Wednesday, July 26, 2006
The 42-year-old will be committed to a state mental hospital, with periodic hearings before a judge to determine whether she should be released. If convicted of murder, she would have faced life in prison.
Yates’ attorneys never disputed that she drowned 6-month-old Mary, 2-year-old Luke, 3-year-old Paul, 5-year-old John and 7-year-old Noah in their Houston-area home in June 2001. But they said she suffered from severe postpartum psychosis and, in a delusional state, believed Satan was inside her and was trying to save them from hell.
I can think of no greater punishment for this woman than to live with the knowledge that she killed her children. A lot of people will doubtlessly say that this verdict excuses her crime, or does not bring justice to her children. I disagree, but I can see their point. However, I'd say to those people that they've probably never lived with a mental illness and felt firsthand it's crippling effects.
Yates had a documented history of severe mental illness. She had been to multiple doctors and hospitals, on many, many medications. She needed to be committed for longterm care, but that never happened for her. I've heard reports that her husband didn't want that for her, I've heard reports that other people in her family didn't want that and objected. I cannot say if those stories are true, but if they are, I would not be surprised. Most people have no real concept of just how sick mental illness makes you. There are diseases that you can't just take a pill for. They don't go away because you want them to, they don't go away because you get a prescription. Complex mental illness requires medication and therapy, sometimes intensive therapy away from the typical living situation.
I get a little angry at her ex-husband. She was told after the birth of her fourth son not to have any more children, because of the severity of her PPD. Her doctors warned her that a recurrance was almost guaranteed and would likely be worse, if she had another child. And yet...and yet, they had a fifth child.
I get angry knowing how very religious her family/friends/she was, how unhealthy that was for her. Demanding, fundamentalist religions are bad for women, clearly, but it's very hard to make people understand that when they're in the middle of them. For years, the Yates' family lived in a small travel-bus. They were deeply committed to their faith, and the gender roles it proscribed. On it's own, that's something a person can survive. But combine those teachings with severe mental illness and you've got the makings of a tragedy.
Once she had been on medication consistantly and under treatment by doctors, Yates came out of her PPP. She knows, now, what she did. Can you imagine, just for a moment, what it would be like to know that you held your children under water until they died? Can you imagine, just for a moment, what it's like to realize that you're responsible for that? Does anyone think, really think, that this verdict does anything to ease her guilt and grief? I don't have children, but if I did, the thought that I had hurt one of them....I'd probably kill myself.
I say this is compassion, because at least she can get treatment and medication. At least she can have the chance to pull some kind of life together. There are people who believe she shouldn't be allowed to do that, that she should be allowed to do anything but suffer endlessly. Sadly, most of those people claim to be Christians. But I remember Jesus talking about forgiveness and redemption and second/third/1,000th chances. Five lives have already been lost, what good does it do to throw away a sixth? No amount of retribution is going to bring any of those children back. Doesn't Andrea Yates have a soul? Doesn't she have value, even as flawed as she is?
I don't mean those questions to sound like some flaming liberal (even though I am.) I mean those seriously. I don't see how there are easy answers in cases like this for truly thoughtful people.