Erika Johnson will never be able to see her baby, Mikaela.
But for 57 days she couldn’t keep her newborn close, smell her baby’s breath, feel her downy hair.
The state took away her 2-day-old infant into protective custody — because Johnson and Mikaela’s father are both blind.
No allegations of abuse, just a fear that the new parents would be unable to care for the child.
On Tuesday, Johnson still couldn’t stop crying, although Mikaela was back in her arms.
“We never got the chance to be parents,” she said. “We had to prove that we could.”
Tuesday, she and Blake Sinnett knew their baby was finally coming home to their Independence apartment, but an adjudication hearing was scheduled for the afternoon on whether the state would stay involved in the rearing of the baby. Then from a morning phone call to their attorney, they learned that the state was dismissing their case.
“Every minute that has passed that this family wasn’t together is a tragedy. A legal tragedy and a moral one, too,” said Amy Coopman, their attorney. “How do you get 57 days back?”
Arleasha Mays, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Social Services, said privacy laws prohibited her from speaking about specific cases. But she added, “The only time we recommend a child be removed is if it’s in imminent danger.”
Johnson said she knew the system eventually would realize its horrible mistake, but she often was consumed with sadness. Sinnett tried his best to keep Johnson hopeful.
For almost two months she and Sinnett could visit their baby only two or three times a week, for just an hour at a time, with a foster parent monitoring.
“I’m a forgiving person,” Johnson said, but she’s resentful that people assumed she was incapable.
“Disability does not equal inability,” she said.
Representatives of the sightless community agreed that people were well-meaning but blinded by ignorance.
Mikaela was born May 21 at Centerpoint Medical Center of Independence. The doctors let Sinnett “see” her birth by feeling the crowning of her head.
For Johnson, hearing Mikaela’s whimpers was a thrill. The little human inside her all these months, the one who hiccupped and burped, who kicked and moved, especially at night, was now a real person whom she loved more than anything else she’d ever imagined.
In her overnight bag was Mikaela’s special homecoming outfit, a green romper from Johnson’s mother, with matching bottoms and a baby bow.
Questions arose within hours of Mikaela’s birth, after Johnson’s clumsy first attempts at breast-feeding — something many new mothers experience.
A lactation nurse noticed that Mikaela’s nostrils were covered by Johnson’s breast. Johnson felt that something was wrong and switched her baby to her other side, but not before Mikaela turned blue.That’s when the concerned nurse wrote on a chart: “The child is without proper custody, support or care due to both of parents being blind and they do not have specialized training to assist them.”
Her words set into motion the state mechanisms intended to protect children from physical or sexual abuse, unsanitary conditions, neglect or absence of basic needs being met.( Collapse )