Oh That Poor Mother Indeed
By Alicia Colon
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
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
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
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