Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A Woman who kills her Baby - anything but a Monster?


As a Psychotherapist, I’ve worked with many individuals who have committed serious crimes. In my experience, these offenders are not predominantly ‘Psychopaths’ or ‘Insane’ as many people imagine. Many of them  do have social issues or mental health problems, but often these are behaviours the rest of us share - albeit to a lesser degree.

Take Anger, for example. What do YOU do when you’re brimming with frustration and rage? Storm out of the room? Yell at someone? Slam the door? 

In the recent documentary, Women Behind Bars, Sir Trevor McDonald spoke to Dawn Hopkins, a woman convicted of killing her baby, coming to the end of a sixteen-year sentence at Rockville Correction Facility, Indiana. She told Trevor that she still doesn’t know the reason for killing her baby. All she can say is, ‘I don’t know…I lost my temper…and I should have been better than that.’

It happened in a flash of blind rage, she goes on to explain – one minute she was on the phone to her mother, watching The Simpsons – the next, she was shaking her baby to death. She had post-natal depression. The baby had a cold and was 'fussy'. She couldn’t cope.

Image: Microsoft
Sometimes, as a mother, it must feel as if the crying never stops. You need to sleep, you’re running on empty, maybe you’re a single mother without support or respite. The crying goes on and on. There are times when even the most calm and relaxed person would freak out. What do mothers do in a desperate attempt to stop their baby from crying?
 
Image: Microsoft
When you’re at the end of your tether with a screaming baby, the advice is to change the nappy, check their temperature and look for any signs of illness. If in doubt, call the doctor. ‘Rock or walk with the baby’, ‘sing or talk to the baby’. ‘Put the baby in a cot and go into another room’. Mothers with enough money might hire a nanny or regular baby-sitter to give themselves regular breaks. What if you can’t afford this luxury? Run the vacuum cleaner or play music? Call someone? Try to calm down? 

Shaken Baby Syndrome 

A huge part of the problem is that people have no idea of the harm a furious shake can do. It doesn’t feel like a deliberately decision to go all out to kill your baby. But, because the baby’s head is heavier and larger in comparison to the rest of the body, and the neck muscles are not fully developed, the head moves rapidly and unnaturally back and forth. The brain hits the inside of the skull causing permanent brain damage. Education for a new mother in these crucial details is often lacking.

Dawn Hopkins was forced to give up her first two children because she ‘abused’ them. I wish I knew more about those earlier cases – was their ‘abuse’ a result of similar fits of fury? How come she was allowed to keep this third child? I wish I knew more about Dawn’s background and history, too – was anger a theme in her life as she grew up and prominent in the people around her? Did she have a particular relationship with anger during her upbringing? My hunch would be Yes.

The Source

Individuals with anger problems usually have a 'history' involving anger. They are often a victim of anger themselves, having suffered deep seated hurt, violence or injustice. In some cases, anger becomes a currency in which to deal with family problems – a surrogate language. It can become the hidden monster in the room always ready to pounce. Individuals brought up where anger is constantly in the air often have a shorter fuse than other people and when the fuse blows it causes far more damage than your average outburst with a few curses and broken plates.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, more than 70% of ex-offenders commit another crime and return to prison within three years of their release. Indiana appears to have strict laws about which jobs are made available to ex-offenders as well as restricted access to key services such as housing. After release, most ex-offenders receive a court order to receive some kind of therapy - for anger management, conflict resolution, drug or alcohol addiction, or mental illness. They are ordered to pay fees for the therapy themselves.

The Answer?

Like my last post, I arrive at similar questions about Dawn’s future. What will be different about Dawn’s life outside that will prevent this ever happening again? Is the anger management therapy helping her? Is the only answer to ensure she is never alone - ever - with a young baby? Will she never be allowed to be a mother? Click to Tweet this Post

If this post touches you, you might be interested in a project at Booktrust, to help children including those from families of offenders, to 'change their story' and help stop the cycle of re-offending.

I hope you found this post interesting - if so, you might want to *like* my Facebook Fanpage.