Andrea Yates⎢ A True Tale of Postpartum Psychosis

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Andrea Yates, at one point, was the most hated woman in the country.

In contrast to Chris Watts and Susan Smith, who tried to get away with murdering their children, Andrea Yates is a mother who confessed to systematically drowning her five children ranging from ages six months to 7 years, one by one in a bathtub and turned herself in right away, everyone jumped to the simple conclusion:

“She’s an evil human being; How else could anyone commit such a horrific crime?”

However, this case isn’t so black and white.

I believe it’s one of the most evident representations of how bad postpartum depression can get and how debilitating postpartum psychosis can be.

Mothers suffering from debilitating postpartum disorders need help, not judgment, shame, or ridicule if we want these tragedies to become less frequent.

Unfortunately, in the case of Andrea Yates, it was a perfect storm.

She lacked support for her emotional and mental well-being, along with a controlling husband; at one point, she was living on a bus with four kids, was being prescribed a rotation of medical cocktails, imbalanced hormones, religious cult influences, etc.

All of which ultimately led her to do the unthinkable, killing her children.

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Andrea Yates Childhood

Andrea’s Teenage Years

Andrea Pia Kennedy was born in Texas on July 2nd, 1964, to parents Jutta Karin Koehler and Andrew Emmett Kennedy.

Like many teenagers, coming into herself was difficult, along with self-acceptance.

She suffered from episodes of bulimia and depression during this time.

For those who don’t know what bulimia is, it’s a condition where an individual would binge eat and then purge or vomit it back up.

She struggled so much that she even confided in a friend about contemplating suicide.

On paper, Andrea was a typical teenager.

She was an outstanding student and a very high achiever.

She was class valedictorian, captain of the swim team, and an officer in the National Honor Society.

Andrea Yates in High School
Andrea Yates estimated from 1980-1982, Yearbook Photos.

Andrea Enrolls in Nursing School

Andrea graduated from Milby High School in 1982 and then pursued her nursing degree.

She then would complete a two-year pre-nursing program at the University of Houston.

Afterward, she would graduate from the University of Texas School of Nursing.

After completing her schooling, Andrea worked as a registered nurse at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in 1986.

Considering her mental health struggles, Andrea was an incredibly accomplished woman.

She was intelligent and determined, as evidenced by her achievements.

She worked in a nurturing role and wanted to help others in the medical field.

Colleagues would mention how much of a passionate and challenging working employee she was and how she took pride in her job.

When Andrea Met Rusty Yates

Young and Dumb

While working as a nurse in the summer of 1989, she met her husband Russell Yates (Rusty) in Houston.

They were both 25 and met at their apartment complex. Andrea never really dated anyone until she was 23.

Before she met Rusty, she was recovering from a previously broken relationship.

Shortly after, they moved in together, spending much of their time in religious devotion and prayer.

Andrea seemed to become enmeshed in her relationship with Rusty

In contrast, Rusty was deeply orthodox in his belief system of how a married couple should live.

He was very interested in a different type of religion.

That being said, Rusty was extraordinarily devoted and invested in his religion, and if they were going to be together and married one day, it was necessary to him that she too be as profoundly devoted as well.

When they got together, Rusty was adamant that when they married, they would be committed to having as many children as they could, essentially the mantra:

“Be fruitful and multiply.”

Andrea felt this pressure from Rusty very early on.

In wanting to be a suitable, loving, and supportive wife, she tried her best to give him what he wanted, disregarding her wants and needs.

Given that she was always such a high achiever and seemed to excel in anything she did, she saw the duties of being a wife and mother to be no different.

She wanted to be the best wife and mother she could be, ultimately losing herself in that endeavor.

Andrea and Rusty Yate's Wedding Day
Rusty Yates and Andrea Yates

I Now Pronounce Rusty and Andrea Yates Husband and Wife

Rusty and Andrea would court for four years before getting married on April 17th, 1993, at which point they would announce they, in Rusty’s words:

“Would seek to have as many babies as nature would allow.”

Many would report how beautiful, and happy both of them seemed.

Andrea wanted to be a wife and mother, and it seemed like everything was coming to fruition.

Knowing Rusty’s urgency to have many kids, she would get pregnant immediately.

Andrea would end up referring to herself as Fertile Myrtle, and she would be right.

She would have two of her five babies back to back.

Which in itself is crazy to be pregnant that much so continuously and still have tiny children to care for.

