The police literally ripped 14 month old Levi from his mother’s breast, reports Erica May Carey, as she was nursing him in the car at a California gas station. Her baby was screaming, and she says her breast was exposed as the officers dragged her from the car. As she recounted the events of last Thursday, Erica began weeping, saying that she was “hogtied like an animal, when moments before I was nursing my infant.” She was arrested and jailed for fighting to keep her children with her.
Watch the video here from King 5 News:
Erica and Cleave Rengo were the subject of national interest as reports of them fleeing Washington CPS made the headlines. Last November, the holistic, devoutly Christian couple’s three breastfed babies were taken amidst accusations of neglect for choosing alternative remedies such as calendula and coconut oil for their older baby’s eczema and preferring not to take their newborn twins to the hospital after an unassisted homebirth, even though they were reportedly healthy.
After a court hearing and huge public outcry, the babies were returned home in December. It had been a grueling month of separation, and their return came with strings attached. They were being watched, and reportedly had a number of conditions placed upon them in order to be permitted to parent Levi, and the twins, 4 month old Daniel and Morna Kai.
Erica recently spoke exclusively with Medical Kidnap to tell their side of the story and why they left Washington.
Neighbor Calls Cops Over Crying Baby
Erica and Cleave live with Cleave’s father in one side of a town home with thin walls dividing them from their neighbors. The couple was trying to get the babies back into a good breastfeeding routine, something that had been disrupted by the babies’ stay in foster care. Erica says that Daniel, one of the twins, had been seriously overfed formula while in state care, gaining an average of 4 oz per day.
According to the well-respected mommy blog kellymom, normal weight gain for a baby his age is 5 to 7 oz per week. Feeding was especially rough for Daniel, and he reportedly showed signs of PTSD when feeding. One night in particular, he was having a really tough night and was crying a lot. The next-door neighbor reportedly called the police on them, and they came out over the disturbance of a crying baby.
Added Stress From CPS
Life with three small children can be stressful and chaotic in the best of circumstances, as many mothers will attest. Cleave and Erica had the added stress of dealing with CPS watching over their shoulder, and the loss of Cleave’s job over the whole ordeal. Erica says that they were “severely repressed by the system in Bellingham.” CPS reportedly told them that no one could visit them in their home, to help them or any other reason, without CPS approval. Even though a number of people applied, only one person had allegedly been approved.
A social worker would sometimes drop by unannounced to check on the children, but inevitably, like Murphy’s law, that would happen during naptime. Yet, she would reportedly pound loudly on the door instead of knocking, waking the sleeping children and “creating chaos” in the house.
Decision to Get Away and De-stress
There were family members who had never met the children who were less than supportive. Cleave and Erica tell us that they had for some time been discussing making a trip to visit some family and friends in California, in the hope that they would be able to gain their support once they met the babies and could sit down and talk.
They knew that their next court hearing was not until February 10, so it seemed like a good idea at the time to get away for a few days, and go visit some relatives and friends. They were scared, and they were under a great deal of pressure.
Erica reports that they were never told that they could not travel out of state. There was nothing saying that in the paperwork, either. They believed that, as long as they were back for the next scheduled court date, they would be fine. They could just get away for a little while to de-stress and regroup. They left on Tuesday, January 27.
It was after they were on the road and quite a distance from home that word reached them that there were news reports saying they were fleeing CPS. They heard rumors of an Amber Alert, and that they were accused of kidnapping their children.
According to the Daily Mail, there was not actually an Amber Alert, but a “Be On The Lookout” warning was issued to police across the West Coast, while local news outlets also ran the notice. The day after Cleave and Erica left their home, CPS obtained an order to take the children into custody, reports the Bellingham Herald.
Plans to visit family and friends changed when they heard the reports, Erica reports. They did not want to endanger anyone by showing up on their doorstep, so they actually turned around and were headed back to Washington when they were sighted and apprehended at a gas station on Thursday, February 5.
Erica Arrested and Babies Taken Into Custody
Erica says that she was nursing her oldest baby in their car at the Santa Cruz gas station when police came and tore Levi away from her breast, dragging her out of the car. She describes the whole ordeal as devastating as they took her children away, leaving her bruised physically and emotionally:
“That is not justice; that is brutality to an innocent mother and father.”
As she was arrested for refusing to cooperate with the authorities, she reportedly shouted out to reporters:
“Send a message to America for me. Children don’t belong to the government. The government belongs to the people.”
While authorities flew Levi and the twins to Washington to be placed in foster homes, the breastfeeding mother of three spent the weekend in a Santa Cruz county jail. She was released Monday on her own recognizance. The couple is now making their way back to Washington.
There was a hearing scheduled for Tuesday morning, but the judge has ruled that they will reconvene in 7 days, on Tuesday, February 17.
Addressing Rumors and Accusations
There are a number of things that have circulated in the media about their story that Cleave and Erica told us they wanted to clear up.
One of the reasons that CPS gave for becoming involved in their lives allegedly centers on the twins being “too skinny.” Erica says that the charts that the babies’ weight has been judged by are based on single births, not twins, who are commonly smaller than their singleton counterparts at birth and as they grow in the first several months. The babies were born at 37 weeks, and for being twins at that gestational age, their birth weights were normal. They were gaining weight, and she was working to build an adequate milk supply, supplementing as necessary. However, she chose goat’s milk formula over conventional formula, because she believed it to be healthier based on her research, but the social worker apparently did not approve of that choice.
Some news stories have reported that Levi was suffering from ear infections, pneumonia, and eczema, which were untreated. However, the couple point out that the ear infections and pneumonia occurred AFTER Levi was taken from home, placed into foster care, and given formula. They chose to treat the eczema with natural remedies, such as calendula and coconut oil, and they were helping, Erica reports. They did not want to subject Levi to the risks of steroids, except as a last resort.
There have been allegations that Cleave is abusive to Erica, and Erica wants to put that rumor to rest. They are certainly passionate people, but that is not the same thing. Erica says that she was raised in a family with a flair for the dramatic, with an opera singer and actress in the household. Besides that, she reminds, life can get emotional with 3 children in less than a year.
“Cleave does not abuse me. We certainly have our share of disagreements, like all normal couples do. We are a young couple with three babies. But I am CERTAINLY not an abused wife.”
Erica insists that Cleave is her best friend and that they are deeply in love. Others who know them have attested to this as well. Theirs is a romantic love story, she says, which happened after an intense time of prayer and seeking the Lord. They said their vows before God, and Levi was conceived that very night. They consider themselves married, even though the State has not sanctioned their marriage by issuing them a “marriage license.”
The Love of Parents for Their Children
They also deeply love their children. They want the very best for them, seeking holistic, natural remedies, breastfeeding, and giving them all the love they have to give. Erica tells us:
“When I am with my babies, that is when I am the happiest. We are good parents, and we take care of our kids the best way we possibly can.”
Their hope and prayer is that the judge will see that love, and will see how CPS has traumatized an innocent family, causing the very harm that they are supposed to prevent.
Original story on MedicalKidnap here. (Over 1.5 million views with over 1 million shares on Facebook.)
NOTE: There is no official Facebook Page at the time of publication endorsed by Cleave and Erica. We will link to one here as soon as one is established, which will then have details from the parents as to how you can support them.