About three years ago, there was a news story that caught the social media world by storm. “Habiba” was a homeless nursing mother whose baby was taken away from her. You can read more about that heart-breaking case here. I was quite surprised to find that the google search term “Is Habiba a Hoax” sent thousands of web surfers to our blog. I ended the post with these sentiments:
For the sake of argument, if this is a hoax, it’s one I’d be proud to be duped by: protecting the rights of mothers and babies everywhere.
So now, here we are again with the story of Erica May Rengo, a home-birthing, breastfeeding mama of three in Washington. Erica had her children taken away from her by Child Protection Services. There’s not much news coverage of the case yet, aside from this article on Medical Kidnap. At the end of the article, readers are encouraged to call or email the mayor, which I did. The office said they had received hundreds of calls and were going to be in touch with CPS regarding the case. (Erica and Cleave go to trial on Dec 2nd)
Some people are questioning the validity of the information in the article, the omission of facts, and the entire story in general. As I said in Habiba–it’s true: we don’t have all the facts! Of course we don’t. Do we ever? But I think that’s missing the point in this instance. I always want to do the best with what I have. And what I have is a story that tugs at my heart.
However, it’s not up to me to have the facts. I’m not a trained CPS professional. I’m not a judge hearing the case, or a lawyer presenting it. This isn’t a charity that I’m sending money to, or an organization I’m devoting time to. BUT what I can do, I want to. Like, calling a governor’s office to ask him to please investigate, (immediately!) and if the facts remain as presented in the article, to reunite the Rengo family as soon as humanly possible? Maybe there are additional details that will come out, and there are other avenues that would be better for this family before reunification. I don’t know. But I want her to have a fair investigation. Erica has twin babies and a toddler that need their mama. (The goal of CPS is to keep families intact as often as possible, BTW. So unless there are some egregious facts omitted from the article, CPS failed.)
This is a story that hits close to home. As a nursing, home-birthing mother, I relate to Erica. I feel for Erica. I hurt for Erica. And quite honestly, I find it hard to even think about how her children are doing. I imagine how mine would be without me, and it’s painful to consider. Yet, seeing the outpouring of support for this family inspires me, and shows our mama-solidarity in the face of injustice. If this story is true, imagine the difference a ten second phone call, a quick email, or even a Facebook post can make in a family’s life. And if it isn’t, I will never regret time spent helping others in good faith.
**Updated to add (11/27): For the record, I don’t believe this is a hoax. Ask my mother. I called her to talk about it – and she called the governor too. Ask my husband, every 15 minutes last night I asked him, “Could you imagine if…”, “That could have been us…”. Ask my 4.5 year old, who came in and out of the dining room as I wrote the post, watching Mommy “help another mommy.”
Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year to empower women to make the best choices for their families.