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Don't Worry, Be Happy!
June 22, 2011 permalink
Verna Joseph gave birth on the same day her 15-year-old son was killed. She had to avoid showing grief for fear that hospital staff would treat her as depressed and seize her baby. They took the baby anyway.
Hospital faces legal action over newborn baby seized from mother
Breastfed baby taken from mother for six days, a move she says trust denied her right to challenge
The NHS trust would not comment on the case. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA
A breastfeeding mother whose newborn baby was forcibly taken from her and put into care for six days is seeking a judicial review over alleged unlawful treatment during a crucial bonding period with her daughter.
Verna Joseph, who has a history of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, says she was pushed to the ground, restrained by security guards, and her baby taken in full public view during a scuffle at King George hospital in Redbridge to which police were called.
She was then transferred by ambulance to Goodmayes hospital, North-East London NHS foundation trust, in Ilford, but was not told until several hours later that she was being compulsorily admitted for an assessment under the Mental Health Act.
Despite repeated pleas for news about her three-week-old daughter, Madeleine, she was not told what was happening to her, or given any opportunity to make her own arrangements for her care.
Joseph, 37, a mother of nine who was granted asylum in Britain following rape and torture in St Lucia, was left traumatised by the week-long separation from her infant on 11 March this year, during which she was unable to breastfeed or provide breast milk due to a lack of facilities.
She said: "I feel very let down by the trust. They treated me like an animal. I was afraid I would never see my daughter again. I kept asking: 'Where is she, how is she getting on?' They told me nothing. When I got her back, six days later, she was clinging to me."
Joseph had recently learned that her 15-year-old son had been killed in St Lucia on the 14 February, the day Madeleine was born by caesarian section. But she felt unable to grieve for her son: "I was scared that if I cried too much, they would think I was depressed. A psychiatrist asked about me crying and I told him: 'It's natural to cry when your son has been killed, isn't it?' He said: 'Yes, it's natural to cry.' I knew there was nothing wrong with me."
According to Joseph's medical notes, psychiatrist Andrew Biggs at Goodmayes concluded on the 16 March: "I cannot find symptoms of acute mental illness of any severity sufficient to justify detaining this woman currently." He said she had a history of illness with unstable moods and "may react badly to crises". She left hospital the next day and was reunited with Madeleine on the 18 March.
Her lawyers, who say the case will have important implications for all new mothers subjected to psychiatric detention, are seeking a declaration from the high court that Joseph and her baby were unlawfully separated and that she was denied her right to a fair hearing.
Cristel Amiss, of the Black Women's Rape Action Project, said: "The worst thing you can possibly do, if you are concerned about a mother's mental health, is to take her baby off her, not tell her what is happening, and not allow her to breastfeed."
Joseph's submission to the court includes evidence from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Prison Service's mother and baby policy advisers that close and frequent contact of mother and newborn is "vital" in forming an attachment.
Joseph's solicitor, Nicola Daniel, said: "There is a basic human right that a mother and child should not be separated at that crucial bonding time. We are hoping that the outcome of this case will be important for all mothers with babies who are subjected to psychiatric detention."
Morgan Gallagher, chair of Nursing Matters, said: "A three-week-old, exclusively breastfeeding baby will be traumatised by the abrupt removal of the mother. It will be further traumatised by being bottle-fed by a stranger.In these cases, the needs of the baby should come first."
Joseph was admitted to King George hospital on 7 March after suffering abdominal pains related to her caesarian. She left three days later as the hospital was unable to give her a room where her daughter could stay.
She returned at the hospital's request on 11 March and was seen by five people, including a psychiatrist and two mental health social workers.
It was following a break in the assessment, during which Joseph went outside for a cigarette, that events took a dramatic turn. Joseph said: "I saw this man coming up to me shouting to get away from the baby. I said to him: 'What are you talking about, it's my baby.' He said: 'I've come to take the baby.'
"He pushed me and I fell. The two security men put my hands behind my back. I was crying and asking: 'Why have they taken my baby?'"
A spokeswoman for the North-East London NHS Trust said it was investigating but would not comment on an ongoing legal case. She said: "When somebody raises a concern it is investigated and answered fully. If the investigation highlights areas for improvement we will of course take action to address them."
Source: Guardian (UK)