After months of preparation and anticipation, nesting and building a nursery, buying baby gear and boning up on basic skills like diaper-changing and bathing, a Missouri couple was robbed of the joy of bringing their first child home from the hospital. State authorities swooped in and removed their two-day-old daughter, Mikaela, from Erika Johnson and Blake Sinnett, simply because they’re blind.
I cannot imagine the anguish Johnson and Sinnett must have gone through being forced to wait 57 days – the entire time having to fight for the right to their own child - before they could welcome their daughter home. How did this happen?
The Kansas City Star reports that, “after Johnson’s clumsy first attempts at breastfeeding… 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.” Witnessing a mother accidentally nearly suffocate her newborn is certainly cause for alarm. One would think the lactation nurse would have been prompted to sit with Johnson and brainstorm about ways she could make sure her breastfeeding was not asphyxiating her child – or better yet, recommend that bottle feeding might work best for the pair.
Instead, the nurse wrote on Johnson’s 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.” According to the Star, “Her words set into motion the state mechanisms intended to protect children from abuse, unsanitary conditions, neglect or absence of basic needs being met.”
Where was the rest of the hospital’s medical staff in all of this? Johnson’s OBGYN? Other nurses? It seems ludicrous to me that the prejudiced opinion of one lactation consultant should carry enough weight that it ultimately results in the removal of a child from her parents.
Centerpoint, the hospital where Johnson gave birth, claims patient welfare is its top priority, which reads as a rationale for having taken an infant away from her mother, but says nothing of their regard for Johnson herself. Or perhaps it says everything about how they see her, because she cannot see. A social worker told Johnson she would need “24-hour care by a sighted person at their apartment,” which Johnson claimed was an unnecessary expense. The social worker replied that because both Johnson and Sinnett are blind, they were unfit to take care of a child.
Johnson seems to want to put her terrible ordeal behind her, saying, “I’m a forgiving person,” but adding, “Disability does not equal inability.” The couple plans to pursue a lawsuit, in the hopes of preventing other disabled people from having to endure similar bias.