Let me start by saying anytime a parent kills his or her children it is horrible. It is heart-breaking, sad, tragic and devastating. But I was saddened by the deluge of hurtful comments I read on a Facebook post today regarding whether Andrea Yates should be allowed to leave the mental hospital two hours a week to attend church.
I’m sure you remember Yates’ case. She drowned her five children in a bathtub in 2001, saying she thought Satan was telling her to kill her children to spare them from going to hell and that by killing them she was sending them to heaven. Her initial insanity defense was rejected and she was sentenced to a life in prison. In 2006, on an appeal, a jury found her guilty by reason of insanity and she was sent to a mental institution.
I recently read this article about how Yates lives with herself a decade after killing her babies and I began thinking about how we are so quick to condemn women in this situation without knowing all the facts and without understanding the significant consequences of illnesses like postpartum depression and the much more severe postpartum psychosis.
Just this week in nearby Orangeburg, S.C., a mother pleaded guilty to charges of murdering her 2-year-old son and 18-month-old son and was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Did this mother suffer from postpartum depression?
It’s easy to rush to judgment and vilify these women as horrible human beings because “a real mother would never harm her children.” But what if that mother is suffering from a horrible illness that causes her to think thoughts and behave in ways she never would have before having children.
Yes, in the decade since those five Yates children died, more attention has been given to PPD but it still remains in the shadows. And why wouldn’t it? What mother would want to come forward and admit she’s had similar thoughts knowing how she’ll be shamed by a general public that just doesn’t understand?
On all levels these situations are horrific. Tiny lives are lost, families are destroyed and women are sentenced to a life of guilt. But rather than focus our energies on throwing rocks at these women, let’s look around at the new mothers in our lives. Could they be suffering from PPD? Have you created an environment that would allow a woman to come to you with her problems? Because that’s the only way to bring good from these tragedies.