An article recently published on Conservative Mom and written by Stewart L. asks the question: Why do mothers kill their babies? It’s an answer we’d all like to know. Filicide, or the killing of one’s son or daughter, happens about 200 times per year in the United States.
When filicide occurs, especially when the mother is the perpetrator, the incident grabs newspaper headlines and horrifies readers. The thought of a woman killing her child or a baby that she grew within her own body is so reprehensible that most people automatically categorize her as a monster and scroll to the next article to get their mind off the heinous act.
They don’t consider the situation from the mother’s point of view. Postpartum hormones are unpredictable, and they can trigger severe depression and even psychosis. Audible hallucinations are frequently responsible for mothers hearing a voice that tells them to kill their child, sometimes for the child’s own good.
Reading about filicide is emotionally difficult. Trying to understand a mother’s motives for killing is even more challenging, but my experience with postpartum depression gave me a glimpse of what drives women to take their children’s lives.
When I gave birth to my first child, I had never before held a newborn. I didn’t know how to give her a bath, feed her, hold her, or tell when she was hungry. I had her in the middle of winter, so short days and bitterly cold temperatures worsened my depression. Within a week of being home from the hospital, I was crying uncontrollably several times a day. I felt overwhelmed with tasks I didn’t know how to perform. I felt ashamed that I didn’t feel happy.
At night, I laid down to sleep but woke up hallucinating that my newborn had fallen asleep on my chest and suffocated in the blankets. I could see her face, but I couldn’t reach her, so I pawed through the blankets in my futile quest. My movements woke up my husband, who shook my shoulder and pointed to our baby, sleeping soundly in her bassinet near the bed.
This happened multiple times a night for a few months. During the day, I obsessively thought about my carefree life before motherhood, and I wished I had never had my baby.
As I checked her sleeper one night before crawling into bed until her cries woke me in an hour and a half, I thought that if she died during the night, at least I could sleep longer. That momentarily lifted my spirits, and then I felt like a monster. I never talked to my doctor about my feelings of extreme sadness. I was afraid the authorities would take away my baby.
I took an antidepressant immediately following the births of my second and third babies, preventing postpartum depression. But when I see a news report of a mother who drove into a lake with her small children strapped into their car seats, I understand her feeling of overwhelming hopelessness.
Women aren’t born knowing how to be mothers, and we aren’t taught that it’s okay to feel sad after becoming one. If more women were diagnosed with and treated for depression earlier, there would be fewer cases of maternal filicide.