She killed her kids, but we must forgive her

By Susan Kushner Resnick


Salon Staff
June 22, 2001 10:57PM (UTC)

Read the story

The husband is a saint? More like an abuser or, at least, an idiot. Here is a woman married eight years, with five kids ages 7 and under. The physical trauma alone of having a child every 18 months or so must be unbelievable. She attempted suicide after the 4th child -- and they went ahead and had a 5th child? I read a report in which a neighbor of the Yates' was quoted as saying that Russell Yates, right after he told her that the wife was depressed "from having babies," said he'd like to have more! And a friend of the family said that Mr.Yates always said he wanted to have 6 or 8 children.

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Did anyone ask the mother? We must face the fact that in this day and age, there are still women who feel as they did in Margaret Sanger's day, that they DARE NOT refuse to breed further even if they feel that they have had enough children. It's a pitiful, horrible thing, but when the police say there was no history of abuse in the home, I beg to differ.

-- Cynthia Brody

Of course, I feel sympathy for everyone involved in this story. But why do we care? Mothers kill their own children every day. In fact, just a few weeks ago, across the state some sadistic nutcases had been keeping one of their children locked in a closet. The media looked at them as trailer trash animals. So why now is there suddenly a deep desire to understand postpartum depression, which has been around as long as there have been pregnancies to be depressed about?

Because this Yates woman is white and middle class. That freaks everybody out: If she can do it, we can do it. So we must find some "syndrome," some root cause, we must understand her psyche, we must have compassion for her or else no one will have compassion for us. I just wish we would have the same compassion for everyone, regardless of their race and class.

-- Lisa Langford

If you are a woman living in America today, you have the right to remain silent and ... commit murderous crimes.

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We, as a society, have given women carte blanche to kill their husbands, their children, their lovers and their neighbors if they are perceived to be suffering from any one of a myriad of hormonal imbalance disorders. Premenstrual syndrome is justification for murdering a husband. Postpartum depression justifies infanticide. Emotional distress can even legally absolve and justify the dissection of a man's sexual part. John Bobbitt, Lorena's husband, found that out the hard way (no pun intended).

We live in a society that has come to believe that a murder committed by a hormonally imbalanced woman is somehow palatable. At the same time, a murder committed by an adrenaline-enraged, out-of-control man is considered a heinous act.

Sometimes, murder is just murder, no matter who commits it and no matter how low your blood sugar levels may have been at the time.

-- Ron Kryngel

I believe it takes a lot of courage to write what Susan Kushner Resnick wrote about forgiving Andrea Yates. Considering the evil nature of the crime and the innocence of the victims, it is a difficult pill to swallow to admit that Yates is sick and should be treated. The truth, untainted by sentiment, is hard for Americans to accept, but must be conveyed nonetheless by the courageous.

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-- Harry Schuhmacher

No parent would hire a babysitter or nanny who was psychotic. I am amazed that a mother with a psychosis was left in charge of her children. Is postpartum depression not taken seriously by doctors or insurance providers? It's easy to see that this poor woman and her children did fall through the cracks of the human services program in her area.She should have been hospitalized, but few, if any, insurance companies would pay for that.

As a part of society, I feel like I murdered those children. I wish I knew what to do.

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-- Nancy Noonan

It's curious how women, whether avowed feminists or not, are willing to excuse any violence that is committed by another woman. From Susan Smith to Andrea Yates, excuses are always given. Sympathy and understanding is always available. A woman out of control and dangerous always is viewed differently than a man who is out of control and dangerous. The belief that there is no excuse for domestic violence is an empty mantra repeated by women and only directed toward men.

-- Stephen Smith

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I must forgive Andrea Yates? Oh, no. I most certainly must not. What Andrea Yates did was unforgivable, and I have not one scintilla of forgiveness for her. And I don't believe I need to; I don't believe I should.

I'm not saying I don't believe she was and is very, very sick. I'm a mother of two, a survivor of one case of delayed postpartum depression (I sunk into my funk after weaning my daughter at 10 months, and it took months to find my way back to the world) and one nasty, nasty case of baby blues that lasted, thank goodness, only about a week and a half after the birth of my son. I only got a taste of what fresh hell can be found when your hormones shift and fluctuate, but it left me humbled and empathetic toward all women who must deal with that and worse. For Andrea Yates, I do indeed have empathy. But I don't have forgiveness.

Motherhood brought me one other thing as well: a complete and total inability to tolerate anyone, for any reason, hurting a child. Andrea's mental illness may explain her actions, give them a root, an impetus, a cause. But they don't excuse them. Does she need treatment rather than jail? Probably. Does she need our forgiveness? Probably. But do I have to give it to her? No. Absolutely not. We don't always get what we want or need in this world.

Certainly, her babies didn't. They needed mercy. But what they got was a death sentence.

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No, I'm not going to forgive Andrea Yates. What I'm going to do is grieve for her dead babies. Somebody ought to -- and right now, she's not up to the job.

-- Lori Oliwenstein-Kluger

I really appreciated Susan Kushner Resnick's article on Andrea Yates' postpartum psychosis. I am still struggling to find ground after my bout of postpartum depression. My heart went out to Andrea and her supportive husband as the newscasters report the disaster with horrified tones. I can only hope that this story can help demystify postpartum depression and help the mothers who struggle to survive.

-- Candace Schaffer Grimaud

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Having been born in 1960 at the tail end of the baby boom generation, I grew up in a suburban neighborhood where the norm was three, four or five kids, usually born a year apart. Most likely, there were women suffering from some sort of unnamed postpartum depression, but they didn't go out and drown their kids in a bathtub.

-- John Murphy


Salon Staff

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