Mother who ‘smothered baby because she feared he was autistic was insane and had postpartum depression’

7 Dec

The story is on the Daily Mail’s website: Mother who ‘smothered baby because she feared he was autistic was insane and had postpartum depression’

A mother killed a six month old out of fear that the child was autistic. She says that she feared the child “would emotionally and financially ‘ruin’ her life”. She has been declared insane and will not be prosecuted.

A mother who allegedly smothered her six month old son because she feared he had autism will not face a murder charge.

Prosecutors said they doubt if they could prove Stephanie Rochester was sane at the time of the killing.

and

An arrest warrant for the 2010 killing revealed that Rochester feared her son had autism and tried to suffocate him with a plastic bag at their home in Superior, Colorado.

When that failed she used blankets to end his life.

The arrest warrant revealed Rochester had wanted to kill herself but did not want to ‘burden’ her husband with an autistic child.

Rochester told detectives that she thought having an autistic child would emotionally and financially ‘ruin’ her life.

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15 Responses to “Mother who ‘smothered baby because she feared he was autistic was insane and had postpartum depression’”

  1. MikeMa December 7, 2011 at 16:29 #

    Saw this on the Huffington Post. Sad indeed. The way the article is written, “she thought her son was autistic”, would possibly indicate that he might be on the milder end of the spectrum if he was autistic at all. Six months is a bit young for a certain diagnosis I believe.

    I wonder what might have helped her more, a health care system that helped her deal with the possible future care her son might have required or a support system that taught her to value her son as loved family member rather than a burden, a mistake or a cross to bear.

    • mplo September 29, 2014 at 13:59 #

      That mother needs some serious psychiatric help, and to serve a jail sentence, to boot. No matter what problems her kid had, there was no excuse for her killing that kid. She should’ve had professional psychiatric counseling PRIOR to committing such a horrendous crime against her kid and depriving him of his right to live.

  2. sharon December 7, 2011 at 23:15 #

    @MikeMa the women was suffering from Post Natal Depression. What would have helped in this case would have been treatment for the PND. The baby was unlikely ASD, and as you state, at 6 months there would be no way to tell. The problem here was with the mothers thought processes. She was clearly very unwell.

  3. MikeMa December 8, 2011 at 01:42 #

    @Sharon
    Yeah, the PND thing really sticks out. I was diving in too deeply maybe to see that. Never experienced it first hand either. Awful outcome.

  4. daedalus2u December 8, 2011 at 03:52 #

    Sharon, I agree she had PPD or probably postpartum psychosis, but when the “better dead than autistic” meme is publicized to try and raise money, people get it in their heads that thinking about and wanting to kill their child because that child is autistic is a “normal” thought and not a sign of psychosis or delusion or crazy-thinking.

    Filling public discourse with crazy-talk, such as “better dead than autistic”, does make it more difficult for people to monitor themselves and to ask for help when they do have ideas such as that.

  5. sharon December 8, 2011 at 13:12 #

    @ daedalus2u, the assertion that any sane parent would consider killing their autistic child as a ‘normalised” result of reading in a newspaper that another parent, albeit delusional, did so seems to me a very long bow to stretch.

    Every day around the world newspapers report murder, rape and all sorts of other atrocities. Are you suggesting that most other acts of a similar nature are copy cat crimes? Or can you accept that life is messy. People who are not fundamentally bad, do bad things. That people once sane, can commit insane acts? That not everything news outlets report about autism actually has much to do with autism? In fact they are exploiting the emotive reaction that comes from mentioning the word?

    Sometimes I think the online autism community is so wrapped up it’s own issues it forgets there’s a whole world of suffering going on outside it. My fervent hope is that health services lift their game in order to help mothers who are struggling. But as one mum who was in that position some time back I don’t hold out much hope.

  6. MikeMa December 8, 2011 at 16:13 #

    @Sharon,
    Not copycat so much as despair as a result of perceived failure. If you live in a world where autistic children are treated as aberrations caused by some external evil like vaccines, you might feel guilty for allowing the child to be vaccinated. You might act in very destructive ways toward the child as a symbol of that failure.

    Many parents here and on other blogs have stressed that autism can be both difficult and rewarding. They also believe that autism isn’t someone’s fault but the luck of the draw. You deal with it as best you can.

    The loony fringe cannot accept that they made a mistake, either genetic or vaccine oriented and lash out making their children symbols of failure.

  7. Liz Ditz December 8, 2011 at 17:47 #

    Please read Emily Willingham’s take on this story:

    Autism is not the monster. Postpartum depression is, and it has some help.

    http://biologyfiles.fieldofscience.com/2011/12/autism-is-not-monster-postpartum.html

    Emily is a scientist, the mother of a son with autism, and a postpartum depression survivor.

    Then when you have read that, please go read Shannon Rosa’s essay on the same subject (personally I don’t like the title, but the content is excellent)

    Vanquish the forces of autism evil! Declare your #autismpride!

    http://www.squidalicious.com/2011/12/vanquish-forces-of-autism-evil-declare.html

  8. sharon December 8, 2011 at 23:33 #

    MikeMa, I understand how those differing narratives impact on others. I agree that we must consider the language we use and the messages we send. But my hunch is in this case we are talking about psychosis. This mother may have had the seed of autism planted in her disturbed mind in any manner of ways, an interview on the radio, a documentary on tv, watching Rainman at home one day. There’s no way of knowing, and she probably wont ever be able to say why if she ever recovers fully. Which is likely with support.

    My point is that this is a tragic story for all involved, but it about Post Natal Depression.

  9. David N. Brown December 9, 2011 at 18:27 #

    I’m very puzzled by this report. Prosecutors don’t HAVE to prove a defendant “sane” in any conventional sense. They only have to prove that a defendant was not so deluded or irrational as to be unaware of what she was doing and that it was illegal. By all indications, this woman at least satisfies the first test.

