Why do moms try to kill their kids? Miramar case puts postpartum issues in spotlight

Postpartum depression and, in extreme cases, psychosis are in the spotlight after a new mother is accused of trying to drown her baby boy.

07/27/2014 4:04 PM

07/29/2014 7:32 AM

When a Miramar woman allegedly hurled her 3-month-old baby boy into a lake earlier this month, many people, including seasoned professionals, were left speechless.

Jennifer Silliman, however, felt compassion for the new mother, Inakesha Armour.

Silliman, who lives in Palm Beach County, is making a documentary, Dark Side of the Full Moon, on the topic of postpartum depression and other ills that can accompany pregnancy.

The Miramar mom’s lawyer says his client was afflicted — and needs help and understanding, not scorn and prison time.

On Monday, Inakesha Armour, 33, was charged with two counts of attempted premeditated murder. Her attorney said he has entered a written plea of not guilty. She was recently transferred from jail to the psychiatric unit at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood. Her son remains hospitalized in critical condition.

The case has shone a spotlight on a mental health issue that is highlighted whenever a mother, seemingly inexplicably, does something horrible to a newborn child. Few crimes elicit such visceral feelings.

“The mere fact that you have a mental condition is not an excuse for a criminal act,” said David Waksman, a longtime Miami-Dade prosecutor, now retired.

“It has to be so severe that it literally prevents you from knowing what you are doing,” he said. “You have to be very leery when someone says it’s a ‘mental health issue.’ ”

But Silliman, 34, said, “This is a real thing, and a lot of women are affected by it.”

This was not Armour’s first attempt at killing her son. She said she previously tried to kill her son by feeding him adult cough syrup and trying to smother him with a pillow. Cayden survived after Armour’s mother foiled her plan.

She told police she thought about harming baby Cayden daily.

Pregnancy can bring on several mental health issues, including postpartum psychosis, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Postpartum psychosis can cause women to tailspin and have psychotic breaks — even kill their children by stabbing, drowning or smothering, said Shoshana Bennett, a California clinical psychologist and maternal mental health expert.

While one in seven women experience postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis is far more extreme — and much rarer, seen in one or two women per thousand who have just had a baby, according to Wendy Davis, executive director of Postpartum Support International.

“Postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are two separate conditions, and it is critically important that providers and families recognize the differences,” Davis, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, wrote in an email. “The difference between psychosis and depression or anxiety is that psychosis is a complete break from reality while with anxiety and depression, the mom knows she is struggling but does not lose touch with reality.”

There is a 5 percent rate of infanticide or suicide associated with women who develop postpartum psychosis, according to the organization.

Armour’s clinical diagnosis is postpartum depression and psychosis, according to her attorney, Jeremy James Kroll.

Cayden remains in critical condition at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood. His mother said he was under water for about six minutes and was turning blue when she plucked him out of the lake. A nurse drove by in time to give the baby CPR.

“We want people understand this is a mental health issue, and we are trying to deal with it in a reasonable and appropriate way moving forward,” Kroll said.

A video of Armour on YouTube, posted before the birth, portrayed a loving mother-to-be and husband eagerly awaiting the arrival of their child.

On Facebook, family members have asserted that Armour was “not a monster” and that she helped out with other family members’ children.

“It breaks your heart to see someone who is a brand new parent have something happen to them that involves mental illness,” Kroll said.

Doctors had tried to help help Armour get treatment, Kroll said. Her husband, Conlan Armour, told police that they kept watch over his wife and made sure someone was with her in the house when he was at work. Her mother was in the house the day that Armour took the baby to the lake.

She told her mother she was taking the baby to visit a neighbor.

The family has set up an online page to raise money for the mother and son’s healthcare — and for Armour’s legal fees.

While Armour’s case is in the spotlight, several others have also played out in the public eye.

• A Southern California mother, Carol Coronado, faces murder charges for allegedly stabbing her three young daughters to death in May. Her husband claims she suffered from postpartum depression when she killed the girls and then tried to kill her mother.
• Miriam Carey was diagnosed with postpartum depression and psychosis after the birth of her daughter, her family said. Last October, she was shot five times in Washington, D.C., after leading police on a chase from the White House to the Capitol with her baby girl inside the car. Carey did not survive.
• In 2010, Danqiong Yang, 37, who lived in Pinecrest, pleaded guilty to killing her toddler son and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Her attorney had planned to argue that she suffered psychosis stemming from postpartum depression, but decided to avoid trial.

Perhaps the most infamous case of a mother killing her children took place in 2001 when Andrea Yates drowned her five children one by one in a bathtub. The Texas woman was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Yates believed that she was saving the souls of her children from the devil, said her criminal-defense attorney, George Parnham.

Parnham still represents Yates, who now resides in the Kerrville State Hospital in Texas.

Bennett began her crusade to help women after she struggled with postpartum depression after both of her pregnancies in the 1980s.

When she was 28, she found out she was pregnant with her first child. “As soon as I delivered, I knew there was something very, very wrong,” Bennett said.

She said she couldn’t find help “because nobody talked about it.” She eventually got better, but then several years later gave birth to her son, and it happened again.

She learned that Europe and other places were far ahead of the United States in terms of treating and screening women for mental health issues during and after pregnancy.

“Postpartum depression is not something that generally goes away by itself,” she said. “It could happen to the best of us. Women with a clean history can be affected by this.”

Jennifer Moyer, 47, was interviewed about her bout with postpartum psychosis by the documentary producers.

No one told her about postpartum psychosis as she prepared for the arrival of her baby boy. She had suffered a miscarriage earlier.

So, when the disorder struck her in 1996, she had no idea how to deal with it.

Eight weeks after her son was born, Moyer began having sleepless nights. She soon started fearing that someone was going to try to harm her and her baby.

Distrusting everyone, Moyer would no longer let anyone — including her husband — hold her son.

One day, when Moyer refused to let go of the baby, her husband finally realized he needed to get his wife help. He called her doctor.

“They had to pry the baby out of my arms, I was so scared,” Moyer said.

She was diagnosed with postpartum depression. But she knew what she had was more severe.

It wasn’t long before Moyer had a “full-blown psychotic episode,” she said.

While sitting in church, Moyer hallucinated that the priest was saying he was going to sacrifice her son. First responders were called to the church.

Moyer said she was then properly diagnosed with postpartum psychosis.

“Getting the correct diagnosis was like a weight being lifted off my shoulders,” she said.

Moyer has since recovered and used her experiences to write A Mother’s Climb Out of Darkness. The book chronicles how she overcame postpartum psychosis.

Treatment options have improved over the years. The key is screening and being aware of early symptoms, said Dr. Kenneth Johnson, the chairman and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Advocates say more is being done now for new mothers, including joining forces to help each other overcome postpartum challenges. There are also blogs, conferences, support groups and other activities designed to bring awareness to the illness.

Still, film producer Silliman said she would never have another child because of her experience with maternal mental health issues.

When she began her third trimester, images of a sharp object in her belly flashed in her head.

She never told anyone that even the sight of sharp objects — knives, razors or scissors — made her shake with fear.

She hoped that when her daughter was born, the images would vanish and she would return to her former, cheerful self.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, she started seeing images of knives stabbing her daughter. She knew she would never act on her thoughts, but she avoided sharp objects at all costs.

She realized she needed help and told her husband everything. At his suggestion, they hid all the sharp objects in their home.

“I was very lucky that he was so supportive,” she said.

She made an appointment with a therapist and learned that what she was experiencing was common.

“Women who come out on the other side are some of the strongest women you will ever meet,” she said.

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