Saturday, March 18, 2006

This Makes Me Sad

I heard this story on CNN this morning and it really made me feel sad and guilty. I remember when Andrea Yates killed her children. Like everyone else who has never had a child and suffered from post-partum depression, I was shocked, disgusted, and I judged her. How could a mother harm her own child? I just didn't get it.

And really, I still don't. However, having given birth and suffered from a lengthy and severe bout of the baby blues, I come a lot closer to understanding than I ever did before. There were moments after Brendan's birth when I felt like I was literally going to come out of my skin. I felt like I didn't even know myself and I felt like my son deserved a better mother than I was capable of being. Still, it never crossed my mind (thankfully) to hurt him.

I'm lucky. I happen to be very open about my emotions, though I was more guarded than usual in sharing my negative feelings after the birth of my son. I was conflicted. On the one hand, I knew I should be overjoyed at having a beautiful, healthy son. On the other, having a child was a major shock to the system! For all our planning, we had no idea how difficult it would be having a newborn and how isolated we would feel, especially me. My mother had died two years before Brendan's birth and it hit me like a ton of bricks. The one time in her life when a daughter really needs her mom and I didn't have mine.

Still, I had a loving husband who tried hard even if he couldn't fully comprehend what I was going through. I had a mother-in-law to give advice. And most importantly, I wasn't trying to deal with five children all under the age of six. My body and soul had time to recuperate without being assaulted by another pregnancy too soon. My husband didn't coerce me into leaving my career and then tell me I could have nothing to do with our neighbors or other members of society. I wasn't forced to homeschool my children because my husband was afraid of having our children influenced by modern society.

Who knows what a fragile mind is capable of when assaulted by hormones, a multitude of children, lack of sleep, and there's no one to turn to? Now, I know.... Andrea Yates could have talked to her mother, a doctor, or gone to her minister. But, as someone whose family had a history of mental illness, I'm sure she was well aware of the stigmas associated with that. Without the loving support she needed at home, I doubt she was comfortable going to strangers or friends or family members and saying, "Ya know, last night I had the strongest urge to drown my children in the bathtub." Like so many other women, I'm sure she thought, "I can handle this. I'm the mommy and I have to be strong. What will everyone think if I tell them how I really feel." I imagine, too, that her fundamentalist faith urged her to rely as much on God as on the medication she quit taking with her doctor's approval three weeks before murdering her children, as well.

Yes, Andrea Yates did a horrible thing that I can barely even think about without physically cringing. She deserves to be punished, but she deserved treatment for her mental illness as well. We should all remember that she didn't do it by herself either. Russell Yates is equally culpable for helping create the environment that led to the death of his children. He may be celebrating his honeymoon and the start of a new life today as his former wife awaits the start of a new trial, but he'll have to live the rest of his life knowing he did nothing to prevent the deaths of his children.

And the rest of us who would so quickly jump to judge? Well, I'd say, there but for the grace of God go we. We should all be aware of that and do the things we can to make sure other moms suffering from PPD or the baby blues get the help they need. Call your friends and family members who've just had babies. Make or buy a meal and drop it off. Offer to take an older child to the park so mom can focus on a new baby. Stop by and watch the new baby once a week so mom can take a nap or a bath. Wash and fold a load of laundry for her. Run some errands. Ask her how she's doing and really listen. Don't judge her or patronize her if she says she's having a hard time since the baby came. Reassure her that she's normal and help her get the help she needs. If you think she's a danger to herself or her kids, tell her husband, her doctor, or someone else better equipped to help. Just be there and let her know you care for her and her child(ren).

It's a shame no one did that for Andrea Yates or her children.

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