Leaving your child in the care of someone you trust is everything when you're a parent. It's why you agonize over day care ratings and ask for endless babysitter recommendations before you can comfortably drop off your kiddo and head out the door without worrying. But what if the people you entrusted your child with each and every day crossed a boundary that literally left you speechless? That's precisely what Stephanie Hanna says she experienced after picking her 15-month-old son, Westley, from Happy Kids Pre-school & Daycare in Shingle Springs, California. The incident was so scarring, she's pushing for legislation to ensure it doesn't happen to another parent or child.
That's when she swung into Happy Kids to pick up her son and spotted two of his teachers standing at the end of the hall, talking. Moments later, one of them said something that stopped her in her tracks.
“He’s obsessed with boobs!” one teacher allegedly said to the other.
They both laughed, but quickly noticed Stephanie approaching -- which led one of them to hesitate for a moment.
Then she told Stephanie, “Okay, I was feeding [my baby] and he [Westley] was staring at me so I was like, ‘Well, just stick it in there and see what he does.’"
At this point, Stephanie noted, the teacher paused while waiting for the mom to react. Then she continued.
"He had some on his lip and was like [licked her bottom lip slowly], but he liked it!” the teacher said.
Stephanie tells CafeMom that she was at a loss for words.
"Then they both looked at me, to which I tried to act as normal as possible, because I was so shocked by what she had just told me," the California mom recalls. "So I continued signing Westley out and then looked up and said to them, 'Well, he likes food ... '"
At this point, Hanna says the other teacher burst into laughter and turned toward the kitchen.
"He's gonna grow up liking brown women and not know why!" she said while walking away.
Stephanie says she was so taken aback by the whole thing, she wasn't quite sure of how to react.
After all, it wasn't as if she didn't know these women. In fact, she'd known them for years -- ever since her older daughter, Josie, began attending the day care from age 2 through kindergarten.
Stephanie doesn't have anything against breastfeeding -- in fact, she breastfed both of her children. But the story the teachers were relaying was unsettling, to say the least. And something about the way in which they talked about it was especially jarring.
"I felt violated and disturbed by the sexual comments made about the incident, and that this teacher told me she put her breast in my son's mouth, he ingested her breast milk, and acted like it was totally fine," Stephanie says, looking back on the incident.
Stephanie immediately confided in her mother about what happened.
"I went over to my mother’s house right after leaving the day care and told her what had happened, and she was surprised the teacher would do that," Stephanie tells us. "But she also said that breast milk is food and there are milk donors out there."
Westley’s father, Cooper, was less willing to let it roll. Understandably upset, he immediately reached out to the day care director, who promised to handle the matter and call Hanna immediately.
According to Hanna, that phone call never came.
As time passed, the mother grew increasingly concerned, after nothing seemed to be done about it.
She took the matter to the day care's assistant director. And once again, she was stunned by the response she received.
"She can’t speak English very well and probably mixed up her words and didn’t mean to say that to you,” Hanna claims she was told. "I responded that this teacher could speak English perfectly fine and that I had been speaking to her the past few years."
Next came a phone call with the day care owner and the director -- during which Hanna says the director yelled, “It accidentally squirted in his mouth!”
This, it appears, was the final straw.
Both Stephanie and Cooper hung up, after saying they would be filing a report with the state licensing board and removing Westley from the center immediately.
"The licensing board representative who interviewed us said that our son’s personal rights had been absolutely violated and that they would be investigating the complaint," Stephanie shares.
Then they called the police.
"The El Dorado County Sheriff's office actually took a couple of hours to call me back after reporting it to their nonemergency line, and he told me it took him so long to contact me because he had never heard of anything like this in his 19 years of law enforcement and neither had his senior partners," the mom recalls.
If Stephanie felt hopeful that something would eventually be done by the police, her hopes were soon dashed.
"The sheriff forwarded the report to the sex crimes detectives, who were also shocked and disgusted but determined there is no law against breastfeeding someone else’s child without consent," she shares. "And because my son couldn’t testify against the day care worker and day care itself, it would be my word against hers."
Their advice? The Hannas should file a civil suit against the day care center. That's exactly what they did.
During the civil litigation, the unnamed teacher gave a deposition that shared her side of the story.
That also revealed some news that shocked Stephanie.
In it, the woman testified that she frequently breastfed in the classroom without a cover on, and regularly exposed her breasts with other infants and preschoolers in the room. In fact, she estimated that it happened approximately three times a day -- during her 30-minute lunch and two 10-minute breaks.
In those moments, the day care worker testified that Westley would walk over to her, stand beside her, and intently watch her breastfeed.
According to Stephanie, the woman also claimed that it was another teacher who picked Westley up that day and put him next to her, because he seemed curious. When they did, she repeated the story that the day care director had told the Hannas about the breast milk "accidentally squirting" into Westley's mouth.
An incident report wasn't written, the day care worker claimed, because they felt it would be better to tell the boy's mother in person.
The entire ordeal has been emotionally -- and financially -- draining, Stephanie tells CafeMom.
Even now, some two years after the incident occurred, the Hannas are still waiting for justice. The civil litigation -- which took months of preparation before it began -- is ongoing. But what Stephanie wants more than anything is to see legislation passed that would make breastfeeding another parent's child without their consent illegal.
This month, the mother started a Change.org petition in hopes of doing just that, and is already halfway toward her goal of 5,000 signatures.
"We never want another family to have to go through what we have for almost two years now trying to get justice so we can start healing, so I am asking for your help to ensure that it does not," the petition reads, calling for the enforcement of the California Lactation Accommodate Law, Civil Code §§ 1030-1034.
"This incident and violation of trust has completely changed me and how I view the world, and not having the support of the criminal justice system has been very frustrating," Stephanie tells CafeMom. "Having to wait over a year for anything to be done also put me in a deep depression throughout this ordeal."
The stress of waiting for police to act -- only to learn they couldn't, simply because there's no law about it -- has been a struggle, to say the least.
"I still wake up for hours every night thinking about it and reliving it," Stephanie says.
It's also hard for her to think about leaving her son in the care of someone else after what happened.
"I don’t feel ready to trust my son with anyone besides his grandparents until he can tell us if something happens to him," she says, "and I will likely never trust anyone enough to place him, or any future children we may have, in a day care or preschool ever again."