Reflections on Syesha Mercado and her custody battle for the return of her son Amen’ra.
Personally, I have been haunted by this heart-wrenching family story that is still ongoing. Former American Idol finalist Syesha Mercado was a first-time mother with a toddler and pregnant with her second child. Her body’s milk supply decreased significantly after becoming pregnant and her 13-month-old was having difficulty transitioning from human milk to other food and liquids. Mom Mercado sought the help of the child’s medical provider, but even after following the recommendations, she had concerns that more needed to be done. So she took her son to the hospital to be evaluated. After her son was cared for, issues were raised and Child Protective Services was contacted. Sadly, Amen’ra was separated from his parents because of those concerns. That was 6 months ago and Amen’ra is still not reunited with his mother and father.
I am saddened by the seeming criminalization of Syesha and her partner Tyron’s parenting. As a parent of a toddler, I too am learning about the difficulty in transitioning from an exclusive human milk diet to one with a greater variety of foods--it is a challenge that I believe many parents experience. The transition isn’t easy. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to be struggling to guide my child through that transition, while pregnant, only to have medical professionals assert that I was harming my child. I question why there could not have been the education of the parents rather than separation of the family.
My field of Obstetrics has recognized the value of trying to keep mothers with their children despite opiate use disorder or COVID-19 illness. Initially when it came to opiate abuse during pregnancy, medical professionals separated the mother from the newborn thinking that this was better for the newborn. We now realize that the mother is the best person to help the newborn through the challenge of neonatal abstinence syndrome. We have replaced a protocol of separation with the "eat, sleep, console" protocol which focuses on the comfort of the newborn by keeping the mother with her child as the primary consoler. We have changed our perception of drug use, found compassion, recognized it as a medical disorder and sought ways to help the mother make better choices that will keep the family together. Alternatively, during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic medical professionals thought mothers who were carrying the virus should be separated from their newborns for the protection of the child. However, now we realize that it is best for the mother and child to stay together and we instead recommend the mother wear a mask to protect the newborn from mother's droplets and aerosols.
Keeping the family unit together is an important factor in childhood development and was highlighted in the work of developmental psychologist, Dr Mary Ainsworth. Dr Ainsworth theorized that we develop our attachment style at a very early stage in our life and that if we do not develop a secure attachment in these primary years of our life it will affect our future relationships. Developing a secure attachment is vital to an individual's healthy growth and development.
As I reflect on Syesha Mercado's family separation, I see disparity where I should see compassion. Why is the value of keeping a family together seemingly absent from this scenario? Where is the protocol of educating the family on child health and nutrition while allowing the parents to be the primary caregivers? And how has this protracted separation been in the best interest of Amen'ra? My heart breaks for that family. Like many others, I hope for Amen’ra to be returned to his parents without further delay.
If you feel compelled to help this family, they are accepting help for their legal fees. Follow the link to the family GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/f/bring-ra-home/donate .
Written by: Dr. Kia Lannaman, MD and Tyfanny Ross, BSW, MSW