Oh That Poor Mother Indeed

By Alicia Colon
Rightgrrl Contributor
July 23, 2001

Andrea Yates, the Houston mother who systematically drowned her five young children in a bathtub, is on the cover of newsmagazines and a stunned nation mulls over whether she deserves the death penalty or should she be institutionalized. As the details of Mrs. Yates life emerges, she is garnering sympathy from harried women who empathize with her plight. Others (mostly men) are comparing her to Susan Smith, the killer mom, who left her two sons strapped in their car seats while she sank the family car in the lake, and believe Yates should rot in hell.

Her supporters are prematurely diagnosing this incident as a result of post-partum depression, a clinical disorder that follows childbirth and can severely impact the mother. In fact Andrea Yates apparently had emotional problems predating the birth of any of her children. There will however still be innumerable articles on the subject attempting to explain away the inexplicable.

It wasn't till I read Anna Quindlen's article in Newsweek (Playing God On No Sleep, Jul 2 issue) that I began to understand why Ms. Yates was getting more support from women's groups than Susan Smith received. Andrea Yates was a former nurse turned stay-at-home mother and according to Quindlen, "there is the entirely imaginable idea of going quietly bonkers in the house with five kids under the age of 7."

Nowhere in her column does she stretch her imagination to express sympathy for the five innocent children, victims of their bonkered-out mother.

Further on Quindlen quotes sociologist Jessie Bernard commenting on the institutionalization of motherhood. Clearly it is society that has forced Ms. Yates to stay at home to provide round the clock care to her brood at the expense of her sanity.

"Women not working outside their homes feel compelled to make their job inside it seem both weighty and joyful." Funny, isn't it? How columnists who are so adamant about protecting a woman's right to choose are so bewildered when a woman chooses to stay home to raise their children. Lord, she must be psychotic!

Quindlen completes her thoughts by imagining herself with five children under the age of 7, and describes the horrible day-to-day aggravating things that children say and do to drive us mad. While she stops short of making excuses for Andrea Yates, she wants us all to acknowledge that deep down feeling that all mothers feel on a bad day that could possible lead to horrible things. Sorry, Anna, no can do.

Having been a stay-at-home mother who had at one point five children under the age of six, I think I can appreciate better than most what Yates had to deal with. I can also agree that, at times, motherhood can be overwhelming, even maddening, especially with little or no help. I, too, spent many sleepless nights with colicky babies and since I nursed all of my eventual six children, it was years before I was able to sleep through the night. Like Yates, I had to deal with caring for a victim of Alzheimer's' because I cared for my mother-in-law until she passed away last year. Fortunately, by then my children were in their teens and I had help. I am no superwoman. While I was frequently overwhelmed by the work overload and my children's demands, I had the sense to know that what I really needed was a vacation. Instead, Andrea Yates was medicated so she could continue her 24/7 caregiving duties. One of the meds she was given was Haldol, a drug frequently prescribed to sedate Alzheimer patients. After witnessing one pill turn my mother-in-law into a zombie, I read up on this drug and discovered its possible side effects included delusions and hallucinations. Andrea Yates did a terrible thing to her children but I wonder if her doctors and relatives will ever accept their own responsibility for the terrible thing that was done to Andrea, too.
Alicia's column archives can be found at www.aliciacolon.com

Copyright 2001 by Alicia Colon. Not to be reproduced in any fashion, in whole or in part, without written consent from the author. All rights reserved.