“I felt horribly guilty, but at the same time I was trying to tell myself, ‘If I’m not okay, if I’m not good, I cannot be the best mom to you.'”
The “Heroes” star and Ukrainian boxer welcomed their daughter in 2014, but they split in 2018, after Panettiere had started seeking treatment for both postpartum depression and alcohol abuse. At the time, the decision was made that Kaya would live with her father in Ukraine, an arrangement that is apparently still in effect today — though the child is not in the country amid its war with Russia.
opened up like never before about her experience coparenting daughter Kaya with ex Wladimir Klitschko
amid her sobriety journey on the latest episode of “Red Table Talk.”
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“I went to treatment the first time when my daughter was about 4-months-old because I was leaning on [alcohol] and it was just making things worse. I remember being curled up on the floor, just sobbing and just knowing I didn’t feel good about my body either and I had to go back to work 3 months after my daughter was born,” Panettiere explained. “When the baby’s out and it’s gone and it’s leaving you with a body that’s not familiar with you and shoving yourself in Spanx in the fittings and being told to lift your chin because of the double chin, it just took my confidence … I felt really, really insecure. I didn’t want to be working and looking like that.”
When asked if Klitschko recognized what she was going through at the time, Panettiere praised him for being “a driven human being” and very “positive” — before adding, “But he’s also a man, doesn’t have any sisters, so he thought I was doing it to myself I think and that I could choose to snap out of it.”
Panettiere said she hit rock bottom after “Nashville” ended in 2018, saying she was “leaning on the bottle during that time off and it was bad … really, really bad.” So bad, in fact, her drinking could have led to her death.
“I turned jaundice at one point, yellow eyes, went to a doctor and they said if you don’t stop right now you’re heading toward a liver that’s not going to heal itself anymore,” she continued. “I looked up liver transplants and they give you only five years. And who wants to give a liver to somebody who’s an addict? To have a death sentence still there and only five years to live, that was terrifying.”
She explained that around that time she went to one facility for four weeks, before entering another for “a little longer,” before then relapsing and finally entering a facility for eight months.
The subject of custody came up when she was asked what’s the most “misunderstood” aspect of her situation. “The idea that I’m a person who would just easily throw out my child, give away my child,” she said, before detailing her ongoing situation with her ex.
“I felt horribly guilty, but at the same time I was trying to tell myself, ‘If I’m not okay, if I’m not good, I cannot be the best mom to you.’ I was going through such a hard time, that I knew the most unselfish thing I could do was to make that hard decision and try to work on myself. For her to go and live with her dad,” said Hayden, who added Kaya was “almost three” at the time and that it “wasn’t fully my decision.”
“In fact I didn’t even know it was happening until she was already over there. I was gonna go work on myself and I was gonna get better and when I got better, things could change and she could come to me and I could have my time with her, but that didn’t happen,” she claimed. “I thought she was going over to visit him, like she always did, and then once she was over there, it was immediately, ‘I want full custody of her.'”
“It was a shock to me, it was very upsetting,” she continued. “Signing those papers giving him full custody was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. In a country where her uncle is the mayor and they are icons over there. It’s a country where it’s very male dominated, so there wasn’t a heck of a lot I could do. I understand he thinks he’s doing the right thing. He’s a fantastic father, he really is, but I don’t think he fully grasps that as she gets older … kids need their moms.”
She said the situation has “always been very terrifying to talk about” because she doesn’t want to upset Klitschko — who she called an “amazing father” for whom she has a lot of respect. “But in this case we definitely don’t see eye to eye,” she continued.
“This is really the first time that I’ve delved into that specific topic because it’s just scary, don’t want to piss anyone off, especially the person who has control of your child,” she continued. “I, of course, take responsibility for the role that I played for where I was. There were certain things I couldn’t control … I wish I had gotten myself more help than I did.”
Panettiere went on to call their child both “stoic” and “incredibly strong,” before claiming that Kaya hasn’t been back to California since she went to Ukraine. Instead, Panettiere has made journeys abroad to see her.
“I also remember her dad calling me and he said, ‘Kaya’s going around and asking other women if she can call them mommy.’ And my breath hitched and my heart stopped and he was laughing,” she continued. “He thought this was funny. He didn’t get it, as opposed to me who saw, ‘That’s a trauma reaction. That’s a cry for help.'”
She added that while she’s “tried to explain how much [Kaya] needs her mom,” she hasn’t “gotten any hints” that the current situation will change anytime soon.
“I’ve been told I can go over and see her anytime,” she added. “I just have to keep the hope that one day when she’s old enough for her opinion to be respected a little bit more and her wants heard, that there will be more proactivity on that side.”
Despite her past, cohost Jada Pinkett-Smith said Hayden seemed both “clear” and “sane” during their interview with her. Panettiere credited that all to her treatment.
“I actually ended up loving treatment. I loved being around like-minded people who were going through the same or similar things that I was going through,” she explained. “To be able to be in a place where I felt safe. I was trained from such a young age to say things a certain way, to dress a certain way, just to be perfect and there I got to open up and tell all my horror stories.”
“I’ve never been this brutally honest about myself or my personal life,” she added, “but it made me depressed trying to hide myself. There’s just something very freeing about just being yourself.”
TooFab has reached out to Wladimir Klitschko, who is currently on the frontlines of the war in Ukraine, for comment.
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