But the most significant change for me actually took place before I ever brought Amelia home. Though it may sound exaggerated or overly emotional or even cliche, the change that has affected me most was the moment they handed my daughter to me. When I felt that tiny, wiggling, purple baby against my skin and my eyes met hers, I literally felt like a completely different person. Scars I had clung to for years were wiped away. Anger and bitterness I'd been harboring dissolved instantly. All of the garbage in my life that could get in the way of being her mother was reduced to ashes. I was physically and emotionally exhausted from labor, but I have never been more clear in thought or set in determination. I knew in those first moments that I would go to the ends of the earth for my child. Though I knew love, I couldn't even fathom my own capacity to love someone until I had Amelia. She was only in my life for seconds before I knew that I never wanted to live without her.
As I've said in other posts, I can only speak for myself, not for other mothers. I know that these feelings are in no way unique to me, but do other women feel them instantaneously as I did? Do the feelings often need time to develop? And what happens when these feelings don't develop at all? When a woman looks at her child and doesn't think, "I would give my life for him." When a woman loves herself more than her baby? When she sees the changes that accompany motherhood as roadblocks for her own life?
Is this life-altering change something we control? Can we force motherly instincts and devotion?
I have refrained from blogging about the Casey Anthony trial because there is nothing I can say that hasn't been said before and in far more eloquent, intelligent ways. The Anthony case has been the first major murder case of the social media age and it turned into a total circus. But Anthony is not the first woman involved in (okay, accused of being involved in--are you happy?) her child's death.
As of January 2010, there were 61 women on death row. Eleven of those women killed their own children (counting one that was adopted). But the number of women who commit filicide each year is much higher than the death row numbers imply. Some studies estimate that in the United States alone, as many as 200 women each year kill their children. Often these deaths are a result of gross negligence, including failing to seek medical attention for their children. Other mothers give birth secretly and abandon the babies to die (this actually happened at the school I worked at in Memphis; thankfully the child was found and lived). There are those who physically abuse their children and those who do not protect their children from an abusive father or boyfriend (however a 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that deaths from abuse were 12% more likely to be caused by the mother than the father). But he ones that generally make the news, though--the ones who dominate the headlines and become fodder for hacks like Nancy Grace--are the mothers who murder their children, often with their own hands.
What makes a woman murder her own flesh and blood? What goes wrong that makes the one person who should be biologically programmed to protect her child violently end his life?
In 1983, Diane Downs shot her three children at close range and then drove them to a nearby hospital. One daughter died; another daughter and her son lived. Her surviving daughter actually testified against her mother at trial.
Between 1991 and 1999, Australian Kathleen Folbigg smothered her four children, who ranged in age from 19 days to 19 months. It was only when her husband found her journal that detailed the murders that she was brought to justice.
In 1994, America watched as Susan Smith cried and begged for the return of her children after she claimed they were abducted in a carjacking. Nine days later, Smith admitted to strapping her sons into her vehicle and allowing it to roll into a lake.
Ten years ago this summer, Andrea Yates--a woman with a history of severe mental illness and depression--drowned her five children in a bathtub in her Texas home and then calmly called 911.
The list goes on and on: Marybeth Tinning murdered eight of her nine children over two decades; China Arnold cooked her 28-day-old daughter in a microwave oven; and most recently, a Florida mom named Julie Scheckener
These are the stories that turn our collective stomachs. But for those of us who have children of our own, these atrocities are more than we can begin to wrap our minds around. I can't comprehend how anyone can hurt a child, especially their own. How does a woman carry a child for nine months, give birth, hold that baby for the first time, watch it grow--and then kill her own son or daughter?
|Andrea Yates, 2001|
But what about the women who seem to have motives to kill their children, such as a desire to be a man who doesn't want a family? Why would a woman choose a man over her children? And what of those who have systematically killed child after child over a period of years? Where Yates seemed to have suffered at psychotic break, these latter women kill their children and often meticulously cover it up only to kill again.
So I ask once more: what happened? Did these women ever experience "the change," the total transformation of motherhood? At one point, did they feel the same as I do about my little girl? Somewhere along the way, did these women all malfunction (for lack of better word)?
Or do these women somehow lack the capacity to feel a mother's love? Are they so selfish that they are unable to relinquish their old lives and embrace the necessary changes of motherhood?
Are they broken?
Are they evil?
Why would most mothers die for their children while other women deny theirs the chance to live?
I can't even fathom harming my daughter under any circumstance, so I can't help but wonder why these women seemed to harm their children so easily.
What determines which of us will be mothers and which will be murderers?