Couple Fights for Custody of Children Following Unassisted Home Birth

Beth Greenfield, Senior Writer
Yahoo Parenting

Cleave Rengo, Erica May Carey and their children. Photo by Facebook.

Erica May Carey gave birth to her twins, a son and a daughter, just two months ago, but she and her husband Cleave Rengo say they have barely seen them since. That’s because Child Protective Services removed the babies, along with her 1-year-old son, from the family’s home in Bellingham, Wash., just a few days after they were born, reports King 5 News. UPDATE: On Friday, according to local reports, the children were returned to their home, although they remain under state protection; a judge ordered the parents to seek out counseling as a condition of the babies’ return.

STORY: What Is Faith Healing?

The parents say they believe their children were removed in the first place because Carey, 29, gave birth to the babies at home, without the assistance of a midwife, and because she refused to take them to the hospital for an exam when paramedics, presumably summoned by a neighbor, showed up at her door. (The mom and dad, incidentally, did not know they were having twins until after the first baby was born, as Carey says she never had an ultrasound during her pregnancy.) Also reportedly at issue is the older child’s case of eczema, and the parents’ decision to treat it with natural rather than steroid-based remedies. The parents say they made their decisions based on their Christian beliefs. They had petitioned the Superior Court of Washington on Tuesday for custody of their children.

STORY: Mom Upset After Son Receives Flu Vaccine Without Her Consent

The case has been drawing massive attention from civil-rights supporters — with a Facebook support page set up to help raise legal funds — as well as from state politicians. “Over the past several days, hundreds of you have made your voices heard about a current case with our Child Protective Services in Washington regarding the Rengo family,” Gov. Jay Inslee noted on his official Facebook page on Thursday. “I want to thank you for your concern and willingness to be vocal.”

Rengo with his older son in 2013. Photo by Facebook.

He continued, “I’d like to be clear: every child’s safety is our top priority in situations like these. Rumors have circulated that the removal of the Rengo children was due to breastfeeding or their home births. Those rumors are false. Breastfeeding and home birthing are not factors that would cause CPS to take children from a home. Their removal from the home was based on factors unrelated to a home birth or breastfeeding.” For now, he explained, the court has determined the “Rengo children’s safety is at risk,” but that a hearing is ongoing to decide where the three babies should be.

During the hearing this week, the state “attempted to show an unstable household marked by numerous contacts with law enforcement … within the past two years and refusal to provide medical treatment to the children,” according to the Bellingham Herald.

Yahoo Parenting could not reach Children’s Protective Services on Friday. But the office did provide the following statement to King 5 News earlier in the week: “Due to confidentiality, we cannot discuss details, except to say that a court determined a child’s safety required removal from the home. No policy of Children’s Administration would allow a child to be taken due to a home birth. A home birth is not in any way a child safety risk factor in the view of Children’s Administration.”

Photo by Facebook

The story has been closely followed by Medical Kidnap, a part of Health Impact News that was started, according to its website, because of the growing number of stories like that of the Rengo family. “Due to the increasing frequency of stories being exposed regarding children taken away from their families for simply disagreeing with their doctors,” it notes, “we felt it was time to put up a completely separate website to document these tragic stories.”

Recent tales with a similar theme include that of Florida mom Sarah Markham, whose baby was briefly made a ward of the state following a disagreement she had with her pediatrician about vegan formula. Previously, there was “baby Sammy,” the Sacramento, Calif., 5-month-old who was put into protective custody after parents Anna and Alex Nikolayev left a hospital to seek a second opinion after being told their son needed open-heart surgery. Police showed up at their home a day later and, in an incident caught on home video, seized the baby. He was returned home after a week.

The most well-known of this cases is that of Justina Pelletier, in which Boston Children’s Hospital fought for and won temporary state custody of her over a disagreement with parents about a controversial medical diagnosis.

The Rengo case, the site reports, “is another medical kidnapping, according to the parents. The Rengos have chosen a wholesome, holistic lifestyle, based in their Christian faith. But CPS has stepped in to override the parents’ decisions. Now Erica and Cleave are living what they call a nightmare, separated from their children for reasons that don’t make any sense at all to them.”

After the paramedics came and suggested the twins be taken to the hospital, which the parents refused because of their fragile immune systems, the site adds, CPS social workers appeared, and were concerned about eczema on their older boy’s skin. The couple says they agreed to a trip to the pediatrician, “who said the babies were doing fine. The only concern was that the twins were slow to gain weight. At the time, Erica was trying to maintain a supply for three breastfeeding babies. She says she followed the pediatrician’s advice to supplement with formula, and the babies promptly got back on track with weight gain.”

The family’s lawyer, Stephen Pidgeon, could not be reached for comment on Friday. But according to the Bellingham Herald, the couple says that since being taken from their home, their older son has developed pneumonia and ear infections and that one of the twins now has reflux.

“There was no abuse, no neglect,” Rengo, 23, told the newspaper. “This is a misunderstanding. We just miss them dearly and want them back.”