    David N. Brown
    Mesa, Arizona

  10. daedalus2u December 9, 2011 at 22:04 #

    Sharon, I am not saying a sane person would consider killing their child depending on what the community is saying, but someone on the edge of sanity might. There is a spectrum of “sanity” (remembering that sane/insane are legal/cultural terms and not medical terms). Andrea Yates thought that Satan was going to get her children unless she killed them. In her fundamentalist church, that was what passed for “sane” thinking. At her trial, her minister never backed down from testifying that the only way to treat mental health issues was with prayer and that if Andrea Yates had these difficulties, it was because she was insufficiently devout. In her fundamentalist religious community, thinking mental health issues were medical issues was “insane” while thinking they were religious issues that could only be fixed with prayer was “sane”.

    Someone exposed to the meme of “better dead than autistic” and on the edge of sanity might not be able to appreciate that thoughts of killing one’s child are a sign of insanity and so doesn’t seek help. They might (as I suspect may have happened in this case) interpret thoughts of killing one’s child (due to postpartum psychosis) as being due to thinking the child has autism. In times past, people maltreated their children to the point of death because they “thought” they were changelings. We now know that there are no changelings, the belief that a child was a changeling was a delusion. Most likely that delusion followed and was to rationalize feelings of abusing the child and did not precede those feelings. I think that Andrea Yates had feelings to kill her children and interpreted them using her religious world-view that it was about Satan.

    Mental health issues are so stigmatized that many people who need help are unable to compel themselves to get it while they are still able to appreciate that they need help. Would a more civil discourse have prevented this tragedy? I don’t know. I think that less stigma against getting mental health services would have made it easier for her to do so. I think there is a distribution of degrees of civility in the community, and when that shifts, then the threshold for people doing bad and evil and insane things shifts too.

    You are right to point out that this didn’t really have anything to do with autism. Six months is too early to diagnose, so there is no way of knowing if the child had autism or not. What the mother did have was a dreadful fear of having an autistic child. She could only have picked up that dreadful fear from the community that is broadcasting that message.

    The usual way that people think, is that they have feelings and then use their cognitive abilities to rationalize those feelings into their world view. If your world view includes the idea that a child is “better dead than autistic”, then the train of though of a mother with postpartum psychosis could be from feeling she needs to kill her child to rationalizing those feelings as being due to the child having autism. I suspect that is what happened in this case.

    David, there is a great deal of misunderstanding about what constitutes “insanity” which is a legal term and not a medical term. After the state psychiatrist wrote a report saying this poor woman was “insane”, I think the prosecutors thought it best to just accept it. I have zero doubt that they could have shopped around for a diagnosis of “sane” and gotten one, but when the first state hired psychiatrist to observe her says she is “insane”, any later diagnoses can be challenged because she (I am sure) will be on antipsychotics by then.

    I think if it was Texas, the prosecutors would have shopped around until they got a diagnosis of “sane” and would then try her for capital murder and try to execute her (as they tried with Andrea Yates).

  11. sharon December 10, 2011 at 01:36 #

    @Daedalus2u psychosis is a medical term. It’s not, in my opinion, a social construct. (yes I know other cultures explanation of psychosis can differ from ours) When someone is in the midst of psychosis incoming messages are not received or perceived as ‘normal’. So even an uplifting documentary about autism could have triggered her to spiral down into the thoughts she did about her child. I have worked with many people in various stages of psychosis. I have seen them slip from coherent to incoherent. And it is almost always impossible to understand what is triggering the direction the mind is taking them in. And later they cannot tell you either.

    Having said that Emily’s blog post as linked to above by Liz may give some insight into why autism was in this mothers mind.

    Another aspect of psychosis is that you don’t know you are. You can’t ask for help at that stage as you are not aware of the fact you have lost touch with reality. That’s why I am so sorry others around her did not intervene. I agree with you about the stigmatisation of mental illness completely. And perhaps in the earlier days she may have considered reaching out but didn’t because of shame, as you say. But at the time she killed her child it appears she no longer had the capacity to make any rational decisions such as asking for help.

    On the topic of social constructs of disability and autism in particular I’m not sure there’s any way to stop people being fearful. Unless you also deny a lot of painful truths about autism. Very few parents would wish autism on their child. It’s a very fine and complex line we walk between being honest about the difficulties autistic people live with (not all socially constructed) and to override the misinformation and stigma about this spectrum condition.

  12. David N. Brown December 10, 2011 at 06:35 #

    “I think if it was Texas, the prosecutors would have shopped around until they got a diagnosis of `sane’ and would then try her for capital murder…”

    As I mentioned above, a determined prosecutor wouldn’t even have to do that, and this case seems less problematic than some. This woman isn’t claiming she didn’t know that what she did would cause the baby’s death. She isn’t claiming that a hallucinatory figure instructed or provoked her to the deed. There’s no indication that she’s even claiming that her baby wasn’t “real” or human (which could prove to be the trickiest kind of claim to deal with). Reading between the lines, I think it’s clear that the prosecutors are trying to go EASY on the woman. (And note that, even so, there is NO indication that they are talking about letting her “walk”.) I am not going to dispute that that MIGHT be the most appropriate thing to do.

  13. Jill March 31, 2012 at 12:42 #

    Personally I think this was the plan all along poison our children so frustrated parents who can’t take it anymore, or look at their child as a burden can kill them, and be labeled insane so they can get away with murder. It is population control it is even on the Georgia Guildstones there is no surprise these things are happening now. It is a sick world we live in now were babies are no longer viewed as blessings now they are a burden.

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