Andrea Yates: A Devastating Tale of Postpartum Psychosis

We have all heard of her, but how much do you really know about this case?

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

As a woman who confessed to systematically drowning her 5 children ranging from ages 6 months to 7 years one by one in a bathtub, everyone jumped to the simple conclusion of:

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

However, this case isn’t so black and white. In fact, I believe it’s one of the most clear representations of how bad postpartum depression can get and how debilitating postpartum psychosis can be.

There is a lesson to be learned from Andrea as we spread awareness of the severity of postpartum disorders. Mothers suffering with debilitating postpartum disorders need help, not judgement, shame or ridicule if we want these tragedies to become less frequent.

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

She had a lack of support for her emotional and mental well-being, along with a controlling husband, at one point was living in a bus with 4 kids, was being prescribed a rotation of medical cocktails, imbalanced hormones and religious cult influences etc.

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

Who Is Andrea Yates?

Andrea Pia Kennedy was born in Texas on July 2nd, 1964, to parents Jutta Karin Koehler and Andrew Emmett Kennedy. She is the youngest of 5 children. She was raised in a catholic household.

As many teenagers unfortunately experience, she struggled with episodes of bulimia and depression during her adolescence.

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 all back up.

She was struggling so much she even confided in a friend about contemplating suicide.

She was trying to cope with pain she had experienced very early on.

Sadly, her bulimia battle would last nearly 8 years.

Now for Andrea. Despite all of this, on paper, she was your all American well-rounded 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.

This goes to show it doesn’t matter how many achievements or accolades you receive, depression can still rear its ugly head.

Remember this when you’re scrolling through your Instagram feed seeing seemingly perfect people displaying all their accomplishments for everyone to see.

Even Instagram moms are guilty of hiding the everyday hardships of motherhood and only showcasing the 2 seconds she managed to get her kid smiling and portraying motherhood through rose colored lenses.

Not everything is what it seems.

Andrea estimated from 1980-1982 Yearbook Photos

Andrea would graduate from Milby High School in 1982 and then pursue her nursing degree. She then would complete a two-year pre-nursing program at the University of Houston.

After which 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 starting in 1986.

Andrea, despite her mental health issues that were not addressed, 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 hard working employee she was and how she took pride in her job. 8 years later, in 1994, is when she would retire from nursing.

When Andrea Met Rusty

It was while working as a nurse in the summer of 1989 that she would meet her husband Russell (Rusty) Yates in Houston. They were both 25, met at their apartment complex. Andrea never really dated anyone until she was 23.

Before she met Rusty, she was recovering from a previous broken relationship. Shortly after, they moved in together where they spent a lot their time involved in religious devotion and prayer.

Rusty was a successful engineer and made a good living. Co-workers of Andrea would later note that he was a little controlling of her. Andrea being insecure was naturally a little more submissive in nature because of this.

As a side note, due to her strict catholic upbringing, she may have had some immature and linear ideas about how relationships should be and what a woman’s role is in that relationship.

Andrea seemed to become enmeshed in relationship with Rusty.

Although she was brought up in a catholic home, she wasn’t overtly religious, nor did she follow carved-in-stone religious practices. In contrast, Rusty was deeply orthodox in his belief system in how a married couple should live.

He was very interested in a different type of religion, very different from Andrea. Andrea would say she wasn’t very interested in the bible and it wasn’t something that she practiced.

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

When they got together, Rusty was adamant that when they married, they would be committed to have 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 good, loving and supportive wife, she wanted to try her best to give him what he wanted, disregarding her own 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 absolute best wife and mother she could, in the end losing herself in that endeavor.

Rusty and Andrea would court for 4 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 it was all coming into fruition. Knowing Rusty’s urgency to have many kids, she would get pregnant right away. Andrea would end up referring to herself as Fertile Myrtle and she would be right.

She would have two of her 5 babies back to back.

Which in itself, is crazy to be pregnant that much so continuously and still have very small children to care for. Noah, their first child, was born February 26th, 1994, followed by John in 1995, then Paul in 1997, Luke in 1999, and lastly Mary in 2000.

