The Child-Abuse Contrarian

The New Yorker – by David Armstrong

In September, 2016, Jenn Thompson and her boyfriend, Robbie Ray, discovered that she was pregnant. They had met just over a month earlier, through the dating app Tinder, and quickly became inseparable. Robbie would stay at Jenn’s place several nights a week, and on the weekends they tailgated at football games. The pregnancy was unplanned, but both had recently turned thirty and were ready to start a family. When they went in for an ultrasound appointment, a technician pointed out two tiny circles on the screen: twins. They bought a baby Doppler and Robbie would hold the monitor on Jenn’s stomach so they could listen to the two hearts beating in tandem.  

They got married five months later, at the Lutheran church Jenn attended. Robbie moved into her house, in Columbia, South Carolina, across the street from her parents in a tightly packed development of modest, newish homes tucked behind a shopping complex. They converted the second bedroom into a nursery. Jenn found the crib she slept in as an infant and gave it a fresh coat of paint. The babies arrived more than a week early, by C-section—a boy first, and then a girl.

Over Memorial Day weekend, when the twins were three weeks old, half a dozen excited family members came to Jenn and Robbie’s home and took turns cradling the twins. The girl seemed particularly fussy. At times, she cried so hard that she seemed unable to catch her breath. Robbie later called it a “scary cry.” But the couple figured she was just colicky. Then, the following Tuesday, as Jenn was feeding her, she noticed swelling and bruising on the baby’s right leg. She told me that she called Robbie, who was at work, driving a truck for a uniform-supply company, to tell him that something was wrong. Jenn’s mother came over and told her to take the baby to the pediatrician. The same doctor had examined the twins just a week earlier and found them to be in good health. This time, he told Jenn to take the infant to the emergency room at nearby Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital immediately.

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