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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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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Medical researchers and providers consider a woman's postpartum period to be up to 12 months after the delivery of baby, but too often, health insurance doesn't see it the same way. Nearly half of the births in the United States are covered by Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and while the babies who are born during these births are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP for a year, their mothers often lose their coverage 60 days after delivering their child. There is clear data showing 70% of new moms will have at least one health complication within a year of giving birth.

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This week, members of Congress' Subcommittee on Health met to mark up H.R. 4996, the "Helping Medicaid Offer Maternity Services (MOMS) Act of 2019, and it was favorably forwarded to the full Committee.

What does this mean? It means that while this bill still has a ways to go before it potentially becomes law, its success would see states get the option to provide 12 months of continuous coverage postpartum coverage to mothers on Medicaid. This would save lives.

As we at Motherly have said many times, it takes a considerable amount of time and energy to heal from birth. A mother may not be healed 60 days out from delivering. She may still require medical care for perinatal mood disorders, breast issues like thrush and mastitis, diabetes, and the consequences of traumatic births, like severe vaginal tearing.

Cutting off Medicaid when her baby is only 2 months old makes mom and baby vulnerable, and the Helping Moms Act could protect families from dire consequences.

The United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and according to the CDC, "about 700 women die each year in the United States as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications." This is not okay, and while H.R. 4996 is not yet signed into law this bill could help change this. It could help address the racial disparities that see so many Black mothers and Native American mothers dying from preventable causes in the first year of motherhood.

A report from nine American maternal mortality review committees found that there were three leading causes of death that occurred between 43 days and one year postpartum: cardiomyopathy (32.4%), mental health conditions (16.2%), and embolism (10.8%) and multiple state maternal mortality review committees have recommended extending Medicaid coverage to one year postpartum in order to prevent these deaths.

Basically, making sure that moms have have continuous access to health care the year after a birth means doctors can spot issues with things like depression, heart disease and high blood pressure at regular check-ups and treat these conditions before they become fatal.

The Helping Moms Act is a step forward in the fight for maternal health and it proves that maternal health is truly a bipartisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike recognize the value in providing support for mothers during the postpartum period.

The Helping MOMS Act was was introduced by Democratic Congresswoman Robin Kelly of Illinois, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust. It was co-lead by Texas Republican Michael Burgess (who is also a medical doctor), as well as Georgia Republican Buddy Carter, Washington Republicans Jaime Herrera Beutler and Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ayanna Pressley from Massachusettes and Lauren Underwood of Illinois (both Democrats).

"Incentivizing postpartum Medicaid expansion is a critical first step in preventing maternal deaths by ensuring new moms can see their doctor. I'm proud that my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, came together to put an end to the sad reality of American moms dying while growing their families," said Kelly. "We can't allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. This is a good, bipartisan first step, but it must be the first of many."

It doesn't matter what your political stripes, reducing America's maternal mortality stats should be a priority.

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Pink is about to enter a new season of life, she announced at the CMAs this week. She told ET on the red carpet that she's taking a break from her career in 2020.

"It's kind of the year of the family," Pink told reporters. "We did two and a half years of [music] and Willow's [age 8] back in school now, Jameson's [age 2] going to start pre-school soon," Pink added.

The mom of two deserves a break. Her Beautiful Trauma tour was the 10th highest-grossing tour of all time, earning more than $397 million, Billboard notes. And her husband, Carey Hart, has been super supportive of Pink's career. Now she wants to spend some time supporting him in his.

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"He's super supportive, he follows me around the world and now it's his turn," she explains. In some seasons of life a family may prioritize one parent's career over the other's, and that's okay.

Pink is hardly the first celebrity parent to put their career on pause to spend more time with their kids. Actress Katherine Heigl has taken extended breaks from her career to spend time with her children, telling Good Housekeeping in 2014, "We had big dreams of expanding our family, moving to the mountains and having a quieter life." She spent a season of her life raising her girls in Utah, and has now returned to her career, staring on Suits.

Halle Berry, too, is now ramping up her career again after a decade-long season in which she prioritized her kids' childhoods. She recently opened up to InStyle about why she chose to pause her career, and why she feels now is the time to get back into it.

