Magazine article The Spectator

Moms Defend a Baby-Killer

Magazine article The Spectator

Moms Defend a Baby-Killer

Article excerpt

New Hampshire

WHAT do you have to do to get a bad press these days? Last week, by her own admission, Andrea Yates of Houston killed all five of her children. Not in a burst of gunfire, but by methodically drowning them all in the bathtub. Anyone who's tried to give an unwanted hair-wash to a kid will appreciate the effort involved in holding five struggling youngsters under water. The oldest, sevenyear-old Noah, was the last to die. He wandered into the room and saw his baby sister lying lifeless in the water. `What's wrong with Mary?' he asked. `Get in the tub,' his mother said. He understood. He ran, for his life. But she caught him and dragged him back to the bathroom, and forced him under, legs kicking, arms flailing. He was old enough to know, as he looked up into her eyes and fought against the weight of her hands, that his own mother was killing him.

It is obvious that what we're dealing with here is a sickness. Not Mrs Yates's, but the rest of the nation's. The husband, Rusty, set the tone. He was `standing by her'. `fm supportive of her,' he said. `The woman here is not the woman who killed my children.... That wasn't her; she wasn't in her right frame of mind.' You can say that again. In fairness to Mr Yates, as he gave his press conference on the front lawn and showed off the happy family snapshots to interviewers, he was either in a state of shock - he'd lost his kids, he didn't want to lose his wife as well - or he was covering his ass. Andrea had been not just on antidepressants but also on Haldol, a very strong antipsychotic drug. To be just the teensy-weensiest judgmental about these things, if your wife's on Haldol, you probably shouldn't leave her at home all day every day, alone with five children under the age of seven. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out, though by forlorn coincidence Mr Yates is: he's a computer expert at Nasa's Johnson Space Center in Houston. According to Officer Frank Stumpo, who found the bodies, the house was filthy. Mr Yates was used to the mess: offered a drink of water by Officer Stumpo, he said he doubted that the cop could find a clean glass. But he evidently didn't think the domestic chaos portended anything more significant.

And, once he'd given the thumbs up to stick by the missus, everything else fell into place. Andrea's family insisted she'd always been a wonderful mother until the 'postpartum depression' thing got out of hand. The usual mound of memorial teddy bears piled up on the lawn. Mr Yates joined other `supporters' in a candlelit vigil outside the house. And the media scrambled for their rolodexes to get hold of the experts. It turns out that the expert on postpartum depression is Marie Osmond. As in Donny and Marie. Miss Osmond apparently is the author of Behind the Smile: My Journey Out of Postpartum Depression. After the birth of her seventh child in 1999, Marie felt depressed, walked out on her kids, realised she was ill, got her life back under control and published a book about it - all in less than two years! Appearing with Katie Couric on NBC's Today Show, Miss Osmond was full of insights into the afflictions of Andrea Yates. `She loved her children, she was a caring woman,' said Marie. `How else could you explain something like this... ? The fact is, Katie, you know, men come home to the wife, not the house; children come home to the mother, not the toys.... We're just expected to do all of it nowadays, and I think by trying to do all of it, I think stress could be a big factor lifestyles, diet, nutrition. .

The trick with this kind of story - some nobody kills some other nobodies - is to expand it from the particular to the general, to figure out what the big picture is - or, more crudely put, what's in it for me. For Ted Kennedy, it's about the 'Patients' Bill of Rights' that he's trying to get through the Senate. At a press conference for his Bill, he played up the topical angle: `We've all been reminded in this country, in these 24 hours, like never before, about the challenges of depression,' he announced, `and what it means not only for an individual, but what it means in terms of families. …

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