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A 'stolen' baby, medical mistrust and the heavy hand of child protective services
Temecia and Rodney Jackson are demanding the return of their newborn daughter after authorities took her away. “We’ve been treated like criminals,” Rodney said.
UPDATE 04/22/2023: Baby Mila has been reunited with her parents, Temecia and Rodney Jackson, after more than three weeks in CPS custody, according to The Afiya Center.
The original story is below.
In late March, Temecia Jackson gave birth to her daughter, Mila, alongside her husband, Rodney, and their midwife at home in Desoto, Texas. The birth went according to plan, and the two parents were happy to welcome their newborn into the world.
“It was a beautiful birth; she was perfect,” Temecia recalled.
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A few days later, they took Mila to a pediatrician for a routine checkup. The doctor said their child was healthy but had jaundice — a common condition in newborn babies that can lead to brain damage if left untreated. The Jacksons said they would treat Mila at home with the help of their licensed midwife, Cheryl Edinbyrd.
After they left the checkup, the pediatrician called and told the parents they should admit Mila into the hospital. The Jacksons said they would confer with their midwife and make a decision.
Later that night, Temecia said she received a message from the physician declaring that if they did not admit Mila into the hospital for jaundice immediately, then he would call the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. When they declined, authorities came to the Jackson residence at 4 a.m. with CPS, demanding that they hand their child over to them. Authorities left after the couple told them to leave.
A few days later, as Rodney was walking the family dog, officers from the Dallas County Constable's office and Child Protective Services came to their home with a warrant. When Rodney returned to the home, he was promptly arrested, according to the couple. They took his keys, used them to unlock the door and took Mila from Temecia’s arms.
In a letter written by Anand Bhatt, the pediatrician with the Dallas-based healthcare system Baylor Scott & White, he explained to CPS that he tried ten times to reach Temecia and Rodney through phone calls and texts but said the family was unresponsive.
"Parents are very loving and they care dearly about their baby," Bhatt wrote in the letter obtained by WFAA, a local ABC affiliate. "Their distrust for medical care and guidance has led them to make a decision for the baby to refuse a simple treatment that can prevent brain damage.”
Jaundice is indicated by bilirubin levels in the blood. Mila had a bilirubin level of 21.7 milligrams, according to WFAA, and a bilirubin level of over 20 can be dangerous for infants. “At a bilirubin over 20, a baby risks brain damage, because the bilirubin can cross the blood brain barrier,” Bhatt explained in his letter, which led to his decision.
While mild jaundice usually disappears on its own, “moderate or severe” cases of the condition may require an infant to be readmitted to the hospital, according to The Mayo Clinic. Edinbyrd, the couple’s midwife, told CBS News that she saw the levels as “high” but not necessarily critical. Phototherapy, which uses light to treat jaundice, can be done at home using a special blanket. Edinbyrd also said that the parents had purchased the blanket to use on Mila for treatment at home.
“A lot of people focusing on the bilirubin level (which yes, was high enough that under current guidelines the infant needed phototherapy to prevent *kernicterus) when the real tragedy was the way CPS, the police and the pediatrician responded,” tweeted Edward Gill, a pediatric hospitalist at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Rhode Island.
*Kernicterus is a type of brain damage that occurs if high levels of bilirubin are found in an infant’s blood.
“I authorized the support of CPS to help get this baby the care that was medically necessary and needed,” Bhatt continued in his letter. (A spokesperson for Baylor Scott & White Health responded to an inquiry for this story: “In respect of patient privacy, it is inappropriate to provide comment on this matter. We do abide by reporting requirements set forth in the Texas Family Code and any other applicable laws.”)
Temecia demanded to see the affidavit that allowed officers to take the infant. The written statement had listed a totally different woman — not Temecia. “The paperwork had another mother’s name. Instantly, I felt like they had stolen my baby as I had had a home birth and they were trying to say my baby belonged to this other woman," she explained in a press conference held by The Afiya Center, a Texas-based reproductive justice organization for and by Black women. “They had taken my husband from me and then took my daughter from me, and I was left by myself.”
Rodney, whose name was also missing from the document mentioned above, said they have been treated like criminals and entirely ignored by Child Protective Services. He and Temecia have visited CPS nearly every day to drop off breast milk for their child, and Rodney said they’ve essentially received no help.
The Jacksons said they have no idea where their infant is or who is caring for her. They are set to appear before court on April 20.
“This is a nightmare that I wouldn’t wish on anyone,” Rodney said.
Child Protective Services has a long history of subjecting children to investigations and seizing them — and Black families are disproportionately impacted. In the very first study of its kind, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that 53% of Black children face a child protective services investigation by the time they turn 18 years old.
Just two months ago, another family was separated. CPS seized children from a Black couple after finding 5 grams of marijuana, enough to roll about 10 joints, in their car, and they’re still fighting to get their children back.
Though Chanel Porchia-Albert, founder of the national birth justice organization Ancient Song, said the Jacksons “didn’t go do anything illegal,” she explained that cases like the Jacksons’ are becoming more common as the popularity of home births rises. Home births in the United States have risen to their highest level in 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a growing number of Black parents specifically are deciding to have their children at home rather than in a hospital.
Many families decide on home births because of cost, but other families, Black families, have never felt the hospital was a safe space. Many are actively seeking to remove themselves from what has been called the medical-industrial complex.
Some Black families have a long-held mistrust in medical systems, for historically valid reasons, that can sometimes lead caring parents to make decisions that could actually harm their child — transgenerational trauma. Nearly 6 out of 10 Black Americans said they trust the healthcare system only some or none of the time, according to a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. And physicians can make matters worse for Black families when CPS becomes involved.
“The history runs really, really deep,” said Breya Johnson, a writer and reproductive justice organizer. “Physicians oftentimes collaborate with police at the expense of their patients every single day.” Creating support for alternative treatment could help bridge these gaps.
“When I think about the history of gynecology and its testing on Black women; when I think about the fact that Puerto Rican women were of some of the first women who had birth control trials done against their consent … You really cannot separate anti-blackness and racism from this country's medical foundation,” Johnson, who gives trainings and workshops on reproductive justice, explained.
“And when you have Black women in the United States with the highest infant and maternal mortality rate, you’re going to look at that number and not see that as a safe place to want to give birth.”
The Texas Department of Family Protective Services did not respond to a request for comment.