  • Noah Yates: Their first child, was born on February 26th, 1994
  • John Yates: Born second in 1995
  • Paul Yates: Born third in 1997
  • Luke Yates: Born in 1999
  • Mary Yates: Born last in 2000.

After the birth of Noah Yates, her first child, many would say that she didn’t seem to come off as any more or less anxious than any other first-time mom.

All in all, they seemed like your everyday average new parents.

From the outside looking in, all seemed well, and for the most part, at this point, they were.

Andrea Yates Home Life

Another Isolated Stay At Home Mother

Andrea and Rusty Yates with their four boys.
The Yates Family

Although Rusty Yates made a good living, he was extremely frugal in their way of life, believing it was sinful to live materialistically.

His belief was so extreme that at one point, they all lived in a modified school bus while Andrea breastfed Luke and homeschooled Noah, her oldest son, while also trying to tend to her two other sons in between.

Andrea stopped exercising and swimming, which she loved to do before Rusty, once she got pregnant her second time.

Her friends would say that she became reclusive.

Their decision to home school seemed to only exacerbate her isolation.

From the outside looking in, they looked like your average family.

However, it was much more complicated than that.

Rusty wouldn’t allow Andrea to get their kids haircuts, so she had to do them.

Rusty also did not allow babysitters because he believed it was solely the mother’s job as the primary caregiver.

During this time, Andrea reported in later interviews that she was developing suicidal thoughts.

They Moved Into A Modified School Bus

At one point in 1996, Rusty accepted a job in Seminole, Florida. He would move the family into a 38-foot trailer.

During this time in Florida, Andrea got pregnant again but later miscarried.

However, shortly after that, Andrea carried another pregnancy to term and delivered her third son Paul in 1997.

At this point, Andrea was alone daily, living in a trailer while caring for her three children under 3.

She would report this was when she started seriously contemplating suicide.

In 1997, Rusty, seeing how much Andrea was struggling, decided to move the family back to Houston.

Rusty said he wanted to “live right.”

So he bought a 350-square-foot renovated bus from a self-proclaimed religious prophet and traveling minister Michael Woroniecki.

Religious Delusions

Rusty religiously followed Woroniecki’s teachings and implemented them in their home.

Rusty would say he didn’t agree with all of his teachings, and it was Andrea who followed his more extremist sermons such as:

“The role of women is derived from the sin of Eve and that bad mothers who are going to hell also create bad children who will go to hell.”

Rusty noted that Andrea was captivated by his teachings which made him concerned.

Andrea’s fragile mental state makes it easy to imagine why she would firmly cling to such outrageous teachings.

Shortly after moving into the bus, Andrea gave birth to Luke.

She was now taking care of four children alone on a school bus.

She said her living conditions were beyond cramped, and Andrea’s psychosis began to boil up.

Rusty’s mother, who would visit, would report how poorly Andrea was.

She was severely depressed and reported having visions, hallucinations, and hearing voices.

Rusty’s mother would say Andrea seemed borderline catatonic.

Andrea was seen pacing, mumbling, and ranting to herself, and seemed extremely mentally ill in every way possible.

Andrea Yates Mental Health Spirals

Andrea’s Suicide Attempts

Andrea Yates with newborn Mary, her fifth and final child.

Andrea Yates seemed to lose her sense of self and connection to the outside world.

She had no support system.

It was documented that after the birth of her 4th son, Luke, was when she became severely depressed.

After having Luke, around four months postpartum, Rusty noticed she started chewing her fingers.

The next day, she attempted suicide by overdosing on pills.

After this suicide attempt, she was admitted to the hospital.

This is when she was prescribed antidepressants.

Unfortunately, a few days after being released, she held a knife to her throat, begging Rusty to let her die.

She was again re-hospitalized over this episode.

She was then given a mixture of different medications, including Haldol, an anti-psychotic drug, which seemed to stabilize her, so she was released.

Shortly thereafter, Rusty moved them into a bigger house for her health. Her stabilized condition wouldn’t last, though.

In July 1999, she succumbed to a nervous breakdown, which resulted in two more suicide attempts and two psychiatric hospitalizations that summer.

 

It Would Guarantee a Future Psychotic Depression

After the previous suicide attempts, she was then finally diagnosed with postpartum psychosis.

However, PPD doesn’t come with suicidal thoughts; that’s usually a more severe diagnosis of postpartum psychosis.

It could have prevented so much of the suffering that followed.

Dr. Eileen Starbranch, one of Andrea’s psychiatrists, urged the couple not to have more children, saying:

“It would guarantee a future psychotic depression.”

