By Gaetane Borders
Take a moment and close your eyes. Just picture what it's like to spend 9 months anticipating the arrival of your newborn. Picture yourself buying baby furniture, onesies, and reading all the new mommy books you could buy. Then, picture this last scene...that hours after giving birth, the state takes custody of your newborn...simply because you are blind. This is exactly what happened in 2010 to Erika Johnson and Blake Sinnett of Missouri.
According reports, Johnson's first attempts at breast-feeding were clumsy. A nurse noticed that the baby's nostrils were covered by Johnson's breast. Johnson felt that something was wrong so she switched the baby to her other side....but not before the baby turned blue. Okay...Let me be the first to acknowledge just how serious this is. However, let me also share that my first attempts at nursing my 1st born were extremely clumsy! I was nervous and stressed...and it didn't help that my anti-breastfeeding mom stood over shouting "You're choking him!" (Insert strong Haitian accent) But I digress...
Reportedly, a nurse wrote in Johnson's chart: "The child is without proper custody, support or care due to both of (the) parents being blind, and they do not have specialized training to assist them." That's what it took to get the system involved. It would ultimately take 57 days before the young couple was allowed to reunite with their baby. The couple shared that they fielded questions from the social worker just as soon as the baby was born. Questions like... How could they take the baby's temperature? How would they get her to a doctor? Whatever solutions offered by the couple were not enough, and they were told that they would need 24-hour care by a sighted person at their apartment. However, the couple simply could not afford this type of assistance.
We live in a world where kids are abused, murdered, emotionally harmed, and molested by SIGHTED parents. Would my children be taken away from me if my husband and I suddenly lost our sight. What if both parents have amputated legs...or arms. You see where I'm going with this, right? Instead of breaking up the family, the state should have supported this young couple. Surely, they qualified for some kind of support!
Erika also appears to want to put this nightmarish ordeal behind her, saying, “I’m a forgiving person,” and added, "[My daughter] wasn't being abused or neglected, it was just because I was blind.” Her lawyer, agreed and stated "The real problem is not the physical loss of sight, it's the attitudes of the sighted public. It's an educational process." Indeed, it is.
It’s an educational process that would include making certain that people intervene at ALL times when there are signs of abuse and neglect. So often people look the other way and fail to protect children. In fact, just a few weeks ago 18-month-old Amir Jennings and his mother Zinah Jennings were reported missing by her parents. She later surfaced but has refused to tell authorities about her son’s whereabouts. There are some reports that indicate that she had been suffering from depression and had been physically abusive towards her son. Yet no one intervened.
These types of stories are numerous. That is why it troubled me so much to hear about something so horrible happened to this young couple who only wanted to love and care for their beautiful baby girl. I think Erika said it best when she told newspapers "I needed help as a new parent, but not as a blind parent."
Here is an online resource to better help understand why blindness, in and of itself, should not be considered a risk factor.
National Federation Of The Blind
Gaétane F. Borders is a School Psychologist and President of Peas In Their Pods, an organization that helps to spread awareness about missing children of color. She has dedicated her life to helping families and children, and is a noted child advocate. Gaétane often lends her expertise to various media outlets such as CBS, CNN, and FOX. In addition, she frequently contributes to magazines and newspapers.