Thursday, July 27, 2006

Andrea Yates

Andrea Pia Yates was the valedictorian of her graduating class, she later became a registered nurse. But most of us know her as the Texas woman who drowned her five children.

The mug shot photo, that was plastered in the media across the United States, following the June 20, 2001 drowning deaths of her five children, depicted an emaciated woman with lifeless eyes and dirty, greasy hair. In the days following the murders she was walking to court while people screamed chants of hatred towards her. As the weeks, months and years passed and the magnitude of her mental illness was revealed some individuals embraced her with compassion and her legal team fought her defense pro-bono.

In the days following the murders Andrea Yates was placed on a suicide watch, because her doctors and law enforcement officials feared she would try to commit suicide once she realized what she had done. Though she called the police, confessed to the crime and recounted the drowning in a monotone voice, psychiatric examination's revealed that she did not understand her action's were wrong, because of severe postpartum psychosis.

In the years leading up to the deaths of her five children, she was treated by psychiatrist's on an out patient basis, and when Andrea Yates attempted suicide, on two separate occasions, she was hospitalized. She had hallucinations of harming her son Noah, but she did not tell her doctor's of these hallucinations, because she feared he would be put in a foster home and be treated badly. Instead she tried in vain to fight these mental demon's herself.

On the morning of her children's murders Andrea Yates fed her children breakfast. They were dressed in pajamas, from the night before, as any well cared for and loved children would be. In photos of the children in the years, weeks and days leading up to the murders they are smiling. They are clean, well fed and look like any child that is loved and nurtured by their mother. Andrea Yates chose to leave her career and become a full-time mother. She home-schooled her children, she baked artistic cakes for their birthday's and sewed her children costumes for Halloween. By all accounts she was the mother of all mother's.

What went wrong? A prosecution psychiatrist testified she was not insane, but rather was overwhelmed and "obsessed". As anyone that has been inflicted with an obsession, such as a facial tic or a an incessant compulsion to wash one's hands, will tell you it is impossible to control. Andrea Yates tried to control her "obsession". In the weeks leading up to the murders she paced back and forth, she picked her scalp raw, in an attempt to remove the "666" she thought was branded on her scalp. Andrea Yates had claw marks on her legs, from holding herself back from harming her children. She felt the presence of "Satan" and hallucinated that "Satan" was speaking to her through cartoon's and movie's. She fought "Satan" or the demon's of mental illness for 7 long years, she attempted suicide twice, in an attempt to save her children from herself.

Could it be that her obsessive delusion's and psychosis were so severe, that when her medication was changed, two days before the murders, she could no longer control the motherly instinct's she had desperately maintained for 7 years?

When I think of Andrea Yates, one video always comes to mind. She is sitting in the living room watching her children play and she is cradling an infant her arms. She is smiling and interacting with her children and you can see the love she has for them in her eyes. When Russell and Andrea Yates divorced in March 2005, the only thing she asked for was her rocking chair. She sat in this chair for hours as she held, loved and nursed her 5 babies. No doubt this chair brings back precious memories of a better day. She also asked that when she dies, she be allowed to buried next to her children.

Though we have come so far in our treatment and detection of mental illness it is still viewed as taboo. No one condemn's an individual that suffers from diabetes, heart disease or cancer but often times a person that is treated for depression or another mental illness is judged or ignored as if this will make it all go away.

The Yates children lived everyday of their short lives with an individual that was mentally ill. I think of the testimony given by Andrea Yates mother-in-law, Dora Yates, that two months prior to the drowning's Noah Yates ran to his grandmother's side and declared that his mother was filling up the bath tub. Was he able to detect his Mother's despair and did he instinctively know he was at risk?

Those that have followed this case from the beginning know that Andrea Yates was convicted of her children's murders in 2002, but this conviction was overturned, because of erroneous testimony by a prosecution witness. It is easier to condemn a person such as Andrea Yates than it is to understand that she was so psychotic that she believed she was saving her children from eternal damnation. In recent years several women that have killed their children have been found not guilty by reason of insanity. All of these mothers were deeply religious and thought they were fulfilling a biblical prophecy. It brings to mind the story in the Bible of Abraham who was instructed by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. Should I dare ask was Abraham mentally ill?

Most likely Andrea Yates will spend the rest of her life in a maximum security mental facility. Where she will be protected from hurting herself and prevented from harming another child. She will receive psychiatric care and maybe one day this terrible tragedy will lead to a better understanding of postpartum psychosis and lead to the prevention of the disease.

My compassion leads me to believe that the jury made the right decision in finding Andrea Yates "not guilty by reason of insanity". Logic tells me that if the law had been written to read "Guilty by reason of insanity" more people would feel that justice had been served and that Andrea Yates had been held accountable.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I commend you for your take on the case. Too many people want vengance instead of trying to understand what really was happening in Yates head.
"There but for the grace of God go I"

10:36 AM  

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