Andrea Yates is not guilty of drowning her five children, despite having systematically coaxed each one into the bathroom only to drown them in the bathtub. Number one was undoubtedly duped. But what about number two? And three and four and five? Did they not scream and cry and beg for their life, seeing their siblings lying still and lifeless in a tub full of water?
Andrea Yates was consumed with delusions about one son growing up to be a homosexual prostitute and the media bugging her home to catch her being a bad mother. Tops on the list? Not home schooling well enough. Hey, wouldn't any concerned parent drown their children after facing such horrific thoughts?
It is not that I don't feel that she is a sick woman. It would take an incredibly sick person to systematically destroy each child born of her womb one by one. And I have experienced first hand the mental distortions extreme religion can bring. Heck, I even got a little distorted myself once upon a time. I can relate to having deeply-rooted fears about the consequences of my rotten parenting. I've imagined the future counseling sessions where my daughters tearfully relate my early-morning rantings as I attempted to pry them out of bed or maybe they'll relate the time I threw their little tea table for no good reason. I can just see the counselor sadly shaking his head and making incriminating notes in the margins of his notepad about how I undermined my children's chances for happiness. And I've imagined my daughters growing up to become tragically involved with men who beat them or exploit them or get them hooked on drugs. I've played through hundreds of scenarios where their lives end in some self-destructive act because of the pain I inflicted on them as a parent. Oh, yeah, I have felt Andrea Yates' pain.
But here's the distinction: I honestly believe that there is hope as long as they are alive. As long as they are alive, I have a chance to do it right today. I can't take back the mistakes I've made in the past, but I can admit when I had been wrong and make an honest effort to do better. And I can show them that I love them, I can make better choices as a parent, and I can hopefully make a difference in their life.
With life, there is always hope. With death, the question of whether we could have ever worked it out is done. Finis. Exterminated. I feel for Andrea Yates and for her five children and for her husband and all the family and friends who will never be able to explore the possibilities for making a good life for those children.
But even as my heart goes out to Andrea, a part of me holds back. In my heart, it is perhaps too much of a leap for me to completely absolve her. But one thing is for sure: as long as she lives, so does the hope that somehow in some way, her life can count for more than the media hype of a juicy story. If anything can be drawn from the deaths of those children, it would be a better understanding of the devastating effects of postpartum depression and the desperate need these mothers have for professional intervention (not religious persecution).
Five innocent children died, but hopefully more will live because of what she has done. And countless loved ones will be spared the devastating grief and guilt and horror of living with the aftermath. No, I can't completely absolve Andrea Yates, but I can hope for a better tomorrow for the millions of women and children who are at risk, and hope that their lives, too, will go on.