Sunday, July 15, 2001

Bond  of  Sorrow

United by the pain of their children's deaths,
2 fathers hope to raise public awareness
about postpartum depression to
prevent future tragedies

Below: The three faces of postpartum depression.
Tomorrow: A father's plea for more research,
treatment and understanding of a debilitating disorder.

By Treena Shapiro

During yet another sleepless night in the Houston home where his wife had drowned their five children days earlier, Russell Yates reached out for perhaps the only man who could understand his despair.

James Young lost his five children in a similar tragedy in Aiea on Nov. 22, 1965. After reading a June 26 article about the two cases on the Star-Bulletin Web site, Yates called the newsroom seeking a way to contact Young, who was quoted in the story and now lives in California. The two men spoke on the telephone two nights later, kindred spirits in dual tragedies. Yates, along with all other parties in his wife's case, is under a court order that prohibits him from commenting publicly on anything related to the case, including any similarities between his experience and Young's.

He did say, however, that he and Young had a great talk. "He was encouraging to me and supportive of my wife and me," Yates said.

Russell Yates touched one of the five caskets holding his children
who allegedly were drowned by their mother June 20 in Houston.
The background image shows Air Force Capt. James Young
hurrying home to Aiea after his five children were killed
by their mother on Nov. 22, 1965.

About this story

After Andrea Yates allegedly killed her five children in Houston on June 20, Star-Bulletin reporter Treena Shapiro wrote an article on the similar case of Maggie Young of Aiea who, in 1965, drowned her five children. In that June 26 story, Shapiro quoted James Young, the children's father. On June 29, Yates' husband, Russell, called the Star-Bulletin seeking to contact James Young. Shapiro helped the men get in touch, and Young subsequently agreed to discuss their conversation with the Star-Bulletin, to shed light on the effects of severe postpartum depression, which Young blames for his wife's actions.

For Young, an intensely private man, their conversation bolstered his conviction that more attention must be given to the potentially devastating effects of severe postpartum depression. To make that point, Young agreed to discuss their conversation and his own experiences in a second e-mail interview with the Star-Bulletin.

"A tragedy resulting from this illness must not occur again," Young wrote. "There must be better awareness of the seriousness of this illness."

Young said he told Yates to keep his faith, not to be ashamed to cry and to be prepared to cope with the pain for the rest of his life. There is no such thing as closure, he said.

"I still cry and had my share of tears following his tragedy," Young wrote. "After all these years the tears come less frequently but I have days and nights. After I remarried my wife was understanding and comforting."

Holidays are still difficult, Young said, especially Thanksgiving. On that day in 1965, he arrived in San Antonio with the bodies of his children, who were buried the following Sunday at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

"Christmas is also very difficult. Memories come flowing back. Christmas is for the children. Without them, Christmas is not the same," wrote Young, now 72.

Young and Yates shared memories of their kids, which Young told him to cherish.

"I told him that for years, I would experience anger every time I saw someone humiliating a child in public, especially in restaurants. I wanted to tell the abusing parent that they should enjoy their children," Young wrote. "Their time together may be shorter than they think."

Both Maggie Young and Andrea Pia Yates had been hospitalized for mental illness before the killings, then sent home, Young pointed out.

"When Maggie was in the hospital, I prayed a lot. Mostly I prayed that she would come home to us. When she did come home, and in a few weeks drowned the children, I blamed the Almighty. Then I realized that my prayers were answered. I should have prayed for her recovery," he wrote. "Then I blamed myself."

Young recalled that his wife displayed symptoms of depression that gradually developed into a psychotic state. She was unhappy and felt inadequate. She was constantly tired, sleeping during the day and going to bed in her clothing.

"Her behavior slowly changed until nothing I nor the children did was right," he wrote.

Eventually she was unable to care for her five youngest children, leaving them in the hands of her two adult daughters from a previous marriage.

"After they left, I would come home to find the children in dirty or wet diapers. I would change them, give them their baths and get them ready for bed. During all this she would be in bed," Young wrote.

But the descent was so gradual that Young did not at first recognize it as mental illness. Eventually, Maggie Young began having delusions and hallucinations. She disappeared for three hours one night, then came home saying she had been to church where God told her that her husband was Jesus and his grandmother had been the Blessed Mother.

A few days later, she took a broom to Young when he tried to open the door and leave for work. "She said, 'They are out there. They have come to kill me.'"

Young took the day off from work and tried to have his wife committed to the hospital, only to learn she would have to enter voluntarily. Persuading her to do so required the help of their priest and doctor, but she agreed.

"She was in the hospital at least a month to six weeks when the psychiatrist told me there was nothing more he could do for her. Any improvement would have to come at home."

Soon after, their children were dead.

Young, then an Air Force captain stationed at Hickam Air Force Base, was away on a flying mission the day of the slayings. Maggie Young drowned their four daughters -- Jessica, 8 months; Jeanette, 2; Judith, 3; and Janice, 5 -- laid their naked bodies on a twin bed, then walked to Alvah Scott Elementary School, pulled their 8-year-old son -- James Frank, Jr., 8 -- out of class and took him home to meet the same fate.

