Andrea Yates goes back on trial this week. You remember Andrea Yates? the Texas woman who drowned all five of her children in the family bathtub? She was convicted of murder, but the sentence was thrown out when it was revealed that a key prosecution witness lied on the stand. It's hard for me to think about the Andrea Yates case without my stomach clenching. I love my three kids more than anything and the notion of a mother murdering her own children is pretty incomprehensible to me. Thinking about those five little kids, and how they met their end at the hands of their mother, is something I can't do for very long.
I know first-hand what it's like to feel a mother's love for her children. And even though I've encountered some horrible mothers in my life -- selfish, cruel, egotistical, self-absorbed, dysfunctional -- I've never met one who would be capable of killing their kids.
But I've also experienced post-partum depression. I know that it can change you, it can make you act weird and think weird shit. It can interfere with the way you see yourself and the way you view your husband and kids. So I don't find it hard to believe that Andrea Yates was suffering from a profound mental illness at the time she killed her children. A quick look at her biography convinces me beyond any doubt.
Andrea and Rusty Yates were married in 1993. They proceeded to have five children in eight years. Think about that, the physical impact that would have on a woman's body, the amount of work caring for five kids (and a husband?) on a day-to-day basis while spending nearly half of your total marriage (about 45 of 96 months) pregnant. (Actually, it's a little more than that; Andrea Yates miscarried once, too.) At one point, the family lived in a trailer; later, Rusty Yates bought a 350-foot renovated school bus for the family to live in. Around that time, the Yates came under the influence of a preacher who expressed the belief that women, being descended from Eve, were inherently evil and that bad mothers create bad children who will then go to hell. (Nice, eh?)
In June 1999, Andrea Yates tried to commit suicide and was diagnosed with major depression; although she wasn't exactly forthright in discussing her depression, the hospital released her anyway with a prescription for antidepressants. Andrea Yates discontinued the medication, began to mutilate herself, and didn't feed her kids properly, saying they were eating too much. She heard voices, experienced paranoia and hallucinations, and held a knife to her neck, begging to die. She was again admitted for psychiatric treatment and spent 10 days in a catatonic state. She improved after treatment with Haldol, an antipsychotic drug. Her doctor warned the couple that another pregnancy could bring on more psychotic behavior.
A few months later, at Rusty's urging, Andrea discontinued her Haldol and was pregnant again. She was homeschooling her kids (yeah, that's a great plan; let the overwhelmed, mentally ill mother of multiple children homeschool all of them). After her youngest child's birth, she again exhibited severe and troubling signs of mental illness: self-mutilitation, not feeding the baby, compulsive Bible reading, refusing to eat or talk, and so on. She ended up seeing some half-ass doctor who discontinued her meds and told her to "think positive thoughts." Two days later, she killed her kids.
It makes me frustrated that a jury couldn't look at this well-documented history of severe mental illness and see that this woman was not in her right mind. It makes me sad that the health care system failed Andrea Yates, that if she'd seen a different psychiatrist, one who kept her on her meds and took her symptoms and medical history seriously, her kids might be alive today. It makes me angry that misogyny masquerading as Christianity made Andrea Yates believe she was a bad mother, a bad person, one who was going to condemn her children to eternal damnation simply because her genes read XX instead of XY. It bothers me that Andrea Yates may well spend her remaining years in a prison, unable to get the kind of mental health treatment she so desperately needs.
But there is a silver lining: Rusty Yates. Rusty got married this past weekend to a 41-year old woman with two sons, described by one news report as a "willowy blonde." You see, Rusty harbors no ill will toward Andrea, the wife he kept knocking up and then divorced once she was in prison. He stood by Andrea (well, you know, except for the whole divorce thing, and falling in love with someone else and all); and he still visits her in prison (although apparently she heard about his new marriage from someone other than him, but hey, details, details). Rusty has fond memories of his crazy wife and dead kids, and now he'll be able to make new memories with his new wife and new kids (well, step-kids). So whenever I feel bad about Andrea Yates, whenever I feel my heart twinge at the thought of those dead children, and six wasted lives, I can always remember Rusty Yates and feel happy again. I just picture him climbing into his red Corvette with his new wife, driving away for their honeymoon, while Andrea Yates sits in jail, waiting to be tried again for the murder of their children.