Thursday, February 02, 2006

We Can't Care for the Children We Already Have (Andrea Yates Edition)

The American Taliban forced-maternity crowd just doesn't seem to get the difference between picking up an extra carton of milk at the store and having an extra baby. Or two. Or five.

Extra cartons of milk clog up the refrigerator and maybe go off; actual unwanted babies actually suffer.

One of the sadder recent stories of motherhood gone awry is that of Andrea Yates, over-burdened by yearly pregnancies, and one-after-another births, until she became deeply depressed. She tried to kill herself several times, and endured several psychiatric hospitalizations. Eventually, she became floridly psychotic and subject to command hallucinations: she drowned own her children, one by one.

Today, Ms. Yates, now divorced by Rusty, her husband, was released from jail and moved to a mental institution.

It's easier to demonize Andrea rather than connect her actions to her domestic situation, with her abusive misogynist husband and her misogynist preacher egging her on to have more and more and more children, helping her to become more and more isolated, and filling her mind with deeper and deeper notions of her own worthlessness.

On a brighter note, an interesting take on the Andrea Yates story here, at the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women's Caucus, "A Biblical Feminist Looks at the Andrea Yates Tragedy," an analysis with which we wholeheartedly agree.

Before marrying Russell Yates, Andrea Kennedy was a successful young woman working as a post-operative nurse. She enjoyed regular swimming and jogging and was apparently from a Catholic family. Their courtship included praying and reading the Bible together--so far so good.

But somewhere in that Bible study, or in the conservative Christian culture that surrounded them, they got the idea that when they married, they would not use birth control. They would lovingly accept as many children as God sent them. This ideal is still being taught by the Roman Catholic Church and by many small independent fundamentalist and Pentecostal churches. The use of contraceptives is considered a sin. There are no allowances for difficult circumstances such as postpartum depression, bipolar disorder, poverty, or rape. By giving family planning the powerful label of sin, these churches entrap women like Andrea Yates, who had five children and one miscarriage during her eight years of marriage.

We in EEWC need to reach as many women as possible with the good news that controlling their fertility is within God's will. Otherwise, more children will face abuse and even death at the hands of overwhelmed parents or caregivers. At a conference in 1986, EWC approved a resolution that stated, "Because we believe that every human being is made in God's image, we deplore violence against women and children and the misuse of power within the family." We need to find more ways to carry out our mission to curb domestic violence.

The world needs more voices like theirs, to empower women like Andrea Yates -- and to protect children.


Richard said...

I agree with most of what you write about Andrea Yates, except that you seem to give her a pass when it comes to decisions about more children. She was not always psychotic, and I assume the kids weren't conceived via rape by hubby, so shouldn't she share in the responsibility?

No Blood for Hubris said...

Sure. The two of them as a couple made poor decisions about having more children than they were able to care for well.

No Blood for Hubris said...

ps I'm having technical problems with the link to the EE women's caucus . . . working on it.

lily said...

Well there's no denying her responsibility, sure. But the point is that the effects psychologically of her scenario cannot be overstated and her husband might have seen what was happening and offered more help, the community might have offered more- intervention might have saved those kids. Demonizing her does hot help us talk about the issues with broader applications. By saying she was a monster, we can wash our hands on this line of thinking and not look at the context of her actions, her mental status, etc. Just because we suggest that there were multiple dynamics is not to suggest a free pass. But it compels us to look at the way we perpetuate these things socially.. almost always we find that somebody somewhere could have done more.

No Blood for Hubris said...

Hubby talked her into stopping working (she had been a nurse), living with a zillion kids inside a bus, isolating her from friends, basically having her take all the responsibility for them, and then telling her she was doing a shitty job. That's his responsibility. And she went with it. That's hers.