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Day-old baby among 400 FLDS kids in custody

Less than 48 hours after giving birth, Louisa Jessop says she and her newborn are being kept in state custody, separated from her husband and her two other children.  Jessop says she is 22 years old; authorities have classified her as a "disputed minor."
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Louisa Jessop's voice is small and precise and remarkably calm considering where she says she is calling from and what she's just been through.

On Monday, just a day earlier, the FLDS member and former resident of the Yearning for Zion ranch had given birth to a son, Richard, her third child. And now, she tells NBC News, she is in a small and bare room furnished with a foam mattress on the floor in a foster home in Austin, Texas. Her husband, Dan Jessop, is staying at a motel in town. Her other two children, Amber, 4, and Rolan, 2, are in a foster home under the custody of the Texas Child Protection Service (CPS).

"I would like to be with my children and my husband and live in a home where we can take care of them," she said in a telephone interview.

Louisa Jessop's children were among the more than 400 who were taken from the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints compound raided early last month by Texas law enforcement and CPS officials. She says she's 22 and has presented authorities with a driver's license and birth certificate to prove it. But CPS spokesman Chris Van Deusen told NBC that the department has classified her as a "disputed minor," the term used for an FLDS woman whose age has not been established to the department's satisfaction. Until her age is established, they are treating her as if she is a minor.

"They said I looked like I was under 18," she said.

And so Louisa Jessop is stuck. She's been told she can leave, but she has to leave her newborn son and her other two children in foster care. Or she can stay with her newborn son, but can no longer be with her other children.

Two police officers and two CPS officials were present to welcome Richard into his confused world at 11 a.m. Monday in an East Austin birthing center. Dan Jessop was allowed to visit immediately after the birth, but has not been told where Louisa and Richard are now staying.  He was served papers that said, "The newborn child of a child is in the state's custody."

Louisa also thought she would be separated from her newborn.

"They came here and told me they were going to take my little baby away from me," she said.

Before Louisa could be separated from Richard, the couple's attorney got a temporary restraining order to allow her to stay with him in the small room where both mother and infant sleep on the same mattress. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday to determine whether to continue the injunction.

Louisa Jessop stayed at the birthing center for just a few hours. By 9:30 p.m., she said, she was at a CPS office. From there she was taken to the foster home where she remains.

"The placement is appropriate and comfortable," the CPS spokesman told NBC.

In the meantime, the young woman says she is trying to improve her living quarters.

"I'm working on cleaning it up so we can have a healthy environment for the baby."

A reporter asked her what it's been like.

"I don't really know," she said. "I don't know — just quite the experience."

"Are you scared?"

A long silence followed. Finally, she said, "I'm not really scared because I know Heavenly Father will see us through."

Despite just having given birth, she says she's not uncomfortable. "I'm doing well myself. I feel like we've been a little abused by the CPS."

Van Deusen, the CPS spokesman, told NBC that the department is trying to determine the ages of all women who may be minors. Officials seized truckloads of records from the compound and have said that it has been very difficult just to sort out which children belong to which women. The commonality of surnames makes the task more difficult. After the raid, the department had said that it believed that 31 girls between the ages of 14-17 were either pregnant or mothers. At least one of those women has since been reclassified as being of legal age.

Louisa Jessop has contributed DNA for state-ordered testing and hopes that the question of her age is soon settled so that she can leave with her son. She said that she is Dan Jessop's only wife and that the couple had moved to the Eldorado ranch from the FLDS community on the Arizona-Utah border just a few months before the raid.

She said she was being treated kindly at the foster home, where a woman loaned her a cell phone so she could call NBC.

Within the FLDS community, Dan Jessop, 24, said, "Everybody has a strong interest in each other and everybody's children ... Out here nobody cares at all from one family to the next."

When Louisa Jessop was asked what she does to pass the time, she said, "Just taking care of my baby."