by Michelle D. Chan
The year was 1979. The place, Stanford Hospital. Jenny Quiles was given medication by doctors to halt the impending birth of her six-and-a-half-month-old baby. It’s too soon, doctors said – a sentiment which was true in more ways than one.
Jenny was only 18 years old and all alone in so many ways. Baby girl was coming into this world, whether or not the world was ready for her. It was late in the afternoon when Jenny felt like she urinated on herself. At the hospital she learned she was going into labor.
When she was in the room – that dreaded room, white walls, sterile operating room feel and smell. It was over 40 years ago, so Jenny doesn’t remember much, but she does remember that shiny metal instrument – the forceps. “Why would they use those tools to pull her out? She was so tiny, only 2-3 pounds, and her head was so small,” said Jenny.
Jenny wasn’t able to take her fragile baby home with her for another five months, and during those five months she had moved from the South Bay Area to San Francisco. Two months after bringing her baby home, she started having seizures, her little body from head-to-toe convulsing as if venom and electricity were simultaneously shooting through her minuscule veins.
During the convulsions, baby’s head blew up like birthday balloons and multi-colored excrement shot from her anus. When Jenny took the baby to the hospital – not Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto where the baby was born, but rather St. Luke’s Hospital in San Francisco – Jenny was accused of child abuse and neglect.
Not only was Jenny arrested, but she lost custody of her baby and was fired from her job at SFO airport. The baby had had fluid in its brain and St. Luke’s hospital staff cited the perfect cracks on parallel sides of the baby’s head as evidence.
“They never gave me a chance,” said Jenny. “And because I was so young, I had so little control over what was going on. The hospital, the police, and then CPS – none of them gave me a chance to prove myself, even though I didn’t do nothing to my baby.”
The whole process felt to Jenny like she was trapped in a vacuum and everything – her soul, her free will, her god-given and constitutional right to parent her own child – was being sucked from her. Jenny ended up losing her baby forever.
The trauma and loss and unanswered questions left within her an everlasting numbing throb. Everywhere she went, everything she did, was filled with emptiness and uncertainty.
If only I could tell you that the system was right, that the police and CPS intervention improved outcomes for this baby. But that is far from the truth.
When Jenny’s adoptive daughter found her decades later, Jenny learned that the adoptive mother was arrested for child abuse and neglect, that her baby girl was frequently left alone to fend for herself for weeks at a time growing up. According to her daughter, the adoptive mother was mean-spirited and rotten to the core.
They gave her to someone that didn’t even want her and was physically abusive.
“Something that especially shocked me was that my 30-year-old daughter, who is developmentally disabled, was raised white. She had no idea she was half-Black and half-Puerto Rican.” When Jenny speaks about this, the edges of her words curl up, then down, crackles and undulations of pain, of shock.
“They blamed me for something I didn’t do and never gave me the opportunity to prove myself. Only to give her to someone that didn’t even want her and was physically abusive.” So much evidence that should have exonerated the mother, and yet no one wanted to listen or consider her innocence.
Lisa Schindler is a neonatal intensive care unit nurse, a parental rights advocate and Contra Costa chapter leader of the Bay Area parents’ rights activist group California Families Rise. She shares her professional perspective as a tenured nurse working every day on the front lines providing care to newborns who are premature, sick and fighting for their lives:
“This baby had multiple risk factors including extreme prematurity; it likely suffered significant birth trauma that led to fluid in its brain, which is referred to as hydrocephalus. The fact that the cracks in the baby’s head were ‘perfect’ and bilateral, it makes me think it’s from the use of forceps during delivery.
“Since this baby was a micro-preemie, that puts it at risk for lifelong and life-threatening complications for the rest of its life. Even the slightest movement can cause brain bleeds. Their skin is not completely formed and even the slightest movement of the head is very dangerous. We don’t dry them and they have to be treated as if they’re fine china.
