Gina Hodgkins's son Teddy was born on July 9, 2016, and one of the first things Hodgkins observed about her little bundle of joy was the peculiar marks on his skin.
My beautiful baby boy 💙💙💙 pic.twitter.com/veBudf3wio
— gina hodgkins (@ginahodgkins) October 10, 2016
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Hodgkins explained she noticed them when her mother went to hold the baby:
“When my mum took him for a cuddle, she said he looked a bit bruised. There were marks on his arms as well.”
The nurse explained to the second-time mom the marks were probably a result of the birthing process but Hodgkins still found them strange:
“The nurse reassured me it was normal, and was a result of him getting a bit squashed during delivery. But it hadn’t been a forceps birth, so I was surprised.”
As the Daily Mail reports, the marks faded over the course of a few weeks but two distinct bruises remained: a bruise on either side of the baby's cheeks. Hodgkins saw the bruises appear after she cupped Teddy's face in her hand to relieve his colic.
This boy 😍 pic.twitter.com/ycxfwCwTED
— gina hodgkins (@ginahodgkins) February 16, 2017
At the newborn's six-week checkup, Hodgkins pointed out the bruises to a nurse as worrisome:
“I was taking him to be weighed at six weeks old and the health visitor asked if I had any concerns. I showed her the bruises and she said: 'Yes, I was about to ask you what they were.'”
Teddy's two small bruises ended up causing him and his six-year-old half-sister, Amelia, to be taken away from Hodgkins and her partner, Joshua Sparkes.
Me and the princess 💕 pic.twitter.com/SwxDjESpLt
— gina hodgkins (@ginahodgkins) June 22, 2014
As the couple recounted to the Daily Mail, the nurse tending to Teddy told Hodgkins she had contacted social services and the police, and to go home and wait.
Sparkes arrived home a short time later and within an hour, two police officers and seven social workers were at their door.
Hodgkins, who had been sleeping, showed the baby's bruises to police, who then announced they were arresting Hodgkins on suspicion of bodily harm:
“I cried all the way to the police station. All I could think was: 'What the hell is going on?'”
Teddy was taken to the hospital for an examination, where Sparkes tried to explain that the baby seemed to bruise easily:
“I told them Teddy was born with red marks covering his limbs and that he had a bleed on the eye when he was born — another symptom of easy bruising — but they didn’t listen.”
Sparkes too was arrested on suspicion of child abuse. As he told the Daily Mail:
“They put me in handcuffs in the hospital and walked me out through [the emergency room]. It was horrible. People were staring at me. In the police car back to the station, I was shaking with anger and shock.”
By the time the couple was released from jail the following morning, their two children were already in foster care. Hodgkins and Sparkes were banned from seeing them and from having contact with any child under the age of 16 for two weeks.
So much love for my girl 💕🌸 pic.twitter.com/EGE1YVXpZJ
— gina hodgkins (@ginahodgkins) May 29, 2016
Eventually, the couple was given supervised visits with their children for one hour once a week. For five months, the parents were separated from their children:
“It was awful. We didn’t want to cry in front of the children, but when they left, we blubbed our eyes out. I was always worried Teddy wouldn’t recognise me the next time he saw me, and Amelia would kick and scream when it was time to go.”
Sparkes revealed the toll the separation took on his family, in particular, the children's mother:
"There were a couple of times I had to ask her mum to come round and calm her down because she had become hysterical.
She would say: 'I can’t do this any more. I can’t live without my children.' She’d recently given birth and now her baby had been wrenched away from her.
Trying to explain to Amelia why she couldn’t come home was very hard. We just said the authorities had to find out where Teddy’s bruises came from and when they found out, she’d be able to come home."
As the Daily Mail reports, a conversation with Hodgkins's mother ultimately led to the parents regaining custody of their children. Pauline informed her daughter of a “family history of bruising” and that Hodgkins and her siblings bruised easily as children as well. Hodgkins's mother suggested Teddy undergo testing for a genetic condition.
Beautiful boy💙 pic.twitter.com/Qou34xxmlc
— gina hodgkins (@ginahodgkins) January 26, 2015
A test confirmed that Teddy and Gina carried a gene for Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic condition affecting connective tissue such as joints, skin, and blood vessel walls, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms often include overly flexible joints with frequent joint pain and dislocations, and stretchy, flexible skin that doesn't heal well. Parents with EDS have a 50 percent chance of passing the condition to their children, the medical website reports.
On January 25, 2017, the alleged case of child abuse against the parents was dropped by social services with a consultant pediatrician concluding “the most plausible explanation” for the baby's bruised cheeks was “an increased predisposition to bruising,” reports the Daily Mail.
This isn't the first time a family has been wrongly accused of child abuse after their baby presented symptoms of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. As Dearly previously reported, Rebecca Wanosik's five children were removed from her and her husband's care after taking their nine-week-old infant to the hospital for a “popping noise” and noticeable arm pain.
The parents were reported to Child Protective Services (CPS) after it was determined the baby had a broken arm and three fractured ribs. The Wanosiks spent nine months trying to prove their innocence and reunite their family before it was determined their baby had been born with rickets, a vitamin D deficiency, and EDS.
The physician who performed the examination, Dr. Michael F. Holick, revealed the baby's injuries were likely caused during childbirth, although they could have occurred from simply being moved in the crib.
Wanosik now works with Fractured Families, an organization advocating on behalf of parents accused of child abuse from their children's unexplained fractures.
According to the Atlantic, since 2008 the number of referrals to child protective services in the United States has increased by 8.3 percent, although the rate of actual child victimization has decreased by 3.3 percent.
For Hodgkins and Sparkes, who were cleared of alleged child abuse, although their children are back with mom and dad there is little recompense for the “frightening” ordeal they went through.
As Hodgkins told the Daily Mail: “My son and daughter were taken away from me when I did nothing wrong. I lost five months’ bonding during a formative time in their lives. I can never get that back.”