Life with Anna was great….at first. Being a mother was great….at first. I had always wanted a girl with red hair and when she was born on December 27, 2002 I was so excited! I recall going through a myriad of emotions in the hospital after she was born. I was happy, but nervous. “Could I do this on my own?” The day I brought her home, my mother, father, and brother were with me. That evening we had dinner in the house I had purchased a month before. I remember crying for no reason and thinking “What is wrong with me? I was just happy earlier today.”
I had six weeks of maternity leave and two weeks of vacation so I was able to be with Anna for the first two months of her life. It was so amazing! I was able to get her sleep and feeding schedules regulated within that time. Just being with her made me feel so proud and happy. When it was time to go back to work, I became very emotional. I had become very attached to my little baby girl and I felt so guilty for going back to work. I returned to my job as an Assistant Vice President and Personal Banker with a global bank and I found a lady who would take care of Anna in her home. I did what every mother has to do to provide for her child. I worked, came home, and made sure Anna was fed, bathed.…all the things that are important for a baby. The highlight of my day was picking Anna up from home care and seeing the look of recognition on her face and her smile when she first saw me!
I remember that the depression began about three months before I took Anna’s life. I had hardly any time with my daughter, because I worked full time and I felt guilty for not being able to be with her more. I felt alone, overwhelmed, and even day-to-day activities seemed insurmountable. Taking care of Anna was a chore, and every aspect of my life was black and dull. This went on for a couple of months. It became hard for me to make small decisions like what to wear or what to eat. I would think “What good am I if I can’t even make a small decision?” I was physically achy, had no energy, and had no desire to do anything except get through the day. I tried to numb the pain with a couple glasses of wine in the evening after Anna went to sleep.
In August of 2003, I remember starting to think about hurting Anna. There were horrible images in my head of hurting her. I could not believe that I could even think thoughts about suffocating her! I felt so guilty and said to myself, “I’m a horrible mother. How can I be having these thoughts?” I began to loathe myself and thought about taking my own life. Over the next few weeks, I felt worse and worse. I became detached from my friends and family. I would turn my phone off in the evenings, and when people left phone messages I would not return them. At first, all I wanted was silence, and to be left alone.
But I found that there was no comfort in the silence. I remember I felt empty inside…hollow is the only way I can describe it. I began to loathe the quiet, because it was in the silence that I could hear my own thoughts. My mind was never at peace.
I was anxious and in a constant state of worry. The paranoia was extreme. I thought my boss wanted to fire me. I thought everyone was talking about me at work behind my back. I was afraid someone would kidnap Anna. I was afraid that we would run out of gas in 100 degree temperatures and be stranded. I would try to drown my thoughts by watching TV. But those TV images succeeded in depressing me further and made me feel inadequate. The commercials on TV of nice homes, nice cars, and of the happy two-parent homes mocked me and told me I would always be poor, and that my daughter would be embarrassed to live in a manufactured home in a poor neighborhood. The commercials only reminded me of what I did not have and what I would not be able to give Anna. The thoughts tormented me, haunted me, and would not stop. Thoughts of despair, frustration, loneliness, and paranoia haunted me and there seemed no way to stop them.
I had a desire to escape it all: the guilt, the physical aching, the ruminations, the paranoia, and the nightmares. I was so tired, and there was no rest in my mind. I could only sleep for a couple of hours a night and was exhausted every day. The insomnia made me feel like a walking zombie. The emotional ache and physical exhaustion was constant; never leaving, never subsiding. The dread of getting up every day was palpable. I felt worthless and hopeless. I felt that Anna would be better off without me.
So I decided to take my own life. I made this decision on September 2, 2003, after I could not fall asleep after trying to for hours. I was so desperate for sleep and desperate for relief from my anxious thoughts. I did not want to hurt Anna, and I knew that if I killed myself that would not happen. It made sense to me in that moment and taking my own life seemed like a good plan. I knew that if I died that night she would be fine, because someone from work or my parents would be worried and soon come to the house. She would survive because I would not be around to hurt her.
I left a suicide note for my parents. Then, I took a combination of over-the-counter sleeping pills and generic Tylenol, close to 100 pills, thinking that I just would not wake up. When I did wake up about 8 am the morning of September 3, I was so frustrated that I was not dead. My mind shifted and I began to think, “I should save Anna from this life of despair and pain.” My thoughts were “If I do this, she will go to heaven. She won’t ever have to suffer like I am suffering now. If this is all life is – pain, suffering, misery, and hopelessness – then I want to save her from it!” I knew in my heart that she would go to heaven and in that moment I was so desperate to save her somehow. Since I was unsuccessful at taking my own life to save her, I thought this was the only other alternative in that moment.