A panel of court-appointed psychiatrists found that Maggie Young had been acting under a "diseased and deranged condition" and was not fit to stand trial. The 38-year-old woman was sent to the Hawaii State Hospital in Kaneohe and with treatment began to realize what she had done. She escaped and hanged herself in a chicken-slaughtering shed on the hospital grounds.

The grief-stricken Young never stopped mourning the loss of his family, but eventually managed to rebuild his life. He remarried, although he had no more children.

He prefers to keep details of his life private. But when he read about how Andrea Yates had confessed to killing her five children in Houston on June 20, he felt compelled to revisit his past, in hopes of helping the Yates family.

Like Maggie Young, Andrea Yates had drowned her children -- Mary, 6 months; Luke, 2; Paul, 3; John, 5; and Noah, 7 -- in a bathtub at home. Like Maggie Young, Andrea Yates placed the wet bodies of her children on a bed, except for Noah, whom she left in the bathtub. Both women confessed to the police.

Most significantly to Young, both his wife and Andrea Yates had previously been hospitalized for mental illness.

Andrea Yates, 37, who had been hospitalized after a suicide attempt before the killings, has been charged with capital murder for the deaths of her two oldest sons, 7 and 5, and also has admitted to drowning her 2- and 3-year-old sons and her 6-month-old daughter. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether they will seek the death penalty if she is convicted. She is in jail under 24-hour suicide watch. Her next scheduled court appearance is July 24.

Young maintains that Andrea Yates needs medical treatment, not prison.

"I don't mean to say that all parents who kill their kids are innocent by reason of insanity. But those suffering from SERIOUS (postpartum depression) do not need to be in jail. They need to be given treatment," he wrote. "Hopefully, the treatment will come before the tragedy."

Although he does not intend to intrude on Yates' life, Young said that he has made himself available. The two men have exchanged e-mail addresses, he said. "He is invited to contact me any time."

Russell Yates, 36, a NASA computer engineer, has said that his wife had been taking the powerful anti-psychotic drug Haldol to treat postpartum depression, which she experienced after the birth of her last two children. He has not said publicly whether she was still on the medication when she killed her kids.

Her brother Andrew Kennedy has said that she had been hospitalized at least four times after a suicide attempt several months ago. She also had attempted suicide after the birth of her fourth child.

Just as Russell Yates has asked for sympathy and understanding for his wife, Young stood by Maggie Young after their children's deaths.

Young's wife at first told him she believed her actions had been not only right, but necessary. "In her mind she had removed the children from a cruel world and had sent them to a far better place to be with God.

"I think that the proof that she truly believed this is demonstrated in the fact that as her treatment slowly returned her to reality, she began to realize that what she had done was terribly wrong and eventually she could no longer live with the terrible truth."

Lingering symptoms hint
at postpartum problem

Star-Bulletin staff

Most mothers experience some sort of mood change during the first year after childbirth, ranging from short-lived "Baby Blues" to severe depression or psychosis. Women with persistent or severe symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.


"Baby Blues" has a quick onset -- usually one to three days after birth -- and occurs in 50 to 80 percent of mothers.

>> Physical symptoms: lack of sleep, no energy, food cravings or loss of appetite, feeling tired after sleeping.

>> Mental states: anxiety, excessive worry, confusion, great concern over physical changes, nervousness, feeling of "I'm not myself," lack of confidence, sadness, feeling overwhelmed.

>> Behavioral reactions: crying more than usual, hyperactivity or excitability, oversensitivity, feelings hurt easily, irritability, lack of feeling for the baby.

>> Treatment: monitoring and support.


Postpartum depression occurs in 3 to 20 percent of mothers any time after birth. Depression may last a few weeks or months, sometimes up to one year.

>> Physical symptoms: headaches, numbness, tingling in limbs, chest pains, heart palpitations, hyperventilating.

>> Mental states: despondency or despair, feelings of inadequacy, inability to cope, hopelessness, overconcern for baby's health, impaired concentration or memory, thoughts of suicide, bizarre thoughts.

>> Behavioral reactions: extreme behavior, panic attacks, hostility, new fears or phobias, hallucinations, nightmares, extreme guilt, no feelings for baby, overconcern for baby, feeling like "I am going crazy."

>> Treatment: physical examination, support groups, psychiatric counseling, medication


Postpartum psychosis occurs in less than 1 percent of mothers. Onset is severe and quick, usually within the first three months.

>> Physical symptoms: refusal to eat, inability to stop activity, frantic excessive energy.

>> Mental states: extreme confusion, memory loss, incoherence, bizarre hallucinations.

>> Behavioral reactions: suspiciousness, irrational statements, preoccupation with trivia.

>> Treatment: psychiatric care, medication

Source: The Postpartum Support International Web site at

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