Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler had quite the surprise when she gave birth to an unexpected child. But there was a bigger shock in store when the state of Oregon found out that they were starting a family. Indeed, the Redmond couple’s ability to parent was even called into question. And that was all down to the fact that the pair have below-average IQs.
Fabbrini, 31, and Ziegler, 38, have a combined IQ of 138: Ziegler’s IQ is 66, while Fabbrini’s is 72. By contrast, the average IQ ranges from 90 to 110. And although neither is in work at the moment, they do have their own home. Ziegler’s parents have a three-bedroom house that the couple live in – his mom and dad reside out of state.
Before meeting Ziegler, though, Fabbrini had twins with a previous partner. And after the divorce, she was granted shared custody of the boys. They spent their time with her at her parents’ home. However, Fabbrini’s mother looked after the twins on the whole. And following her mom’s passing from Alzheimer’s, Fabbrini was left to care for them without support.
But if her mother’s death and two young children were not enough to cope with, Fabbrini had another surprise coming. Namely, the kidney pains she had been having turned out to be the late stages of pregnancy. She told The Oregonian in July 2017, “Here and there I have kidney issues, so I just thought I was having kidney issues, that’s what I associated the pain with.”
Fabbrini added to the newspaper, “I was trying to go to sleep and trying to get comfortable… and I felt this weird pain down there.” Those pains turned out to be Christopher, to whom she gave birth at Ziegler’s home. And after a quick trip to hospital, mom and baby got the all-clear: they were both in good health.
But not everyone was happy. Fabbrini’s dad Raymond, for instance, had no confidence in Fabbrini’s ability to be a mom. In fact, he was even quoted by The Oregonian as saying, “[Amy] doesn’t have the instincts to be a mother.” As a result, he suggested having Christopher adopted.
And while Fabbrini did take her son home from the hospital, other relations then contacted the authorities with concerns about the baby’s wellbeing. So the state stepped in, and Christopher went into foster care. He has not been with Fabbrini and Ziegler since his birth.
The state said that the parents had “limited cognitive abilities that interfere with [their] ability to safely parent the child.” Child welfare services also claimed that people had said Ziegler had “been sleeping with the baby on the floor and almost rolled over on him.” But Ziegler asserted that he had just been feeding Christopher at that time.
Some respite may have come when Ziegler and Fabbrini had their second son together. Hunter was born in February 2017. But, unfortunately, they weren’t even able to get him out of the hospital before the authorities took him away from them and placed him with foster parents.
However, the couple did not take losing their kids lying down. Both graduated from high school, and Ziegler has a driver’s license. They are convinced they can make good parents, and they’ve spent four years in court trying to prove it.
To aid their case, they have taken parenting classes. The couple have also studied first aid, CPR and nutrition. They have even installed a nursery in their home in the hope that one day their boys will return.
And in the meantime, Ziegler and Fabbrini can visit both children if supervised by a suitable third person. Sherrene Hagenbach has overseen meetings between the couple and Christopher and, apparently, has doubts about the rulings made by child protection services. She told The Oregonian, “They are saying [Fabbrini and Ziegler] are intellectually incapable without any guidelines to go by.”
Meanwhile, Fabbrini’s aunt, Lenora Turner, was approved by the state to chaperone the couple when they spend time with Hunter. And, in contrast to Fabbrini’s father, Turner believes that the family should be reunited.
Turner explained her position to The Oregonian, saying, “I go to the grocery store and I see other people with their children and they’re standing up in the grocery cart… and I think, how come they get to keep their children? How do they decide whose child they’re going to take and whose child can stay?”
Turner also explained to the newspaper that Fabbrini certainly has the wherewithal to fight for her family. “[Fabbrini is] a strong person, because she’s going through all this and most of the family turned their back on her. She is a strong young lady, determined, and I’ve always seen that in her.” She added, “When [Fabbrini] had something in mind, she was determined to make it happen.”
Without a change in Oregon’s laws on parental rights, though, Christopher and Hunter will remain in foster care. Nevertheless, Fabbrini and Ziegler may have a useful ally in the form of Oregon State Senator Tim Knopp. He told The Oregonian that he would get behind a bill that stopped the government from taking a child just because its parent was disabled.
Furthermore, Knopp doesn’t see a problem with the pair’s parenting. He added, “My impression of them is that they were just like any other couple. They were trying to be successful in life, just like anyone else would be. And they wanted to be together as a family. I didn’t see any issues when I met with them that would automatically disqualify them from being good parents.”
And some research seems to support Fabbrini and Ziegler’s case. Apparently, low IQ does not correlate with a person’s ability to parent, as long as the IQ is over 50. And the couple’s attorney Aron Perez-Selsky explained in court, “A cognitively impaired parent can still parent. Their rights cannot be terminated simply because they suffer from cognitive impairment, so long as they are able to put together a plan for how they’re going to safely care for their kids with the support of people in the community.”
The state of Oregon will not say anything about the case because of confidentiality issues. But it refers to court documents that say that there were other problems in the Fabbrini-Ziegler household, too. In them, for example, welfare reports say that Ziegler “often forgets to feed his dog.” However, Ziegler has denied this claim, asserting instead that the dog is well-fed and healthy.
And the pair continue to try to reunite their family, believing that putting their boys in foster care was wrong. As Fabbrini told Oregon station KTVZ in July 2017, “They’re thinking that because we have this disability, we can’t safely parent our children. We personally think that IQ shouldn’t have anything to do with it, as long as you have the abilities of being able to support your child, being able to care for your child.”