 She became pregnant with her 5th child, Mary, approximately seven weeks after her discharge.

She then gave birth to Mary on November 30th, 2000.

The Murders

Andrea Yates Father Passes Away

After her hospital discharge from having Mary, she seemed to be “coping” alright until the death of her father on March 12, 2001.

At this point, Andrea ceased taking her medication, mutilated herself, and furiously read the Bible, and she also stopped feeding Mary, her youngest daughter.

Andrea’s condition became so debilitating that she required immediate hospitalization.

Two days before the murders, Andrea visited Dr. Saeed, who took her off Haldol due to Andrea complaining about side effects.

Andrea was still under Dr. Saeed’s care when, like any other day, Rusty left for work, leaving her alone to watch the children against Dr. Saeed’s adamant instructions to have Andrea supervised around the clock.

It was planned that day Rusty’s mother, Dora, was supposed to arrive shortly after Rusty had left to help Andrea.

Between Rusty leaving for work and waiting for her mother-in-law to arrive, she took each of her children to the tub and drowned them.

Afterward, she called the police and turned herself in.

Andrea Yates 911 Call

Police Show Up

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Police would arrive shortly thereafter at the Yates residence, not sure what to expect.

They found Andrea Yates sitting on the couch, soaking wet when they arrived.

They surveilled the property, and that was when they found the children’s bodies on the parent’s bed, lying next to each other.

Noah, the oldest, was still in the bathtub, deceased when they arrived.

The police noted a lot of water on the kitchen floor and found it was Noah; after seeing what was happening to his siblings, he attempted to get away when Andrea caught him.

It was a horrific and devastating scene, and the ambulances arrived shortly thereafter to help with the scene.

Rusty would show up a little later, where he talked to the police, explained Andrea’s history of illness, and how he planned to have Rusty’s mother come that day to help Andrea out with the kids.

Andrea was taken into custody and charged with five counts of murder.

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Andrea Yates Mugshot

A Nation Left Shocked and Devastated

After the murders happened, the whole nation came to a halt.

It crushed virtually every soul who heard this on the news and brought a town to its knees.

All who knew Andrea from school were shocked and couldn’t believe it.

This wasn’t the Andrea Yates they knew.

She was sweet, smart, shy, intelligent, empathetic, all the best traits of a nurturer.

The whole town gathered together in memory of the Yates children on the day of their burial.

Hundreds of people gathered to show their condolences and support.

This tragedy truly struck an arrow in the hearts of people everywhere.

Many were thinking:

“How could this have happened? A mother taking the lives of her children? How? This isn’t the family or Andrea I know.”

 For many, this case hit close to home.

Everyone was heartbroken.

The Aftermath

What Led Up to This?

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After this, the media storm ensued, and we all ate it all up like sharks to chum.

We all know the media needs an apparent victim and villain, and Andrea was their villain.

She was deemed crazy and evil.

“How could anyone do that to thier kids? How?”

 Let’s recap a little:

  • She had a history of severe mental illness that’s never been treated.
  • A husband who worships religious fanatics and could be deemed one himself considering his extremist viewpoints
  • She was isolated from her family and friends.
  • She kept having child after child, which would be highly challenging without mental illness.
  • Rusty disregarded doctors’ advice to not only stop having kids but don’t leave her alone or with the kids alone and always make sure she’s supervised.
  • Lastly, she never really got the treatment she needed from doctors.

This is a classic example of just how bad postpartum disorders can get when you not only have a partner that doesn’t understand what’s best for you and be your advocate when you’re not thinking clearly.

Or, in Andrea Yates case, of sound mind or don’t get the medical help you need.

Where Was Rusty?

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Rusty during Andrea Yates trial.

She was constantly admitted, released, then readmitted to care facilities when she should never have left the first time, had suicidal tendencies since her adolescence, and lastly, had nobody to be her advocate.

She was never mentally able to be her advocate.

At the very least, Rusty should have been held somewhat guilty for his negligence in leaving Andrea, an extremely sick, suicidal, and psychotic woman, alone with their kids after being told not to.

Then still have more children after being explicitly advised not to.

However, I always give credit where it’s due.

I at least admire Rusty’s loyalty to Andrea throughout the aftermath of the murders.

He stood by her, supported her publicly to the press, and was disgusted that the state of Texas even prosecuted her, given her apparent unstable state.

He saw her as a victim and just wanted her to get help and treatment, not punishment or, worse, the death penalty.

