Kristen LaBrie

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Moms On The Edge: The Fine Line Between Overwhelmed Caregiving And Criminal Acts

Kristen LaBrie, the depressed, single mother found guilty of attempted murder after failing to give her nonverbal, autistic son his cancer medications, will be sentenced tomorrow. What a sad, tragic case — not only for the poor, terribly ill boy who died at age 9, but also for the sorry state of so many mothers, who feel completely overwhelmed, trapped and unable to give and give and give some more to their children.

If you think this is an isolated case, think again.

On Tuesday, 25-year-old Lashanda Armstrong drove a minivan with three of her four children — Landen Pierre, 5; Lance Pierre, 2; and Lainaina Pierre, 11 months — into the Hudson river, killing them all. Her oldest son, La’Shaun, 10, escaped, according to a report in today’s New York Times.

The story doesn’t detail Lashanda’s state of mind, except to quote a neighbor saying she’d been looking for a job but was having trouble finding childcare so she could work. And that she’d just had a bad fight with her children’s father (who worked in a fast-food joint and didn’t live with them) about his infidelity, and told a relative she was going to “do something crazy.” One can certainly envision the perfect storm of factors contributing to the craziness: four children, three under five, relationship stress, unemployment, minimal income.

I can’t help thinking about these women, and understanding, on some level, that while killing your kids is obviously unacceptable and abhorrent, something’s got to give. And I know I’m not alone.

In 2001, after Andrea Yates drowned her five children in the bathtub, the author Anna Quindlen was moved to write a piece in Newsweek called: Playing God On No Sleep.

It begins like this:

So a woman walks into a pediatrician’s office. She’s tired, she’s hot and she’s been up all night throwing sheets into the washer because the smaller of her two boys has projectile vomiting so severe it looks like a special effect from “The Exorcist.” Oh, and she’s nauseated, too, because since she already has two kids under the age of 5 it made perfect sense to have another, and she’s four months pregnant. In the doctor’s waiting room, which sounds like a cross between an orchestra tuning loudly and a 747 taking off, there is a cross-stitched sampler on the wall. It says GOD COULD NOT BE EVERYWHERE SO HE MADE MOTHERS.

THIS IS NOT A JOKE, and that is not the punch line. Or maybe it is. The woman was me, the sampler real, and the sentiments it evoked were unforgettable: incredulity, disgust and that out-of-body feeling that is the corollary of sleep deprivation and adrenaline rush, with a soupcon of shoulder barf thrown in. I kept reliving this moment, and others like it, as I read with horrified fascination the story of Andrea Yates, a onetime nurse suffering from postpartum depression who apparently spent a recent morning drowning her five children in the bathtub. There is a part of my mind that imagines the baby, her starfish hands pink beneath the water, or the biggest boy fighting back, all wiry arms and legs, and then veers sharply away, aghast, appalled.

But there’s another part of my mind, the part that remembers the end of a day in which the milk spilled phone rang one cried another hit a fever rose the medicine gone the car sputtered another cried the cable out “Sesame Street” gone all cried stomach upset full diaper no more diapers Mommy I want water Mommy my throat hurts Mommy I don’t feel good. Continue reading