Texas parents Temecia and Rodney Jackson have alleged that after they had a home birth and chose to treat their days-old child at home for jaundice, their pediatrician reported them to authorities, setting off a chain of events that led to Rodney Jackson’s brief arrest and the infant being placed in foster care.
The Jacksons, who have two older children and live in Desoto, a suburb of Dallas, elected to do a home birth after Temecia Jackson had two prior Cesarean sections, the couple’s midwife, licensed professional counselor Cheryl Edinbyrd, told CBS News. Edinbyrd said that she first began providing care to the Jacksons in September 2022 through The Tree of Life Wellness Center. Their daughter, Mila Jackson, was born on March 21, 2023.
The Jacksons declined to speak with CBS News, but Edinbyrd said that Mila was born at home in the family’s bathtub and described the birth as “beautiful.” There were no signs of jaundice within the first 24 hours, Edinbyrd said. The midwife, who said she has been present at over 100 births, said that there were follow-ups scheduled for three and five days after Mila was born.
On March 24, the Jacksons brought their daughter to the office of Dr. Anand Bhatt, their pediatrician of 12 years. In a press conference on Thursday, the Jacksons described the visit as for a “newborn checkup.”
“Within that visit, we were told ‘everything is good, she looks great, the only thing is she has jaundice,” said Temecia Jackson. Jaundice is fairly normal in newborns. “A couple hours later, the pediatrician called my phone and wanted us to admit Mila into the hospital.”
An affidavit filed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services states that Bhatt contacted the agency on March 25. DFPS investigator Brenda Martinez spoke with Bhatt and said that in an interview, he told her that a bilirubin test – which is used to find the cause of health conditions like jaundice, anemia, and liver disease – showed bilirubin levels of 21.7 milligrams. That level, Bhatt told Martinez, was “cause for a lot of concern” and could lead to brain damage, “because the bilirubin can cross the blood brain barrier.” According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website, any level over 20 milligrams in a baby of Mila’s age at the time would mean the baby needed treatment.
The DFPS said they could not comment on the case. A representative for the practice Bhatt works at declined to comment, citing patient confidentiality. Bhatt is a board-certified pediatrician who is also affiliated with Baylor Scott and White Medical Center and other local medical facilities.
Edinbyrd did not join the Jacksons at the pediatrician’s office, but said that Temecia Jackson called her shortly after they left the office to update her about the bilirubin levels because Edinbyrd was still their care provider. Edinbyrd told CBS News that she saw the bilirubin levels as “high” but not critical.
The Mayo Clinic website says that “mild infant jaundice” often disappears on its own, but warned that for “moderate or severe” cases, children may need to be hospitalized. Home jaundice remedies include enhanced nutrition, light therapy (also known as phototherapy) with specialty devices, or transfusions. Edinbyrd said the family had already ordered a blanket and goggles to provide light therapy. Phototherapy can be done at home or in hospitals. At home it is done using a blanket, also known as a biliblanket, that uses fiber optics to bathe the baby’s skin in light, according to instructions from Kaiser Permanente, a healthcare facility, for treating jaundice at home.
According to court documents, when Martinez spoke to Bhatt, he told her that after the Jacksons visited, he decided to secure a bed for Mila at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas and asked the family to bring her there. He said he told the family that he would call police for a welfare check if she did not arrive. In the press conference, Temecia Jackson said that she had received multiple calls and texts from the pediatrician, including a call at 11:00 p.m. on March 24 where Bhatt said they were “going against what he felt like we should do for her child” and warning the parents that he would call the Department of Family and Protective Services if they did not bring Mila to the hospital.
“We were woken up by police banging at our door”
Court documents show that at around 4 a.m. on March 25, Martinez and two Desoto police officers went to the Jacksons’ home. Rodney Jackson declined to speak with them without a “contract,” according to documents, and both Martinez and the officers left. Court documents say the welfare check’s “outcome” was “unknown.”
An hour later, according to Martinez’s notes in the affidavit filed by DFPS, Martinez returned to the home with officers, a fire truck and an ambulance to transport the child. Rodney Jackson again declined to open the door, and the officers departed the home again.
Documents show that a program director from DFPS approved removal of the four-day-old baby. A supervisor directed Martinez to take custody of Mila “due to her health being in immediate danger of serious long-term consequences.”
Following the visit, Rodney Jackson called Bhatt, saying he was “very upset” and that he and his wife planned to “take care of their baby naturally,” court documents show. He also reportedly told Bhatt that they “didn’t believe in modern medicine,” which, according to the DFPS affidavit, Bhatt said he understood. Their doctor did, however, once again urge them to go to the hospital.
In their press conference, the Jacksons said they felt “traumatized” by those first visits.
“We were traumatized. We were woken up by police banging at our door at 4:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m.,” Temecia Jackson said.
On March 30, officers returned to the home with a warrant. Rodney Jackson, who was not home at the time, was arrested upon his return. Court documents show he was charged with one count of possession of drug paraphernalia and one count of preventing the execution of a civil process. Desoto police did not respond to multiple requests for comment from CBS News.
The Jacksons and Edinbyrd said that when Rodney Jackson was detained, his keys were removed and police entered the home and took Mila from Temecia Jackson. Since then, the baby has been in foster care.
“I called my husband and let him know there’s police outside. He immediately turns around and comes back to the house. He’s met by six constables pretty much demanding that he let them into our home, and they had a writ,” Temecia Jackson said. “My husband said he would not be allowing them to go into the home but if they have a writ, they can do whatever it is they need to do. He made sure not to block our front door or anything like that. The constables chose to arrest my husband so that they could take his keys and use his keys to unlawfully enter my home and come and take my baby from me.”
Temecia Jackson said during the press conference that she feared her baby was “stolen” because the child does not yet have a birth certificate because she was born at home.
“This loving, caring family is terrified”
The warrant used to justify Mila’s removal does not list Temecia Jackson’s name: It names a different woman as the child’s mother, and lists a different man as the child’s legal father. Rodney Jackson is named as the baby’s “alleged” father. Edinbyrd, who was present at the birth, said Mila’s parentage is not in dispute and said that the family does not know the people on the form. CBS News is not naming the people on the document.
“They handed (Temecia) a writ that did not have her name on it … (The other woman) does not live there. They do not even know who (she) is,” Edinbyrd said. “But they took her baby with an affidavit that has (the other woman’s) name on it.”
The family was meant to have a hearing about their child on April 6, but it was postponed to April 20, two weeks later, because of confusion about who will represent the Jackson family. Edinbyrd said that Temecia Jackson has been able to see her child in supervised visits once a week.
The family’s two older children have not been removed from the home.
The Afiya Center, a reproductive and birth justice organization in Texas that is representing the Jacksons and organized their press conference, called the events a “direct attack on Black mothers and parents, Black families and midwifery – and Black midwives in particular” in a statement shared with CBS News.
“Our state already has a ruthless track record of removing Black kids from their homes, which has led to horrific results. Now this loving, caring family is terrified they’ll fall into that category,” the organization said. “We are devoted to improving maternal and infant health outcomes and families like the Jacksons. We support midwives and the immense role they play in promoting maternal and prenatal and infant health. We are outraged by this clear violation of this family’s rights to choose their health care options and we stand in solidarity with them.”