Poppy seeds caused positive drug test before she gave birth, woman says — but hospital wouldn’t listen
St. Alexius Medical Center reported her to the Department of Children and Family Services, according to a complaint filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. That led to months of in-home monitoring as she tried to bond with her son.
A DuPage County woman claims she was tested for drugs without her consent before giving birth at AMITA St. Alexius Medical Center, which led to months of monitoring by state child welfare workers.
The positive test for opiates — the woman says it was caused by poppy seeds — prompted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to get involved.
The National Advocates for Pregnant Women and the ACLU Illinois filed a charge of discrimination against the Hoffman Estates hospital with the Illinois Department of Human Rights for carrying out the “discriminatory, non-consensual drug test of a first-time mother.”
The mother, referred to in the complaint as “Ms. F,” went to the hospital in April 2021. She was 34 weeks pregnant, and her blood pressure had risen due to preeclampsia. Hospital workers took blood and urine samples, which Ms. F thought was for monitoring her condition; those samples were used for a drug test, which came back positive for opiates.
Shocked at the findings, Ms. F told hospital staff she may have tested positive because an Easter cake she ate before entering the hospital contained poppy seeds.
“I never imagined that enjoying a traditional Polish cake at an Easter celebration would create suspicion that we would not care for our child,” said Ms. F in a statement.
She and her husband, who live in Wood Dale, emigrated from Poland in 2001.
The complaint asserts hospital staff should have known poppy seeds are a common cause of false positive tests.
Two days after entering the hospital, the woman, being prepped for cesarean surgery, overheard staff make “stigmatizing” comments, according to the ACLU.
“Be prepared because the mom is positive for opiates, so we do not know what the baby’s condition will be like,” Ms. F heard them whisper, according to the complaint.
The woman felt ashamed and cried through the surgery because she “felt as though they were treating her inhumanely because they assumed she was addicted to drugs and a bad mother,” according to the complaint.
Her baby boy, premature but otherwise healthy, exhibited no symptoms of withdrawal. He was taken to newborn intensive care and Ms. F was contacted by a hospital social worker to talk about the drug test results.
She explained again about the poppy seed cake but the social worker said the umbilical cord blood would still be tested. It was positive for morphine and the social worker was required to report the matter to DCFS despite believing Ms. F’s explanation, according to the complaint.
While visiting her child in intensive care, Ms. F was approached by a DCFS agent who openly discussed the situation where others could overhear their conversation. The agent then asked her to undress her son so the agent could take photos and look for marks and bruises.
“My husband and I wanted a child so much and we were overjoyed when I became pregnant,” Ms. F is quoted as saying in an ACLU Illinois news release. “But the actions of the hospital took away that joy and made us feel ashamed — like we had done something wrong. It’s been nearly ten months since my baby was born, and I still cry every time I talk about what the hospital did to my family.”
A spokeswoman for AMITA Health, which operates the hospital, and a spokesman for DCFS both declined to comment on the woman’s complaint, citing the ongoing investigation.
The complaint alleges DCFS made the couple agree to a “safety plan” under which someone else always would be in the home with Ms. F and the newborn. With no immediate family in the area, they had to hire someone to live with them. DCFS agents also visited their home regularly. Both harmed her ability to bond with her son, she alleges.
The investigation lasted about three months. Though the case was terminated July 1, her file will be maintained for 5 years, according to the complaint.
“Saint Alexius violated Ms. F.’s civil rights by subjecting her to a nonconsensual and medically unnecessary drug test,” said Emma Roth, staff attorney at NAPW. “She will never be able to get back those precious first months with her baby.”
Roth said routine drug testing and reporting of pregnant patients is “never justified.”
“I cannot imagine enduring this nightmare at what should be such a genuinely happy time for a family,” added Emily Hirsch, staff attorney with the Women’s and Reproductive Rights Project at the ACLU of Illinois. “Saint Alexius violated Illinois law. We hope that Ms. F.’s situation will encourage other institutions to end this practice now.”