Mom Loses Custody of Newborn for 5 Days Thanks to Poppy Seed Bagel

In April of 2010, Elizabeth Mort ate a poppy seed bagel shortly before arriving at the hospital where she gave birth to her daughter. Sounds like a decent enough pre-labor snack, right? Carbs for energy and all that?  Mort gave birth to a healthy newborn named Isabella, and three days later, she was at home with her daughter when child service officials arrived with an emergency protective custody order. They took Mort's brand new baby girl, alleging that Mort had tested positive for drugs while in the hospital.

As it turned out, the poppy seeds on Mort's bagel had triggered a false positive in the drug test. But it took officials five days to figure out the problem and allow Elizabeth Mort to regain custody of her own child.

Mort won a decent settlement from Pennsylvania child welfare services and her hospital this week for the incident, but as far as I'm concerned, she wasn't awarded NEARLY enough money for what she went through.


Mort gave birth at Jameson Hospital, where at some point during the labor/recovery process, she was given a drug test. She says at no point was she told that she'd failed the test, nor was she asked about anything she'd eaten that could affect the results -- in fact, the hospital never notified her about her test results at all. They went straight to child welfare services in Pennsylvania, who swooped in three days later to take the newborn.

It's not uncommon for poppy seeds to trigger false positives in drug tests with low thresholds for opiate detection, which is why federal standards set the minimum detection rate at 2,000 nanograms per milliliter. For whatever reason, Mort's hospital had a different detection rate: a minimum of 300 nanograms. That's why Mort's bagel affected her test -- but it certainly doesn't explain why the hospital asked no questions before calling child welfare.

In October 2010, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mort, which read in part,

Elizabeth Mort never imagined that the last thing she ate before giving birth to her daughter -- a poppy seed bagel -- would lead to the loss of her newborn, but that is exactly what happened after the Jameson Health System failed to account for the possibility that her positive urine drug screen was due to her ingestion of poppy seeds.

The lawsuit was finally settled this Tuesday, and Mort was awarded over $143,000. I'm not sure any amount of money can make up for what she must have gone through during those five days, though. Can you even begin to imagine experiencing a scenario like this? Where out of nowhere, officials come knocking on your door and straight-up take your newborn away?

The hospital and county have reportedly implemented policy changes so newborns aren’t taken from parents based only on maternal drug tests, and I hope other hospitals are taking note of this lawsuit and considering their own policies. I don't remember getting any drug tests when my boys were born, but god, maybe they did it without asking me? Frankly, the practice of drug-testing women seems incredibly invasive and unfair (did DAD get a drug test too?).

Also, I don't know about you, but just to be on the safe side, I'd avoid those delicious 'everything' bagels if you're planning on giving birth any time soon.

Did you get a drug test when you gave birth? What would you have done if child welfare showed up with a custody order a few days later? Other than GO COMPLETELY INSANE, I mean.

Image via Clintus/Flickr

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