A woman from Duxbury has been charged with killing her three-year-old and five-year-old children, and her seven-month-old has been taken to the hospital with serious injuries.
The house had weathered shingles and a swing set in the backyard. The neighbours said they had never seen anything strange about the house. In fact, not much is known about what happened before Tuesday night’s terrible events. Authorities said that Lindsay Clancy, the mother, jumped out of a second-story window in what may have been an attempt to kill herself. She is still in the hospital.
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Why would a mother do something like that?
Experts say that these kinds of deaths are often caused by a loving mother with a mental illness who does it out of love for her children.
Cheryl L. Meyer, a psychology professor at Wright State University who studies mothers who kill their children, remembered talking to one mother who had also tried to kill herself. The mother told her that killing her children made sense to her because they were like an extension of herself.
”She couldn’t die without taking her arm. She couldn’t die without taking the kids,” Meyer said Wednesday.
As the mother of a 7-month-old, Clancy was still in the postpartum period, which lasts a year. She had said on social media that she had been depressed after giving birth in the past.
In rare cases, about one or two out of every 1,000 postpartum women can develop psychosis. In this condition, a woman’s brain is “hijacked by a really, really serious illness that distorts reality” and makes her do things she would never do if she were healthy, according to Dr. Nancy Byatt, a professor of psychiatry, obstetrics, and gynaecology at UMass Chan Medical School.
Dr. Susan Hatters Friedman, a professor of forensic psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University who has studied why parents kill their children, says there are five main reasons: a young person with an unwanted pregnancy kills a newborn; years of abuse or neglect lead to a child’s death; a partner wants revenge, often after a breakup; and “altruistic” and “acutely psychotic” mental illness.
The first group has nothing to do with the Duxbury deaths, and the second and third have not been proven yet. And no one knows if Clancy had problems with his mind.
But the idea that a mental health problem could be behind the killings in Duxbury brings up troubling questions.
Hatters Friedman said that in some cases, a parent kills their child for no reason other than love, which may sound strange. A parent may have delusions that the child will be kidnapped and killed, which would be worse than death, and think that killing the child gently would be better. Parents who are thinking about killing themselves might not want to leave their child behind in a world they think is too bad to live in.
She said that in the most severe cases, a parent may think that God is telling them to kill their child or that their child is bad.
Meyer, who has written two books on the subject, said that people are often shocked by these killings because the mothers were often seen as perfect and loving. “These moms are often said to be the perfect example of a mom. “They’re what a good mom looks like,” she said. “This is why it’s so surprising to hear that they do these things.”
These women are not bad at heart. Instead, they are taken over by some kind of mental illness. When their identities are so mixed up with those of their children, they do things that, in their twisted minds, seem best for their children.
“Why would a woman who loved her children kill them?” Meyer said. “She killed them because she loved them. That’s a hard thing to understand.”
Meyer said that the main thing that made women who killed their children do it was a lack of social support. She remembered meeting a woman who said that during a very hard time in her life, she had planned to poison her kids’ ice cream and kill herself and her kids. Her pastor called her right before she served it to see how she was doing. By the time the conversation was over, both the ice cream and the plans to kill were gone.
Killings like the ones in Duxbury are rare, but they will never be forgotten. Everyone knows about Susan Smith, who drove her two young children into a lake in 1994, and Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children in a bathtub in 2001. Yates was a loving mother who taught her kids at home, but she killed them when she was going crazy after giving birth.
Meyer said that a woman can’t be charged with first-degree murder if she kills her child in the weeks after giving birth in Canada or the UK.
If a mother kills her child in the United States, she usually gets a harsh sentence. “We think it’s even worse if a mother does this,” she said.
Byatt of UMass says that the fact that the Duxbury mother was charged with murder is “worrisome.” Byatt said that if she had postpartum psychosis, she had no choice in what she did.
Postpartum depression, which is caused by changes in hormones after giving birth, is more common than postpartum psychosis, but both can be treated if doctors watch for warning signs during pregnancy and after the baby is born, says Dr. Judith E. Robinson, a psychiatrist at Tufts Medical Center.
People who already have a mental illness like bipolar disorder or who have had postpartum depression before are more likely to get it again.
“It’s a very serious condition,” Robinson said. “It’s more than just being sad or crying from time to time.”
Depression causes people to feel sad all the time, not want to get out of bed, cry all the time, and have trouble eating, sleeping, and focusing. Psychosis is characterised by distorted or false beliefs and hallucinations.
“It’s a life crisis to have a baby under a year old and to have some other children,” Robinson said. “You are really at high risk of burning out. And if you have your own psychiatric disorder and you don’t have help — your kids could be difficult, just normal difficult. . . . It can drive you to the point of becoming psychotic.”
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