On the morning of June 10, 2011, a Weehawken resident, West New York teacher, and new mother abandoned her 28-day-old baby in front of Weehawken High School.
The child, thought to have been thrown onto the pavement, was found seriously injured on the sidewalk by a school maintenance worker, according to Weehawken Director of Public Safety Jeff Welz.
Shortly after, local police stopped a woman Welz described as “hysterical” a few blocks from the high school after they witnessed her apparently driving erratically. The woman was 38-year-old Tamara Reyes, the child’s mother.
During Reyes’ sentencing at Hudson County Superior Court last week, it was revealed that Reyes had suffered from mental issues that required medication, and that she had gone off her medication while pregnant – thinking it would be better for her unborn child, according to a NJ.com article.
At Reyes’ sentencing, Hudson County Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor Debra Simon that before going off her medication, Reyes had been hospitalized twice.
According to Hudson County Acting Prosecutor Scott Gregory in an interview Tuesday, after the 2011 incident, Reyes had been admitted to Ann Klein Forensic Center, a 200-bed psychiatric hospital in West Trenton, for evaluation.
“It is critical that [a patient on psychiatric medication] receive proper and close care throughout and after the pregnancy.” – Dr. Daniel Sanchez
The issue leaves several questions: What does a mother do if she is pregnant and doesn’t want psychiatric drugs to harm her unborn child? And are mental health services so inadequate that their consumers would prefer jail time to treatment there?
Prison over state psychiatric hospital
In June, Reyes pleaded guilty to second degree aggravated assault, but Superior Court Judge Lisa Rose downgraded the sentence to third degree, which makes Reyes eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of her sentence, Gregory said. As she had amassed 419 days in jail credit since her arrest, she has around 510 days remaining in prison before she is up for parole, Gregory said.
“I think [Reyes’] decision makes a sad commentary on the state of our mental health facilities,” Broege was quoted saying in court by NJ.com.
Nicole Brossoie, who handles press inquiries for the New Jersey Division of Mental Health Services under whose departmental jurisdiction the Ann Klein Forensic Center lies, was asked to comment on the matter.
“The Department is bound by HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and confidentiality laws,” Brossoie wrote in an email on Wednesday in response. “I have no idea if Ms. Reyes was ever a patient and wouldn’t confirm it if she was.”
Weighing the risks
What happens if a woman who needs psychiatric drugs becomes pregnant? Should she stop taking the medication?
Doctors say that with each patient, the risks and benefits of staying on the medication must be weighed.
“In general, women who become pregnant should be off psychiatric medication,” North Hudson Community Action Corporation Staff Psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Sanchez said Tuesday, “But it is a case by case evaluation and depends on the severity of the mental illness. The most important thing is that the patient receive is very close monitoring throughout the pregnancy – even more so than before, because of the possible side effects of coming off of certain medications may have on both the patient and the fetus.”
Sanchez said there are instances when it becomes necessary to put a pregnant woman back on medication, particularly if the patient develops suicidal symptoms, or their depression or bipolar symptoms worsen.
“It is a risk-benefit evaluation,” he said.
And if a patient does remain unmedicated during their pregnancy, it is crucial they follow up after they give birth, because more often than not the patient will have to resume their medication.
“The hormonal flux of post-pregnancy can exacerbate a patient’s preexisting symptoms as soon as they give birth,” Sanchez explained. “Again, it is critical that they receive proper and close care throughout and after the pregnancy.”
NHCAC provides low-cost and free medical care and screenings for needy people in Hudson County.
Reyes’ decision to go off her medication to protect her unborn child had arguably devastating consequences once she was born. After her daughter was found abandoned, the child was taken to Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen and then airlifted to New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City after the seriousness of her injuries was determined.
In court, Simon said the child now lives with her father, and that she suffered brain damage and requires anti-seizure medication as a result of these injuries. She also is developmentally delayed and suffers from hearing loss.
“It’s a tragic event and fortunately the baby survived,” Welz said. “But she suffered multiple serious injuries. Jersey has all kinds of laws that allow you to drop a baby off at a hospital or a safe haven if you’re having trouble coping with no questions asked. [Reyes] obviously committed a crime, and now she will pay the price.”
According to the New Jersey State Department of Children and Families, the Safe Haven Infant Protection Act allows an individual to give up a child fewer than 30 days old anonymously and legally. The individual can bring the child to any hospital emergency room or police station where the Division of Child Protection and Permanency will then take custody and place the child into foster or pre-adoptive care.
For more information on the Safe Haven Infant Protection Act, visit www.njsafehaven.org or call (609) 292-0422.
If you are in financial need of low-cost medical services and want to consult a professional on pregnancy and psychiatric care, or to find a psychiatrist, call the North Hudson Community Action Corporation at (201) 210-0100.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org