Texas parents Temecia and Rodney Jackson are demanding the return of their newborn baby after she was taken by child protective services in Dallas last month following a home birth.
“We just want to notify the world what’s going on,” Rodney Jackson said during a press conference last week, calling the removal of the couple’s daughter, Mila, a “kidnapping.”
Texas CPS declined to comment on the accusations when reached by Yahoo News. “Due to CPS cases being confidential by state law, we cannot comment on specific cases,” the agency said in a statement.
Mila Jackson, their third child, was born on March 21 during a successful home birth with Cheryl Edinbyrd, a licensed midwife who says she has delivered over 100 successful childbirths.
“It was a beautiful birth. She was a perfect 6 pounds, 9 ounces,” Temecia Jackson said during the press conference.
A few days after Mila was born, the Jacksons took her to a newborn checkup with Dr. Anand Bhatt, their family pediatrician for the last decade. The Jacksons have two older sons.
“Within that visit, we were told ‘everything is good, she looks great, the only thing is she has jaundice.’ A couple of hours later, the pediatrician called my phone and wanted us to admit Mila to the hospital,” Temecia Jackson said.
Jaundice occurs when blood contains an excess amount of bilirubin. “For most babies, this is not a big deal, it clears out,” Tiffany Green, an associate professor in the obstetrics and gynecology department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Yahoo News. “But for a certain small subset of babies, high levels of bilirubin can lead to brain damage, including cerebral palsy and other illnesses.”
For the Jacksons, this was a common diagnosis, “Many of our friends and family have had jaundice. So we left that visit thinking that everything was fine,” Temecia Jackson said.
According to Bhatt, Mila had a bilirubin level of 21.7 milligrams. Based on Mila’s age, any level over 20 milligrams requires treatment, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Mila’s bilirubin level was 1.7 milligrams above the recommended level.
Bhatt told the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services that those levels are “cause for a lot of concern because the bilirubin can cross the blood brain barrier.”
“A couple of hours later [on March 24], the pediatrician called and wanted us to directly admit Mila into the hospital,” Temecia Jackson said. “We told him that we would get with our midwife as she is our care provider and figure out exactly what we wanted to do.”
The Jacksons and their midwife decided that at-home treatment would be sufficient. “It can be treated at home. Usually it’s done by sunlight or some form of phototherapy and just adequate feeding and nutrition. So breast milk and breastfeeding flushes the system,” Tracie Collins, CEO and founder of the National Black Doula Association, told Yahoo News.
Edinbyrd, the midwife, told CBS News that the bilirubin levels were “high but not critical.”
“Later that night, around 11:30, [the pediatrician] texted and said we are going against what he feels like we should do for our child. And that if we did not admit her immediately for jaundice he was going to call CPS,” Temecia Jackson said.
This prompted a turn of events including a welfare check from police and multiple visits from CPS before Mila was eventually taken into protective services.
“They [authorities] chose to arrest my husband and take his key and unlawfully come into my home and take my baby from me. When they came in and took her from me I requested that I needed to see the paperwork,” Temecia Jackson said.
At the press conference, the Jacksons said that the affidavit that gave CPS grounds to remove Mila contained some inaccuracies.
“It had [another] woman’s name on there and it talks about this woman’s criminal history and her past two CPS cases,” Minister Dominique Alexander, president of Next Generation Action Network, a social justice organization in Texas that’s working with the Jackson family to get Mila back home, told Yahoo News. “Mr. and Mrs. Jackson [have] no criminal record and [have never] been investigated by CPS.”
Temecia Jackson said she instantly felt like her child had been stolen from her. “My child was removed so quickly because they have this other mother’s name listed on this affidavit and she has a history with CPS,” she said.
In a statement to Yahoo News, CPS acknowledged that there were inaccuracies in the document. “Though there was an initial mistake on the affidavit, due to us being given incorrect information, it has been corrected,” CPS told Yahoo News, declining to comment further.
But advocates said that the Jacksons were stripped from the right to make their own health care decisions, which is arguably crucial for Black women in childbirth, since they’re three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women.
“This is trauma,” Collins said. “Black families are completely justified for feeling the way that they feel. This is only going to further push them away from Western medicine.”
Edinbyrd claims that CPS is abusing the Jackson family. “There was never an investigation,” Edinbyrd said during the press conference. “The attack on Black families, bodies, has to stop. We’re demanding that Mila be returned home today. Yesterday was too late.”
Green says there should be alternatives to CPS. “We can have community health workers be liaisons between families and clinicians, to make sure that children are getting the care that they need,” she said. “[CPS] has been so harmful to children and Black families in particular, it does come off as extreme,” Green said.
“We’ve been treated like criminals,” Rodney Jackson said. “This is a nightmare that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”
According to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, Black children have the highest risk of being involved in a CPS investigation (compared to white and Hispanic children).
“The seizure of a newborn baby from her caring parents reflects the harms inflicted by the child welfare system — what is more appropriately called a ‘family policing system,’” Dorothy Roberts, director of the Penn Program on Race, Science & Society, told Yahoo News.
“It targets Black families for investigation — (half of Black children will be subjected to a child welfare investigation before age 18) — and child removal and enlists armed police officers to assist caseworkers in separating families. It also turns doctors into state agents for reporting their suspicions of child maltreatment, which has been documented to be shaped by racism and to deter parents from trusting hospital care,” she said.
But if Mila’s condition worsened, experts say that Bhatt would have been held accountable. “If something happens to the baby, the baby gets brain damage, who’s accountable for that? It won’t be the midwife,” Green said.
Currently, Temecia Jackson is still breastfeeding to provide food for Mila during her visits with her child. CPS did not remove her other two children from their home.
“If there was any type of area of neglect, they would have removed all of the children,” Alexander said.
A court hearing is scheduled for April 20 to determine the next steps in this case. But advocates are saying that even if Mila is returned home soon, the events that unfolded over the last several weeks have been damaging.
“That mother and that family are going to have to seek healing because of this traumatic experience,” Collins said.