Brittainy Labberton knows what it's like to be teased because of her weight. At 5'5" and only 108 lbs., "I've been made fun of my whole life for being too skinny," she says. "I don't have eating disorders-I have a very fast metabolism." Her husband, Sam, 24, meanwhile, has also endured taunts about his body, which tends toward the overweight end of the scale. "The world we live in," he says, "is cruel."
It was in the hope of sparing their daughters-Aisling, 18 months, and Echo, 2-that the Bellevue, Wash., couple kept a close eye on the young girls' weights. "I don't want them to struggle," Labberton says. But local officials believe the couple went too far: On Feb. 1 prosecutors charged each of the Labbertons with one count of criminal mistreatment after the state's Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) determined that Aisling "was failing to thrive"-due to, among other factors, not being fed enough. Among the evidence being presented is a claim that on Jan. 23, 2009, the Labbertons laced Aisling's baby bottle with a laxative, something the couple vehemently denies doing. "I don't even own laxatives! I didn't put nothing in the bottle but water," says Labberton, 21, adding, "We are really good parents, but we're young. That's our only mistake."
Court papers indicate otherwise. Aisling was nearly 2 months old in October 2008 when social services removed her from the Labberton home after the family's doctor voiced concern that "the child wasn't putting on weight," says Sherry Hill, DSHS's spokeswoman. After just two months in foster care, Aisling had gone from 6 lbs. 11 oz. to 13 lbs. 7 oz.-but the prosecution claims that when the Labbertons received this update on Dec. 4, 2008, "Brittainy Labberton did not express happiness about the baby's weight gain. Instead, Brittainy complained, 'Oh my God, she's fat' and 'I have a fat baby.'"
The very next day, the Labbertons' older daughter, Echo, was also placed in foster care-and she too exhibited behavior indicative of having been malnourished. During her first meals with foster parents, Echo "was ravenously hungry, eating so fast she choked on her food," court papers say.
Labberton admits she found fault in Aisling getting heavier but insists it was because "gaining too much too quickly can really hurt a child's health. We were like, 'Oh no. This is scary.'" It's that attitude, prosecutors say, that raised a red flag last January, following a supervised visit the Labbertons had with Aisling. "The foster parent noticed that the formula bottle that came back with the infant smelled funny," the DSHS's Hill says, adding the bottle was sent for testing, and it was found that "there was probable laxative in it," prompting an investigation by police.
With the Labbertons scheduled to appear in court for a pretrial hearing in April (the couple face up to a year in prison), Aisling and Echo will remain in foster care for the foreseeable future, with their parents continuing to receive supervised visits totaling eight hours a week. "We're scared," Labberton admits. "But we know what we would never do to our kids. We love our girls to death. I didn't starve my child, you know?"