Maternal Filicide – Bad Brains or Bad Bonds?

Maternal filicide
has ancient roots. Under Roman Law, patria potestas, the right of a father to kill his own children was protected. It was not until the 4th century that Christianity, influenced heavily by Judaic law, began to regard filicide as a crime. Still, mothers who killed their infants or newborns received lesser sentences under both the laws of the church and the state.The church consistently dealt more leniently with those mothers whose children died by “overlying,” an accidental death by smothering when a sleeping parent rolled over on the infant. England has traditionally viewed infanticide as a “special crime” passing its first Infanticide Act in 1623 and more recently in the Infanticide Acts of 1922 and 1938.  Most recently England passed the Infanticide Act of 1978 which allows a lesser sentence for attempted infanticide. Unlike England and other European countries, the United States has not adopted special statutes to deal with infanticide (murder of a child 1 year or younger), or neonaticide (murder of an infant on the first day of its birth).

You`ve heard the the expression “maternal instinct” but have you given any thought as to the real meaning behind it?  We assume that mothers instinctively bond with their babies and know how to adequately care for them.  The latter isn’t always so and the former is often not so.  Most young, new mothers need help with learning how to bathe, feed and nurture an infant.  So much for instinct. That seems odd considering animals usually exhibit a natural ability to love and care for their young.  As higher-thinking animals, you’d think it would be even easier for humans, but that isn’t always the case. Perhaps because we are a highly intelligent species, mothers become overwhelmed with all the possible right and wrong ways to raise and nurture a child. Too much intelligence, it would seem, can get in the way of natural instinct.

There is a chemical reaction between mother and baby that greatly assists the bonding process: oxytocin.  Without it, many mothers and infants wouldn’t bond and severe attachment disorders would develop in infants.  As long as contact with the infant remains, oxytocin causes mother to be more caring, to be more eager to please others, to become more sensitive to other’s feelings, and to recognize nonverbal cues more readily.Multiple psychology studies have demonstrated that, depending on the practices of the parents, the resulting high or low level of oxytocin will control the permanent organization of the stress-handling portion of the baby’s brain — promoting lasting “securely attached” or “insecure” characteristics in the adolescent and adults.

Parents “learn” to enjoy beneficial activities such as breastfeeding  and holding, and infants “learn” to enjoy contact such as being held, carried, and rocked, all as a response to opioid release. Babies need milk, and opioids are nature’s reward to them for obtaining it, especially during the initial attempts. Sadly, over the last century parents have been encouraged by industry-educated “experts” to ignore their every instinct to respond to baby’s powerful parenting lessons. Psychologists, neurologists, and biochemists have now confirmed what many of us have suspected: that many of the rewards of parenthood have been missed along the way, and that generations of children may have missed out on important lifelong advantages.

Therein perhaps lies the problem murderous mothers, except in the extreme. Perhaps they do not produce enough or any oxytocin to assist with bonding with their babies. Perhaps opioids are not released in their systems. There could be other brain chemistry factors at work that haven’t yet been discovered.  Any of these conditions may also be influenced by hereditary factors.  Again, this begs the question of a possible pathological gene. Of course, there is no denying environment in mother-infant bonding. Many pathological mothers themselves have been victims of neglect and abuse from the time they were infants, through their early, formative years and beyond. Is poor mothering the outcome of childhood abuse, or is it the absence of essential hormones and neurotransmitters, such as serotonin anddopamine.

Personality Disorders
Irregularities in any of the above suggests abnormality in infant-mother bonding will be inevitable in motherhood. Brain chemistry has stronger effects on human behaviour than what is currently understood by the average person.  It is responsible for severe mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, which are also inherited in families. It is not certain as to whether brain chemistry abnormalities influence the development of personality disorders, since these are not classified as illnesses and usually are not affected by psychotropic medication. Personality disorders are a class of personality types and enduring behaviors associated with significant distress or disability, which appear to deviate from social expectations. PD’s are nearly always associated with considerable personal and social disruption. Additionally, personality disorders are inflexible and pervasive across many situations.

Child Abuse
Child abuse
and neglect consistently evidence themselves as antecedent risks to the development of personality disorders in adulthood. This doesn’t mean symptoms of a PD aren’t evident during childhood, but due to the constantly developing personality in children, a complete diagnosis is seldom made until the child reaches the age of 18. An individual may not consider their personality to be disordered or the cause of problems: this perspective is caused by the patient’s lack of insight into their own condition, preventing them from experiencing it as being in conflict with their goals and self-image. A woman with a PD who becomes a mother brings a complex series of behaviours and beliefs into the mothering of her child.  Many mothers continue the cycle of abuse with their own children, however many do not. The former are the most risky and dangerous to the developing mental stages of an infant.

The question remains whether mothers who murder are influenced by abnormal brain chemistry, or abnormal childhood experiences. Since not every mother who was raised in an abusive household commits infanticide, or becomes abusive, the debate about brain chemistry and maternal “instinct” continues. Mothers who commit murder exhibit personality disorders in the extreme. Generally it is believed that such mothers are pathological, that is, they exhibit the symptoms of sociopathy or psychopathy, however this isn’t always the case.  Only 10% of incarcerated criminals are diagnosed as pathological.

