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Hyperion June 24, 2001

#49 Tragedy

“Crawling in my skin; these wounds, they will not heal. Fear is how I fall; confusing what is real.”

-Linkin Park

I want to depart from my usual irreverent approach for once, to talk about something serious. Rest assured I will soon return to form. There are many things about the Andrea Yates case I would like to discuss, but at present, they might not go over well. For now, let it be said that no matter what you may think when you hear of a tragedy like this, the world is not going to Hell. We are not getting worse; we are getting better, even though sometimes in our myopia that is hard to see. More on that another time.

For those of you who do not pay attention to the news, Andrea Yates is the Houston woman who earlier this week admitted to police that she killed each of her five kids. The mind naturally rebels at such a thought. What kind of woman would kill her five children? A monster? Someone so horribly evil that that it defies description? Unfortunately, it was neither of those things. Yates had what was called postpartum psychosis. Now, I don’t want any of you to misunderstand and think I am making excuses; there is a difference between an excuse and a reason. I want to look at Yates’s reason for a moment.

About 400,000 women a year get postpartum depression after giving birth, which is a result of their rapidly changing hormones and the new responsibilities suddenly thrown at them. These women are usually irritable, cry easily, have mood swings, and portray other various signs of depression. If you have been around any woman before or after having a baby, these symptoms probably sound more normal than abnormal. And they are. It is natural, with all the massive amount of changes after birth, for women to go through some of this. The body usually rights itself after three weeks or so. However, this syndrome can take a dangerous turn, and go from the troubling depression to postpartum psychosis, where the woman can experience severe insomnia, hallucinations, delusions, and even suicidal and homicidal thoughts. This happens to about one in one thousand women that give birth, and it is so serious that doctors repeatedly warn the family before and after childbirth. The good news is that if a woman suffers this and immediate action is taken, through medicine and other means almost always the situation can be brought under control. It is very serious, though, and the woman must immediately go to the doctor if anything like it starts happening.

There is no doubt Ms. Yates suffered from this psychosis. How do I know? Any woman, no matter how bad a person, does not want to kill her children when in a normal state of mind. So where is her responsibility in all of this? It is much like a drunken driver. A drunken man may not have control any longer over his actions. However, he did have control over deciding to drink, and how much, and is responsible for what he does while impaired. It is much the same with mental illness. I have seen this up close, and I am here to tell you that the person involved and the people around them are responsible to go to a doctor immediately when symptoms start occurring. I have tremendous sympathy for people who suffer from mental illness, but in almost all cases, there is an opportunity to seek help before things go horribly awry.

With the sad case of Andrea Yates, it is even more alarming. Ms. Yates had a history of postpartum depression, with her other children. Several months before her terrible behavior, her dad died, and she herself tried to commit suicide. You may have seen her husband, talking before the cameras this weekend, standing behind his wife. Well, that may sound noble, but if was the D.A., I would throw the book at him too. He knew his wife was in bad shape, and UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD SHE HAVE BEEN LEFT ALONE WITH THE CHILDREN. Unfortunately, we never think it will happen to us until it happens to us.

As for Ms. Yates, there is not much that can be done. Whether or not you believe in the death penalty, you might agree in this case it would be the least cruel thing. Because, when Yates gets the treatment she needs, and back to a normal state of mind, no punishment any judge could hand out will equal the guilt she feels over what she has done to her children. And all of this was avoidable. Remember that, people, and do not wait until too late to act.

June 24, 2001


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