Tuesday, January 11, 2005

She's in the news again

Andrea Yates.

What to make of this woman?

A mother who methodically drowns her own children. Horrible. Inconceivable. She must be a terrible person. And yet for some reason, I can't reconcile that, can't quite get there in my mind. I want to hate her, but I just end up feeling confused. She has lost everything, everything a mother lives for. Five children, drowned at her own hand. Five children whom she nursed and clothed and fed and nurtured for so many years. I keep reiterating these things because her final act of mothering is so inconceivable. She must have loved them. So, how, then? And why?

Well, raising children is damn hard work. And I have three, not five. And I don't homeschool them. And mine are out of diapers, and were spaced two or more years apart. The fact is, when I think about her trying to keep everything together, with this smugly smiling, god-fearing husband who refuses to acknowlede anything but her many blessings, well, I have to say, I can almost go there. I adore my children. I can't imagine life without them. They delight and inspire me in so many ways--they are incredible individuals. And yet, there were times--when my husband was deployed, when we were stationed far from home, with no help, no family, and children 24 hours a day--well, let's just say I wasn't sure which ones of us would make it to adulthood.

I want so desperately to blame someone and move on, smug in my ability to categorize this, to "that-type-of-woman" this. And yet I can't. And when I try to place the blame squarely on her shoulders, I keep coming back to other questions, such as: Where was her husband when she was having post-partum depression and attempting suicide? Why did he continue to think it would be best to homeschool five children, to keep giving this troubled woman more and more children, rapid-fire? Where is his accountability? And what of the doctors, the medical professionals who treated her for her ailments? And what about religion? I'm talking about the sort of no-name, slightly off-kilter evangelical born-again religion that she and her husband practiced. A religion that tells a woman to be subservient, to be the longsuffering helpmeet, to put everyone's needs before her own, that preaches happiness and contentment in every aspect of motherhood, that it is a woman's godly duty, that she is blessed if she bears a multitude of children, that obedience, above all, is to be practiced.

Obedience is the cornerstone of such narrow religions. So much so that Andrea Yates told her attorney she wanted it clarified: Contrary to the news reports, her eldest son, Noah, did not have to be chased around the house when she was ready to drown him. She wanted it known that he came when she called.

And at her trial, Andrea Yates testified that a higher power had instructed her to drown her children. All she did was what she had been repeatedly taught. She obeyed.


katrina said...

Ew. I hate this story. So much so that I turn away from it whenever it arises. YET, as a mother I can't help looking sometimes, the pull much like to a gruesome and much feared, yet fascinating insect. And really, can this not happen to any of us mothers? Are we only a case of unsettled hormones, a bad-marriage, an undiagnosed mental illness away from this?

I have to wonder about the one thing that doesn't seem to be talked about, or dealt with properly in this country: Postpartum Psychosis. Did she suffer from this? Her youngest was only two. Women's hormones, their bodies, particularly if they nurse are affected for a long time after birth. What of this?

Mary Akers said...

Yes, gruesome and much-feared. Good analogy. Like a slowly stalking hairy tarantula.

The weird thing is, biologically speaking, eating one's young goes totally contrary to an organism's whole purpose, which is to replicate itself. We are programmed in every cell of our being to protect our young so that our genes may be passed on--to the point of sacrificing ourselves before our children. So, as I see it, destroying the young can't be anything BUT psychosis.

Myfanwy Collins said...

This story is so, so heartbreaking. You write very honestly about it, Mary. I'm moved by what you've said.

Carol Peters said...

when they are frightened, rabbits, and perhaps other animals, eat their young.

Carol Peters said...

sorry, let me say the other part that i remember from evolutionary biology. the selfish gene theory, for what it's worth, says that the animal instinct recognizes the survival strategy of eating the litter to save the host (mother) in order to be alive to breed again in better (safer) circumstances. i do not remember any data that supports this theory, only that this has been speculated.