So, I went into her bedroom and she looked up at me, excited to see me as always when I went to get her out of her crib every morning. I had a pillow in my hand and placed it over her head. I held it down until she stopped breathing. When I pulled the pillow away, my first thought was, “She is safe.” Then, when I picked her up to hold her and her body was limp, the gravity of what I had done hit me. I called 911 and told them my baby was not breathing. The 911 operator told me to put her on the floor and guided me through performing CPR on Anna, which I did. When the knock came, I ran with her to the door and handed her over to the paramedics. They took her to the ambulance outside my house and I followed them to observe what was going on. I don’t remember how much time passed until they told me it was time to go to the hospital and asked me if I wanted to come. I jumped in the front cab of the ambulance and we headed towards Phoenix Children’s Hospital. I remember asking the paramedics in the back working on Anna, “Is she gone?” The only thing I had with me was my cell phone and on the way I called my parents to tell them we were going to the hospital.
When we arrived, they rushed us into an emergency room and I remember watching as they had Anna on an operating table and began putting tubes into her. It was horrible sitting there knowing that I was the reason this was happening. A woman came and sat next to me, and I remember that she asked me what happened. I told her it was my fault and that I tried to commit suicide the night before. I don’t remember exactly what this woman said to me, but I do remember that I told her I had smothered Anna. I wanted the doctors to know so they could operate more effectively on her. After telling her what I had done to myself and to Anna, I was laid on a stretcher and placed in a room with a police officer. He asked me questions about what had happened and I talked to him about what happened, not realizing that everything I said, would be used against me in the upcoming criminal case.
I was incarcerated for 10 years for this crime against my Anna. I served my time willingly, knowing that it was only because of the grace of God that I received such a small sentence. I was initially charged with first degree murder, but after nearly a year in county jail, I was given the chance to sign a plea bargain for second degree murder. In Arizona, it carries a 10 to 22 year sentence. The judge gave me 10 years, which is a miracle. Most people get the presumptive 16-year sentence or the maximum 22-year sentence for second degree murder. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be free and I am compelled to tell the story to help others.
Postpartum Support International (PSI) helped me through my time in prison. My dad and mom visited me virtually every weekend for the decade I was incarcerated. My parents also reached out to PSI online in 2004 and Corinne Reilly responded to them and to me. Through her commitment to the PSI prison pen pal network, I was able to find support during my incarceration. Corinne made a difference in my life and she continues to help women who are in prison or in jail awaiting sentencing.
In prison, after finding out about my crime, some women would say to me, “I just don’t like what you did.” I would respond to that by saying, “Do you think I like what I did? It is appalling to me as well.” I also heard women say about me, “She just doesn’t seem remorseful.” That accusation was always ridiculous to me. Why? Because the remorse is constant. I may not seem remorseful to someone, but that is most likely because I’m not thinking of Anna in that very moment the person is observing me. No one can see my thoughts. I am remorseful, that I can say for certain! Even though I did experience postpartum psychosis (PPP), I never want it to be an excuse for taking her life. I committed a horrible crime, and I have to live with that reality every day of the rest of my life.
I have learned that it does not matter what others think about me. What matters is that I tell the story…the story of a baby girl that was loved so much and her mommy only wanted the best for her. On that day, in that moment, this mother thought she was doing the right thing for her baby girl. The thought of sending a baby to heaven by smothering her is completely irrational and wrong. We all know this. The reason I tell my story is to let others know how critical it is to tell someone about thoughts like these…the unthinkable, ugly, and horrible thoughts toward an innocent child. One of my favorite quotes is by John Churton Collins: “If we knew each other’s secrets, what comforts we should find.” My story is only one tragic story, and I share it so that a suffering mother will ask for help as soon as these thoughts emerge. The thoughts do not make a person a criminal. Acting on them is what will irrevocably harm a mother, her child, or both. Failure to immediately address these thoughts can result in what I refer to as “worst case scenario:” the loss of life of a mother, or her child, or both.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal or homicidal thoughts, please talk to someone! To the mother that is currently experiencing these types of thoughts, I say, “Do not let the shame of these thoughts stop you from reaching out for help. Shame will tell you not to talk to anyone. Shame will lie to you and tell you that you are a bad mother. But, it is not true! You are not a bad mother. You are ill. You need help. There is hope and healing in Jesus Christ – if you will only reach out.”
<> Naomi Knoles
Note: Although Naomi was released from prison in 2013, she continued to suffer bouts of depression. As a result of a miscarriage, PPP
again drove her into a deep internalized depression. She took her own life – and we lost our precious daughter – in August 2015.
Help is currently available through Postpartum Support International.