A devoutly Christian couple from Washington whose three young children were taken away from them by Child Protective Services (CPS) after an unassisted home birth, had them returned on Friday but under strict conditions.
One-year-old Levi and 2-month-old twins Morna Kai and Daniel were reunited with their relieved parents Erica May Carey and Cleave Rengo after being removed from the family home for two months. A Whatcom County Superior Court commissioner agreed to give the couple, who believes in a holistic lifestyle, a "second chance" so long as they abide by his orders to alter their parenting methods.
Carey and Rengo, who have a common-law marriage, made headlines in Sept. when they accused the state of Washington of unlawfully removing their then-newborn twins and 10-month-old son over their decision to deliver the twins inside their Bellingham apartment. They opted not to have a midwife present or have prenatal medical care and the decision was attributed to their strong religious beliefs.
"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 told the Bellingham Herald. "It was just us. We wanted to preserve that sanctity and sacredness in our birth."
Although CPS denied that the unassisted home birth influenced its decision to remove the children from the home, the couple's story sparked outrage with many criticizing the decision to remove breastfed babies from their mother.
A Facebook page created to help reunite the family with their children garnered more than 5,000 likes.
Ultimately, the state said that all three children were removed over health and domestic concerns, according to reports.
"This is about second chances because you blew the first one," Commissioner Thomas Verge told the couple, although he also said he recognized the "love you both have for your children."
Carey never had an ultrasound, fearing that doing so could cause damage to her womb and subsequently, the couple only learned that they were having twins during the birth.
Concerned neighbors reportedly called 911 after hearing Carey's birthing cries while she was delivering the twins, which resulted in paramedics showing up at the one-bedroom apartment the couple shares with Rengo's father, Bruce Rengo.
The couple refused to travel with paramedics to the hospital after it was suggested they go and get the twins checked out. A day later, CPS showed up and made several visits to the home thereafter.
During one particular visit, officers noticed Levi's eczema and the couple's refusal to treat it using steroid creams as opposed to their preferred natural ointments did not sit well with authorities. The couple claims they were bullied by CPS, who insisted that they use the steroid cream on their child.
"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 of the steroid creams, with Rengo adding "They wanted the authority in my household. I told them, 'I'm a Christian and God gave me the authority in my household.'"
Assistant Attorney General Rob Olson told the Washington court that law enforcement had been in contact with the couple 21 times since 2013.
Among the many concerns about the couple's home life (which led to the removal of their three children), was a past domestic violence arrest on Rengo's part; refusal to provide the children medical treatment; the twins being underweight and Bruce Rengo's mental health issues.
An attorney for Carey and Rengo defended their parenting skills and said any concerns are "primarily speculative."
"Most of the safety risk is primarily speculative," said attorney Christina Nelson-King. "Parents have a Constitutional right to parent as they see fit."
Under Verge's conditions, the couple is permitted to continue with their holistic lifestyle, however; they must regularly check in with a pediatrician. They must also seek counseling in a bid to improve their parenting skills and he also urged them to find their own place as soon as possible, as he believes a one-bedroom is far too small for the family.
"As new parents, you two need help to learn how to parent better," he told the couple.
In a statement, the state Children's Administration, which CPS is a part of, said it accepts Verge's ruling.
"We accept this ruling and will work with the family to provide them with services aimed at helping keep the children safe in their home," the state Children's Administration said.