Saturday, 18 December 2010

INFANTICIDE: Australia: Keli Lane

Angela Shanahan : December 18, 2010
Keli Lane, convicted of murdering her newborn baby Tegan, fits the profile of maternal killers.
The notion that a mother could not kill her baby is demonstrably false.
THE conviction of Keli Lane for murdering her middle child, Tegan, after concealing the pregnancy seems by most standards a bizarre, horrific story.
The fact that she hid five pregnancies in all -- two aborted, two that proceeded with the babies adopted out, and baby Tegan -- has already prompted a puzzled outcry. How can a mother do this? Why didn't she use contraception or have another abortion?
For many it is a matter of her being the "poor thing"; she was just crazy. But was she mad or just bad? It would be presumptuous and facile of me to come down on either side and an appeal against the jury conviction is expected.
But a couple of facts need to be considered if interest in this case is to progress beyond the ghoulishly banal and broaden our understanding of why women may kill their infants.
First, the notion that a mother could not kill her baby is demonstrably false. Not only do mothers kill their infants, but when an infant is killed it is usually by the mother.
This month, some very disturbing statistics based on judicial data were released in France by the Inserm Institute following the publicity surrounding the case of Dominique Cottrez, who killed eight of her newborn children during about 17 years. They have caused great disturbance in that country and abroad.
The findings showed that more than five times the number of French infants are killed by their mothers within 24 hours of birth -- neonaticide -- than the official mortality statistics have indicated -- or 2.1 cases per 100,000 births compared with the official rate of 0.39 cases.
The average age of these women was 26. One-third already had at least three children. More than half the women lived with their child's father. Two-thirds were employed in jobs that did not differ significantly from women in the general population regarding occupation.
What is more, the vast majority did not have frank mental illness, nor were there any true cases of denial of pregnancy (a phenomenon that is not uncommon in teenagers). Most of the women, however, appeared to have "low self-esteem, be immature and [be] dependent". None used contraception.
Except for the fact that Lane hid her pregnancies to the point of playing water polo prior to her labour and going to a wedding after she gave birth, the similarities of these statistics to what we know of her case are uncanny.
So what does this say about the "mad or just bad" question? It may look on the surface as if she is just bad. After all, if a father killed multiple offspring, he would be regarded as a monster and certainly not as a poor deluded victim of his own unreal expectations.
Although there is much more abuse and killing of children by mothers (and boyfriends of mothers) than fathers, we tend to excuse mothers. We may well ask why.
The biggest problem with the crime of infanticide is that the mothers don't always fit into two distinct categories, mad or bad. Because most of us cannot conceive of murdering a newborn we jump to the conclusion that the offending mothers are all mad. They all must have post-partum psychosis or whatever. Unfortunately the French study seems to negate this.
However, there are degrees of madness and badness. These women simply feel nothing for their newborn, many of them deny their existence or insist, as Lane did, that they are still alive. In this case, the fact that Lane hid her pregnancies may lead one to suspect that denial or delusion was more of a factor in her psychology.
There are common threads among many mothers who commit infanticide. One is that they often become pregnant multiple times without any view to keeping or even adopting the child. Hiding the pregnancy is also common.
Lane managed to keep her pregnancy from her boyfriend and Cottrez managed to keep all eight pregnancies from her husband.
So why did Lane not use contraception or have an abortion, especially since she was a serious athlete? One should remember that contraception and abortion are very different, despite the attempts of the feminists and family planners to equate the two, and they require different decisions.
Contraception requires a definite rational decision not to have children at a particular time and can be difficult to bother with, both physically and psychologically, unless one is in a committed steady relationship.
By all accounts Lane was very insecure. She had been quite promiscuous and although she apparently hoped for marriage, she was obviously too insecure in her relationships to have a child openly. It is possible she did not even know the identity of the father.
Emotionally insecure women with unrealistic career expectations such as Lane are often incapable of making a considered decision about their emotional future, so they are incapable of thinking about contraception.
With nothing but the forlorn hope for emotional security and a terror of scaring off partners with unplanned pregnancies, women such as this often have multiple abortions. Abortion is more of a quick way out. But we know it can cause terrible long-term trauma. And Lane had already had not one but two abortions, the first when she was only in high school. Draw your own conclusions.

1 comment:

  1. Great article,
    I have been putting together an article about keli lane, now she has been convicted.
    I found your blog very interesting and have linked back to you