By Associated Press Correspondent Betsy Blaney
CLOVIS — For years, one thing had controlled Rayshaun Parson’s dreams, behavior and sometimes even her body, those who know her say — a baby of her own.
It was an obsession that some say included a so-called phantom pregnancy — a rare medical phenomenon in which women who aren’t pregnant experience physical and emotional changes similar to those of expectant mothers. It continued through two miscarriages and a difficult breakup with a boyfriend.
Finally, police say, Parson — posing as a hospital worker — snatched a newborn girl from a maternity ward in Lubbock, placed the tiny infant in a handbag and fled on March 10.
She and the baby, who was unharmed, were found the next day in Clovis.
Parson, 21, was being held without bail on federal kidnapping charges. She has not entered a plea.
She has not spoken publicly about the allegations, but court documents reviewed by The Associated Press and interviews with people who knew her suggest a troubled young woman whose love of children and motherly ambitions had grown into a compulsion.
Conchita Davis, the mother of Parson’s former boyfriend, Malachi Johnson, recalled the changes Parson underwent in 2002 when she was mistakenly believed to be pregnant with what would have been Davis’ grandchild. Parson’s breasts swelled, her abdomen distended and she experienced cravings common to pregnancy.
“Rayshaun wanted the baby so bad that she got the symptoms,” Davis said. “She was the perfect vision of a pregnant woman.”
The Clovis News Journal spoke with a woman who identified herself as Malachi’s stepmother Monday.
That woman, Wanda Johnson, previously told the News Journal that Parson had faked several pregnancies, one with her stepson.
False pregnancies — also known as pseudocyesis — are usually linked to underlying emotional and psychological issues, said Dr. Cornelia deRiese, an assistant professor in Texas Tech University’s department of obstetrics and gynecology. More common centuries ago, she said it is rarely seen in an era of modern medicine that includes early neonatal care, ultrasound tests and over-the-counter home pregnancy test kits.
Several months after that episode, Parson did become pregnant in 2003, according to Davis. But she suffered an early miscarriage.
“We got through that but I’m not sure Rayshaun ever did,” Davis said. “I don’t think she ever recovered.”
Ann Parson remembers her granddaughter watching longingly as friends gave birth and raised their babies, wishing she, too, could be a mother.
In 2004, Rayshaun Parson suffered another emotional setback when Davis’ son decided to leave to pursue a music career in California. Unable to accept the breakup, Parson pursued the young man until a court issued a protective order requiring her to stay away from him.
“She was determined not to let him go,” Davis said. “It was in the best interest of both of them to keep them away from each other. They needed to get on with their lives.”
Parson eventually did just that and found a new boyfriend. By last summer, she was pregnant again.
Photographs from a baby shower thrown by friends and family in November show her beaming as she holds up a purple piece of infant’s clothing and opening other gifts. One photo shows her dressed in a short, black dress and proudly touching her rounded belly.
But only a few weeks later, in December or January — six or seven months into her pregnancy — Parson miscarried again, according to court records.
She was devastated, her grandmother said. “That really set her over the edge.”
Details of what happened next are sketchy. Ann Parson said her granddaughter distanced herself from family and friends after the second miscarriage.
But one Texico woman said she struck up an acquaintance with Parson in January at Covenant Lakeside Hospital in Lubbock, the same hospital where days-old Mychael Darthard-Dawodu was abducted.
LeBeth Crisp said Parson told her she was at the hospital visiting a friend. Crisp said Parson spent time looking at infants in the nursery and asked about security measures at the maternity ward.
Crisp said Parson mentioned having a baby a couple of months earlier.
“I thought she was a friendly, genuine person,” Crisp said. “The only thing that made me think twice was she’d had a baby and she wasn’t with her.”
Last week at the small house Parson recently leased in Clovis, the front door window was covered by a makeshift curtain adorned with multicolored pairs of infant footprints.
Said property manager Carolyn Spence: “We were told there was supposed to be a child there.”