Couple fights for custody of children after home birth
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Erica May Carey and Cleave Rengo haven't applied for a Washington state marriage license, but they said their vows before God.
"We just prayed and invited God to bless our relationship so we'd have a family built on a firm foundation," Rengo said.
They'd only known each other a matter of hours before they decided to spend their lives together. Soon after, they conceived their first son.
Almost immediately after his birth, Carey was pregnant again. This time, the couple's Christian beliefs influenced their decision to have an unassisted home birth.
"I've done a lot of research about other women who have done it and they said the spiritual experience was so much more wholesome," Carey said. "It was just us. We wanted to preserve that sanctity and sacredness in our birth."
To preserve the sacred space of her womb, Carey never even had an ultrasound. It wasn't until immediately after the birth of their second son that the couple realized a twin daughter was on the way.
"I said, 'Erica look!' and she looked at her belly. There was an outline of a small baby in her belly. That's when I discovered we were having twins," Cleave remembered.
The young couple now had three children, all under the age of one year. Erica breastfed all three. Soon after, however, paramedics showed up when someone reported the birth.
According to Carey and Rengo, the paramedics suggested taking the newborns to the hospital for a check up, but they refused, worrying about the twins' health with fragile immune systems among patients fighting disease.
The next day, CPS showed up for the first of several visits.
Officers noticed the 10-month-old's eczema, the couple says, which they treated with natural remedies like probiotics and coconut oil.
They say CPS pushed them to switch to steroid creams, which the couple refused as well.
"It's a very harsh treatment and can have very negative side effects. It can cause damage to bones, the muscular system and liver," Carey said.
"They wanted the authority in my household. I told them, 'I'm a Christian and God gave me the authority in my household'," Rengo said.
Soon after, CPS took all 3 children.
In a petition filed Tuesday, the couple's attorney calls the seizure "unlawful, unconscionable, and inexcusable." Though there were calls to the home about domestic issues prior to the children's birth, the petition claims no evidence of "clear and present danger," rather that CPS is trying to impose their standards of "proper parenting."
Except now, as the petition continues, the couple's oldest son not only has eczema, he is also "suffering from pneumonia" while in state custody.
"That's our flesh and blood," Carey said.
Rengo and Carey missed their son's first birthday last week, and they see their children only once a week.
"Every time it's like torment to my soul when they pull them away from my breasts," Carey cried. "Those are my babies. They're our children. They have no right to them."
DSHS sent the following statement to KING 5:
"Due to confidentiality, we cannot discuss details, except to say that a court determined a child's safety required removal from the home.
No policy of Children's Administration would allow a child to be taken due to a home birth. A home birth is not in any way a child safety risk factor in the view of Children's Administration."