swear by

Less time making bottles, more time snuggling.

As a new parent, it can feel like feeding your baby is a full-time job—with a very demanding nightshift. Add in the additional steps it takes to prepare a bottle of formula and, well… we don't blame you if you're eager to save some time when you can. After all, that means more time for snuggling your baby or practicing your own well-deserved self-care.

Here's the upside: Many, many formula-feeding mamas before you have experienced the same thing, and they've developed some excellent tricks that can help you mix up a bottle in record time. Here are the best time-saving formula tips from editors here at Motherly.

1. Use room temperature water

The top suggestion that came up time and time again was to introduce bottles with room temperature water from the beginning. That way, you can make a bottle whenever you need it without worrying about warming up water—which is a total lifesaver when you have to make a bottle on the go or in the middle of the night.

2. Buy online to save shopping time

You'll need a lot of formula throughout the first year and beyond—so finding a brand like Comforts, which offers high-quality infant formula at lower prices, will help you save a substantial amount of money. Not to mention, you can order online or find the formula on shelves during your standard shopping trip—and that'll save you so much time and effort as well.

3. Pre-measure nighttime bottles

The middle of the night is the last time you'll want to spend precious minutes mixing up a bottle. Instead, our editors suggest measuring out the correct amount of powder formula into a bottle and putting the necessary portion of water on your bedside table. That way, all you have to do is roll over and combine the water and formula in the bottle before feeding your baby. Sounds so much better than hiking all the way to the kitchen and back at 3 am, right?

4. Divide serving sizes for outings

Before leaving the house with your baby, divvy up any portions of formula and water that you may need during your outing. Then, when your baby is hungry, just combine the pre-measured water and powder serving in the bottle. Our editors confirm this is much easier than trying to portion out the right amount of water or formula while riding in the car.

5. Memorize the mental math

Soon enough, you'll be able to prepare a bottle in your sleep. But, especially in the beginning or when increasing your baby's serving, the mental math can take a bit of time. If #mombrain makes it tough to commit the measurements to memory, write up a cheat sheet for yourself or anyone else who will prepare your baby's bottle.

6. Warm up chilled formula with water

If you're the savvy kind of mom who prepares and refrigerates bottles for the day in advance, you'll probably want to bring it up to room temperature before serving. Rather than purchase a bottle warmer, our editors say the old-fashioned method works incredibly well: Just plunge the sealed bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes and—voila!—it's ready to serve.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.


And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3

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Life

It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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