The Price of Compassion

The case of the newborn baby found in a drain in Sydney’s Quaker’s Hill on Sunday and the subsequent charge against his mother, have left many people reeling. I shared an article from Kidspot on my Facebook page and it certainly provoked some strong and varied responses:

 

Speculation and opinions are everywhere on this one but very little is known for sure. These are the facts as far as I can tell:
The way I feel about this story is probably not very popular and I have already been criticised for it. But I’m going to take a deep breath here and write it anyway…
Firstly, my heart breaks for that tiny boy. I can barely try to imagine him alone, no loving arms around him, not fed and crying in the dark. Can babies feel such utter despair? I bet they can. Even imagining it hurts my heart and that poor child had to live through it. The tears are pouring down my face as I type these words. In this response I have no doubt that I am not alone.
Secondly, I wonder where this baby’s father is? There has been no mention of him in anything I have read. Did he know? Where is he? Where are the mother’s family, her friends? Did no one check on her? Did they not know she was pregnant? There is speculation that she birthed in hospital- certainly all photos of that beautiful boy show a classic hospital blanket. Did the staff not notice anything off? How on earth did this happen?
Thirdly, the mother herself. All those questions I asked that I don’t have answers to coupled with the little we know about her and her circumstances. The President of the Australian Association of Social Work says that this case is unusual and that this woman deserves our compassion and not vilification. And although it’s not the popular consensus…. I agree.
Last week was Post Natal Depression Awareness Week. And this week, a woman who has committed a terrible act is being subjected to a trial by media and internet commentary.
I don’t know for certain that she is suffering post natal depression but I think it’s likely. I wonder whether she was or is suffering post natal psychosis, as well. I wonder if she went into a dissociative state, if she was suffering bi-polar disorder, if she’d suffered something so traumatic that she just couldn’t deal with it anymore and didn’t have the capacity to reason out a better way to deal with things. There are  many scenarios I can imagine where this lady just couldn’t see her way out.
I can remember the blurry days after giving birth to both my children. The last one in particular, just 2 years ago. The hormones, the crying (hers and mine), the love and joy coupled with the overwhelming fear that I would fuck up royally, the paralysing self-doubt and anxiety- and I was a 31 year old married woman with the support of a loving husband and my family and friends and I did not have PND.
The condemnation of this mother- I get it. I do understand that response. I can see the outrage and I won’t lie- part of me feels exactly the same. Our instinct is to protect and nurture our young and this is the antithesis of that.
The other, louder part, though, speaks to the part of me that well remembers the days after birth. Especially the birth of my first child. I wasn’t as well supported as I could have been, especially after the first few weeks. My circumstances shifted and I was back at work early, only 8 weeks postpartum. I was depressed. I was unhappy. I was anxious. I sometimes felt detached and often felt isolated. Did I have PND? I don’t know. I never sought any help and the one person I confided in assured me I was being stupid, which really only fuelled my feelings of inadequacy. To tell you the honest truth, I don’t actually know how I came out the other side of that. There was much more going on in my life and things were hard for quite a long time.
So I guess that is why I feel compassion for this woman who has confessed to doing this terrible thing.
Contrary to what some people have said to me and to others, it’s entirely possible to feel compassion for a person without defending the terrible thing they have done.
I can’t help but feel that if I am correct in my thinking that this was a result of a mental illness or some kind of breakdown, then this lady can be helped. She can receive treatment. She can maybe be well again. But she can never erase what she’s done. She must live with her actions every day for the rest of her life, even if it turns out she’d not responsible for them. I can’t help feeling empathy for such a position, because to me, regret is the most isolating and futile emotion and nothing you can do will change the past. But when your regret is so huge, so encompassing, how do you see past it?
My thoughts are with that beautiful baby and I hope he gets all the love and care he needs. My thoughts are with his mother, too.

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