There are six major personality profiles of mothers who kill their children:

  1. Mental Illness–  Andrea Yates is a prime example of a mentally ill mother who murdered her children, 5 to be precise.  She was in the grip of a schizophrenic episode when she heard voices telling her to murder her children, who were possessed by Satan.
  2. The Retaliating Mother: The filicide could be motivated by revenge, especially with male children; the mother’s anger toward the child’s father may be displaced onto the male child, who reminds the mother of the child’s father. Sons, rather than daughters, are more at risk in retaliatory situations.
  3. The Depressed Mother: Research shows that more than a third of the mothers killed their children under the influence of depression or what could be an extended form of suicide: “I kill the one I most love — my child.”  The depressed mother is an example of abnormal levels of neurotransmitters.
  4. The Unwanted or Unexpected Mother: Unwanted or unplanned children, especially in countries where birth control and abortion are difficult to obtain, are more likely to suffer from maternal filicide. Teenage mothers definitely fill this category, especially those without a supportive family.Women who commit neonaticide, murdering an infant on the day of its birth, are typically younger, often unmarried, deny and/or conceal their pregnancies, have a lack of prenatal care, and have no plans for the care of the child. It is found that a marked risk for infant homicide was a second child born to a mother under the age of 20.  90% of neonaticidal mothers are 25 years of age or younger. Less than 20% are married. Less than 30% are seen as psychotic or depressed. Many such women consider the murder as an abortion that arrived too late.
  5. The Merciful Mother: A sick or diseased child is killed by the loving mother to protect the child from pain and suffering.
  6. The Battering Mother: In a fit of rage, they accidentally batter the child to death. The notorious case of the Boy in the Box is most likely an example of the battering mother. I don’t believe the mother intended to kill her son: I believe it was a tragic accident after years of routine battering.

Case Study: The Battering Mother – The Boy in the Box
This homicide has never been solved but I am convinced the unidentified little boy was accidentally killed by his birth mother. The evidence lies in the manner in which he was prepared for “burial“.  These are all signs of maternal remorse:

  1. evidence of immersion in water – a metaphor for amniotic fluid
  2. wrapped in a blanket
  3. placed in a J C Penney box that once held a bassinet
  4. an attempt to cut his hair after death

Case Study: The Depressed MotherTeresa Riggi
Riggi stabbed her 3 children to death. Defence wounds were found on the children`s hands. Riggi freely admitted to the multiple murders and made a plea bargain with the D.A. based on `diminished capacity.“ Riggi was described as  “an extremely pleasant and just a lovely, lovely woman…who absolutely doted on her children.“ Riggi attempted suicide by jumping out of her second floor apartment, after the murder of her children. Complicating this case was Riggi`s relationship with her estranged husband.

Case Study:  The Retaliatory Mother – Joy Akule
Akule, 28, attempted to stab her 11-year-old son to death in order to“ bury the memory of his father because each time I see him, he reminds me of his
father’s wickedness to me.“Akule admitted she transferred her aggression at her husband onto her son.

Case Study:  The Unwanted or Unexpected MotherRebecca Hofner watch caged kids life sentence

In 1994, prosecutors charged Rebecca, then 17, with killing her newborn baby.  It was considered such a heinous crime that Rebecca was tried in adult court – and sentenced to 15 years to life. at 17, after what she says was her first sexual experience, she found herself pregnant. She says she never told her parents, and they never caught on — in part because Rebecca showed few physical signs. In the upstairs bathroom, behind closed doors, Rebecca gave birth alone to a baby that weighed just over four pounds.

The cord was wrapped around its neck, and she was all gray. I could see every bone in her body. I was like, ‘She’s gonna be OK. She’s gonna be OK,’” recalls Rebecca, who says the baby was dead at birth.”I guess I panicked, and I put her in the bags. And I picked her up and I carried her downstairs and I laid her in the trash can in the garage … She wasn’t alive.” Police got Rebecca to sign a statement: She did cry and she was still moving once I put her in the bag.”

Case Study:  The Merciful MotherRett Syndrome Toddler

An Australian couple is being investigated on suspicion of murder after the alleged drowning of their 2-year-old toddler.  The little girl was born with Rett Syndrome, a condition with severe side effects, and the couple didn`t want to raise a child with challenges. The week before the “drowning“, the mother asked a doctor about a possible injection to `put her to sleep.“  The court heard her father ask, “Why do they keep children with these disabilities alive?” The father also told a social worker: “What do we do with it? It’s like a sentence, like we’re dead.” watch ding dong bell

Case Study – The Mentally Ill Mother – Banita Jacks

Banita Jacks informed police her 4 daughters were possessed by demons, hence the reason she had to stab, bludgeon, starve, and strangle them to death. Although Jacks was mentally ill if she is convicted she could receive life in prison. The children had been dead for two weeks before police investigation. watch DC woman convicted of killing 4 daughters

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