Never has a news story affected me the way the Andrea Yates tragedy did when it first broke. I was in the car when I heard the news on the radio, and I literally had to pull over -- the horror was just too overwhelming. As I recall it, these were the words that constricted my chest: "Police say the mother chased her oldest son around the house after having drowned his younger siblings." Noah was 7. He screamed as his mother dragged him to the tub.
I later learned from court testimony that the boy struggled for his life while his mother held him under water and twice broke through the surface to sputter an apology for anything he had done wrong to merit such a punishment. Another of the children, it might have been John (6) or Paul (3), was found with strands of his mother's hair in his fist.
On July 26, at her retrial, Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity. She will be committed to a mental institution for an indefinite period, but her crime is erased.
Few people who heard the details of Yates's disintegration could doubt that she suffered from mental illness. Normal until the birth of her first child, Yates began to have psychotic "visions" after Noah was born that worsened with every subsequent birth.
She was diagnosed several times by different psychiatrists as having any of a number of dire conditions, including major depression, post-partum psychosis and schizophrenia (though the medical experts differed in their diagnoses). She first tried to commit suicide in 1999 by taking an overdose of pills. She was prescribed anti-depressants but refused to take them. She then declined to feed her children because she claimed they were eating too much. She told her husband, according to crime.about.com, that characters on television were talking to her and she imagined that there were video cameras in the ceiling of their house.
Later that same year, Rusty Yates came home to find his wife crouched in the bathroom holding a knife to her throat. She spoke of hallucinations. She was hospitalized in a psychiatric unit and remained catatonic for 10 days. The drug Haldol was prescribed, and she improved and was discharged. But the psychiatrist warned Rusty that having any more babies might renew Andrea's psychosis.
Six months later, apparently at the urging of her husband, Yates was pregnant again and had stopped taking her medication. When her father died soon after Mary, the couple's fifth child, was born, Andrea Yates fell apart. She stopped speaking, mutilated her body, frantically read the Bible and stopped feeding her infant.