"I spent almost 10 years being in mom mode. Now that my youngest is starting kindergarten, I feel like I can get back into my life, and that's important. I want to keep challenging myself and proving that I can still follow my passions, take risks and take on characters who make me feel alive. But I prove that to myself, not to anyone else. I think that's what keeps us young. It keeps me connected to my children because I'm alive in the world. One day they're going to grow up, and I don't want to be the mom who's crying because her kids left," she explained.

For Berry, Heigl and Pink, work-life balance isn't necessarily something to be negotiated on a daily basis, but rather in the longer term. It's something many mothers do. Statistics show about 43% of moms do leave their careers at some point while raising kids but for most women this isn't a permanent thing. Most go back after a year or two.

Just like going to work doesn't mean you're not committed to motherhood, taking time with the family doesn't mean you're abandoning your career. We'll see you when you're ready to come back to us, Pink. Until then, enjoy your family time.

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It's a question that a lot of new parents ask themselves, especially when they might be receiving outdated advice from well-meaning but incorrectly informed friends and family: Do babies really need to drink water?

The answer is no. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) , babies under 6 months old do not need water.

"Breast milk is more than 80% water, especially the first milk that comes with each feed. Therefore, whenever the mother feels her baby is thirsty she can breastfeed him or her," WHO states on its website.

Formula-fed babies, too, don't need water. They can get all the hydration and nutrition they need from formula. As pediatrician Catherine Pound told Today's Parent, giving a baby under 6 months water in a bottle "interferes with feeding and can lead to poor weight gain."

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Registered dietitian Katie Zeratsky of the Mayo Clinic agrees with Pound. Zeratsky told Buzzfeed: "We don't want babies to fill up on water because it would make them miss out on key nutrients like protein, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and fat intake. Human milk and formula are meant to be the mainstay of their nutritional intake because it is such an important time for a baby's growth. Babies are growing so rapidly that their energy needs compared to ours, pound for pound, are much higher."

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should only feed babies breastmilk or formula in their bottles (no water, no juice, no infant cereal) unless they are directly advised to serve another liquid by a physician.

Even on hot days, parents don't need to feed babies water. Bottle fed babies may require more frequent formula feeds during hot weather in order to stay hydrated and breastfeeding babies may want to nurse more than usual if it's hot out, but water should not be offered until they are older.

If you have any questions about your baby's hydration and nutrition, don't hesitate to ask your pediatrician or health care provider.

News

We know that what we put into our bodies during pregnancy can affect our babies, but here's some news you might find surprising: Recent research indicates that when a mama adopts heart-healthy habits during pregnancy, it sets her baby's heart health on the right foot for years to come. Getting heart-healthy while you're pregnant could mean your child is healthier as a teen!

Researchers from Northwestern University used data from 877 mother-child pairs in six countries to come to this finding, which will be presented at American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions in Philadelphia later this month.

The research team used data to score pregnant women based on five of the American Heart Association's metrics used to measure heart health: Weight, avoidance of tobacco products, blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure. The data set looked at the children of these mothers 10 to 14 years later, when the children were scored based on the same factors (except for tobacco use).

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Here's what the researchers found: Mothers who fared the best on the assessment had children with similarly high cardiovascular health scores down the road.

"We were surprised at how strong this relationship was," says Amanda M. Perak, M.D., M.S., lead author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at Northwestern University and pediatric cardiologist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, according to a release from the American Heart Association. "Our findings suggest that the mother's cardiovascular health during pregnancy affects the in-utero environment in a way that may program the child's cardiovascular health long-term."

The news does make sense—and while the extent of the relationship may have surprised researchers, it stands to reason that moms who model good heart-healthy habits (both during and after pregnancy) would have kids who do the same.

What's important to remember here is that this was an observational study, so while the researchers believe they've found a link between a mama's commitment to heart health during pregnancy and her child's outcomes down the line, this research does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

With that being said, this research just gives us another reason to try hard to maintain healthy habits while pregnant—which is easier said than done, we know! But eating nutritious foods, exercising as often as possible, not smoking and watching things like blood pressure and cholesterol could make a difference in your child's life.

"Pregnancy is a perfect time for women to focus on living a heart-healthy lifestyle," says Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H., FAAFP, American Heart Association Chief Medical Officer for Prevention, according to the release. "We're learning more every day about how a mother's lifestyle and food choices while pregnant influence a child's health in utero and after birth."

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