Few can forget the name Andrea Yates. That name struck the hearts of parents all over the country 15 years ago on June 20, when her unthinkable story gripped the nation. Yates is the infamous mother who took the lives of all five of her children (ranging from 6 months to 9 years in age) by systematically drowning each of them in the family’s bathtub and laying them in her bed before calling 911.
Andrea had a history of severe postpartum depression and psychosis long before she murdered her children. She had been in and out of hospitals for suicide attempts, hallucinations, severe paranoia, child neglect, and self-mutilation. It was recommended to Andrea that she stop having babies, but it fell on deaf ears. Her husband convinced her to come off of the medication that was helping to keep her stable and encouraged her to have another baby.
During her last hospital visit after the birth of her baby, the doctor decided to stop her medication altogether and sent her home to “think positive thoughts” and follow up with a psychologist.
It was during this time that Andrea decided she was going to carry out what she had been thinking about—thoughts that had haunted her for two years. She filled the bathtub with water and drowned all five of her children. The tragic events gripped a nation with unbelievable grief and questions about how and why this happened arose.
Reading about the events in their entirety, it’s clear that the people around this woman failed to recognize how serious her mental illness was, and failed to help her get the proper treatment. Andrea’s obsession with the radical religious teachings of a traveling minister named Michael Woroniecki, who taught her that “the role of women is derived from the sin of Eve and that bad mothers who are going to hell create bad children who will go to hell,” also contributed to her problems.
Andrea said in her confession that she believed she wasn’t a good mother and that her children were “not developing properly” and so she needed to be punished for this. Andrea first received a sentence of life in prison, but her conviction was later overturned because of a finding of insanity. Her ex-husband, Rusty Yates, has forgiven her and says it was her illness that did this, not Andrea.
Fifteen years later Yates lives in a Texas mental health facility. She spends her time watching old movies of her children playing and laughing. She also makes aprons and cards in the facility’s craft room and sells them anonymously and gives all of the proceeds to the Yates Children Memorial Fund that is dedicated to women’s mental health issues, specifically postpartum depression.
Yates’ defense attorney, George Parnham, admits that when he met Andrea people were oblivious to the problems of psychosis and postpartum depression. He feels that her case helped to bring awareness to the issue and change opinions on how serious this illnesses can be.