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Tragedy strikes, five children are dead, and a world is reminded that there is no such thing as an easy answer

If you’ve lived in a shoebox the last few weeks, completely oblivious to what’s going on in the world, then count yourself fortunate. And stop reading.

If you do watch the news occasionally, then you probably have already formed your own opinion of Andrea Yates, the Houston, Texas woman who methodically drowned her five children one by one in the bathtub on June 18 – the youngest was six months old and the oldest was seven.

She made a full confession to police investigators, describing in detail how her seven year old tried to run away, how she chased him down, and how much he struggled.

According to investigators, she was like a zombie relating the details, slow and spacey, almost devoid of emotion. There was no anger, no remorse, no fear for her life, nothing. In a state that exercises the death penalty more than all other U.S. states combined, her state of mind – or lack of a state of mind – could have a large bearing on what kind of penalty she can expect to face.

The prosecution has not decided to go for the death penalty, and the defense is leaning towards insanity, based on her own history of mental illness and postpartum depression.

They can make a strong case. Her family has a history of depression. One of Andrea Yates’ oldest friends started to keep a diary of her emotional decline. Yates attempted suicide for the first time in June of 1999, attempting to overdose on Alzheimer medication. As recently as this spring she put a knife to her throat while visiting her mother’s house and threatened to kill herself.

People were afraid she would end her own life, but they were never afraid that she would kill her kids – by all accounts, including her husband’s, she was an attentive and caring mother.

"One side of me blames her because she did it, but the other side says she didn’t because that wasn’t her," Russell Yates, Andrea’s supportive husband, told reporters. "She wasn’t in her right frame of mind. She loved our kids. Anybody that knew her knew that."

For herself, Andrea Yates told police that she thought she was a bad mom, that her kids were developing too slowly – Russell always joked that he wanted a basketball team.

According to the medical community, one out of every hundred women are diagnosed with postpartum depression. One out of every thousand are diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, and an even smaller percentage will actually do something about it, either seeking counselling or some sort of drug therapy until their hormonal balances are restored and they are out of the woods.


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