Child welfare in America has a dark history rooted in slavery and eugenics.
“It’s a miracle that this micro-preemie even survived a forceps birth. But regardless, even in the absence of instrument trauma, the baby was still at risk for skull abnormalities due to complications of the extreme prematurity.
“Babies have sutures, so if there is any trauma during the delivery, especially if baby has hydrocephalus, over time the baby will get swelling which puts pressure on the suture line. The pressure can cause cracks and gaps along the sutures line. It can occur during delivery and it can go unrecognized.
“I think what happened to this mother is so tragic. They didn’t have electronic records in 1979 and when she brought her baby into a different hospital, the doctors there had no way of knowing the traumatic birth record. The birth record, a CT scan or MRI – these all could have cleared her of abuse. Except back then and on that day, doctors didn’t have access to the technologies that could have exonerated this mother.”
Systemic oppression and bias and the erasure of roots, race
Imagine this baby had been born not just in a different time, but also to different parents from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, with higher levels of education and older in age. Can you see what I see?
Had this not been a low-income teenage mother of color, perhaps rather than immediately assuming the worst, other possibilities would have been explored. The doctors might have asked questions. The doctors might have learned of this baby’s complicated and traumatic birth record. Perhaps a young mother would not have lost her baby, her job, her ability to feel pure and simple joy.
Child welfare in America has a dark history rooted in slavery and eugenics. To remove children of color from their families, their communities, their cultures, and then place them with white families in such a way that their ethnic origins are erased, can be compared to warlord practices of raping and impregnating enemy races for the purpose of diluting bloodlines.
The system is snatching babies from good, loving families for federal funding.
The extermination of race and culture by child welfare in America was one of the premises behind the creation of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978, which gave tribal governments exclusive jurisdiction over Native American children who previously were being sent by child protection agencies to boarding schools where they were stripped of cultural and social connections.
Moreover, child welfare works together with law enforcement to oppress poor, marginalized communities who don’t have the bandwidth to fight back. They are bullies, and Jenny Quiles’ story is a perfect example of this.
And though what happened to Jenny happened in 1979, not only is this abuse of power criminalization of poor families of color still ongoing, but it has gotten worse thanks to the expansion of the child welfare system by federal legislation such as the Adoption and Safe Families Act.
Families in Resistance: Fighting back against injustice and corruption
It’s time to fight back against CPS and police bullying. The system is snatching babies from good, loving families for federal funding. There is no accountability, no transparency, no oversight and caseworkers do not need evidence to remove children from their homes.
That’s right: Children can lose everything they have ever known and loved based on allegations and biases alone. In order to create real and lasting change in these systems, those who have been impacted must stand together to demand change.
Families in Resistance is a newly formed coalition of parent-led grassroots groups to fight together and take back power from the child welfare, family courts, and Department of Child Support Services. Members of the coalition include but are not limited to: California Families Rise, POOR Magazine/PrensaPobre, New Beginnings Family Services, Commission on Judicial Performance Reform Project, CPS News Network and Family Court Anti-Corruption Coalition.
Families in Resistance is holding an exciting protest and rally on Wednesday, May 19, 2021, with the intention of pushing this issue into the mainstream. Find details at www.facebook.com/events/486553429446763. The event is in San Jose and will start promptly at 11:00 a.m. at St. James Park at North 2nd Street. After the rally, the group will protest the Family Justice Courthouse where custody cases are heard.
Michelle D. Chan is a writer, activist, founder and executive director of California Families Rise. For advocacy or peer support and to find out about protests and rallies, BBQs, meetings and policy reform efforts visit CaliforniaFamiliesRise.com or email Michelle at MichelleChan219@gmail.com. To find out more about the Families in Resistance coalition, visit FamiliesResist.com. Please follow California Families Rise on FB: facebook.com/CaliforniaFamiliesRise; Instagram: @CaFamilieRise; Twitter: @CaFamilies.