Andrea Yates Trial

Andrea was initially tried and convicted and was sentenced to life in prison; however, after an appeal and prosecution witness, Dr. Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist, gave his testimony that influenced the jury to reverse the original sentencing.

It was in 2006 the jury found Yates not guilty by reason of insanity.

Where is Andrea Yates now?

At 57 years old, Andrea Yates now resides at Kerrville State Hospital in Texas.

She recently as of this year (2022) declined her annual hearing to determine if she was fit to leave the hospital.

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Andrea Yates and Attorney George Parnham

A Friend Within Her Defense Attorney

Andrea Yates defense attorney George Parnham remains in contact with her and visits her every two months.

He represents her for her release eligibility each year, and Andrea chooses to waive this right each year. Parnham has said this:

“You know, she’s so happy when I go to Galveston and I go out to the cemetery and get some flowers for the kids. I’ll tell her what I’ve done and she’s delighted that someone is out there …
…that someone is out there taking care of the kids’ graves.”

She Misses Her Children

It seems to me that Andrea feels she belongs in captivity.

She loves her children; as bizarre as that may seem, she truly loves them and misses them dearly.

At the time of the murders, she was not of sound mind and honestly felt she was doing the right thing by them.

Through her mental illness, she felt with all her heart they were in danger in this world of being corrupted as they grew, and only as purely good children would they be worthy of eternal life in heaven.

She truly believed she was saving them from eternal damnation, as absurd as it may sound to some.

She felt she was a lousy mother destined for hell, so her children were also destined for hell.

Andrea Yates Interview

The doctors who conducted this interview would go on to say:

“She is the sickest patient we have ever seen.”

For Andrea Yates today living her life in the hospital is where she finally has that peace; she is medicated; she can pray; she can make sure her babies’ graves are tended to, and she can rest and recover.

Ultimately, it’s up to her whether she wants a life on the outside or if she feels at peace living in the hospital for the remainder of her days.

Russel Yates Today

Rusty filed for divorce three years after the murders in 2004.

The divorce was granted a year later in 2005 which Rusty swiftly remarried in 2006.

Rusty Yates second wife is named Laura Arnold

Rusty and his new wife had one son together in 2008.

Laura filed for divorce in 2015.

Advocate For Sick Mothers

Be Compassionate, Not Critical

When we hear about such shocking and horrific crimes, we find comfort in just deducing the motive as being pure evil; it also helps us feel morally superior; that we can say to ourselves:

“Well, I may struggle as a mother, but I would never kill my kids; at least I’m a better mother than her.”

Or,

“There’s just no excuse. Mental illness is no excuse. She knew what she was doing. No mercy!”

That is not an exaggeration.

I have seen these comments made toward this case.

Still, even after all these years later and how far we have come with postpartum depressive disorders knowledge and awareness, we still come at struggling postpartum mothers with a sharp and judgmental tongue.

With this mindset, we prevent ourselves from learning from these cases and empathizing with mothers who do feel they are living in the balance of losing their sanity.

It prevents them from finding help due to the shame of having these thoughts.

Chalking her case up to her just being “crazy and evil” is the modern-day equivalent of men in the past diagnosing us with “hysteria”; it’s patronizing and just factually incorrect.

They Need Rescue, Not Ridicule

We must acknowledge that if you cannot possibly fathom why Andrea Yates did what she did, it simply means you are fortunate enough to never have been so deep in the depths of a psychological psychosis that takes place in those mothers with severe depression and illness to where they have these thoughts.

None of what these mothers are experiencing is rational or based on reality, and they need help, not ridicule.

One of the reasons I’m writing about Andrea, is when I read on mom forums, women anonymously talk about similar thoughts, feelings, and struggles with motherhood and postpartum.

Then they still get attacked for having such feelings; they get shamed, ridiculed, or disgraced.

This is why women don’t seek support or help due to the fear of being ostracized.

Toxic femininity is at work when women disgrace and shame other women when reaching out for support from their postpartum depression/psychosis struggles.

I challenge you, the reader, whenever you see a woman expressing these feelings, don’t judge or shame her.

Understand that those feelings are valid and possible, and help them to get help.

Let’s be there for our fellow mothers.

Let us all be more compassionate, patient, sympathetic, and understanding to one another.

postpartum psychosis symptoms
The FBI Homicidal Mother Profile

Dr. Grande’s Psychological Analysis on Andrea

If you or someone you know is struggling with any postpartum disorders, you are not alone.

Visit Postpartum Support International for help as soon as possible.

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