After the birth of Noah, 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 every day average new parents. From the outside looking in, all seemed well and for the most part, at this point, they were.

Andrea’s Home Life

Rusty although he made a good living, 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 lived in a modified school bus, all while she was breastfeeding Luke and homeschooling Noah, her oldest son, while also trying to tend to her 2 other sons in between.

Her life during this time was spent taking care of her children in extremely difficult circumstances and she had little to no time to herself or much contact with the outside world.

Andrea stopped exercising and swimming which she loved to do prior to Rusty, once she got pregnant her second time. Her friends would say that she became reclusive. With their decision to home school, this 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 that it was solely the mother’s job to be the primary caregiver at all times.

This comes off as another red flag because she wasn’t able to reach out to anyone saying she needed help; so nobody was able to notice anything was wrong because she was isolated.

It was at this time, Andrea would report in later interviews, she was developing suicidal thoughts.

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 would get pregnant again but later miscarried. . However, shortly after that, Andrea would carry another pregnancy to term, and delivered her third son Paul, in 1997.

At this point, Andrea was alone everyday living in a trailer while caring for her three children under 3. She would report this is when she started to have serious contemplation of suicide.

Rusty, seeing how much Andrea was struggling, decided to move the family back to Houston In 1997. Rusty said he wanted to “live right.” So he bought a 350-square-foot renovated bus from self proclaimed religious prophet and traveling minister, Michael Woroniecki.

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 said that Andrea was captivated by his teachings which made him concerned. Given Andrea’s fragile mental state, it is easy to imagine why she so strongly would 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 in 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, ranting to herself and seemed extremely mentally ill in every way possible.

Andrea’s Mental Health Spirals

Andrea seemed to begin 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 4 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 short 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 the sake of 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.

She was then finally diagnosed with postpartum psychosis.

The Murders

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

About a month after the death of her father, she came under the care of Dr. Mohammed Saeed. She was treated and released; however, shortly thereafter, she fell back into a:

“Near catatonic state”

later confessing to the police that she had planned to drown the children that day, but had decided against doing it then.

2 days before the murders, Andrea had a visit with 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.

It was in that span of time between Rusty leaving for work and waiting for her mother-in-law to arrive that she took each of her children one by one to the tub and drowned them. Afterwards, she called the police and turned herself in.

911 Call Transcript

911 Dispatcher: “What’s your name?”
Andrea Yates: “Andrea Yates.”
911 Dispatcher: “What’s the problem?”
Andrea Yates: “Um, I just need him to come.”
911 Dispatcher: “Is your husband there?”
Andrea Yates: “No.”
911 Dispatcher: “Well, what’s the problem?”
Andrea Yates: “I need em to come.”
911 Dispatcher: “I need to know why we’re coming, ma’am. Is he there standing next to you?”
Andrea Yates: “No.”
911 Dispatcher: “She?”
Andrea Yates: “Pardon me?”
911 Dispatcher: “Are you having a disturbance? Are you ill or what?”
Andrea Yates: “Um, yes, I’m ill.”
911 Dispatcher: “Do you need an ambulance?”
Andrea Yates: “No, I need a police officer. Yeah, send an ambulance.”
911 Dispatcher: “What’s the problem?”
Andrea Yates: “Um?”
911 Dispatcher: “Hello?”
Andrea Yates: “I just need a police officer”

Police would arrive shortly thereafter at the Yates residence not really sure what to expect. They found Andrea sitting on the couch, soaking wet, when they arrived. They surveilled the property and that was when they found the bodies of the children, on the parents bed, laying next to each other, one by one.

Noah, the oldest, was still in the bath tub, deceased when they arrived. The police noted that there was a lot of water on the kitchen floor and found it was Noah, after seeing what was happening to his siblings, 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 should up a little later, where he talked to the police, explained Andrea’s history of illness and how the plan was to have Rusty’s mother come that day to help Andrea out with the kids.

Rusty was crushed about his children, and made a public statement to the media, maintaining his support for Andrea the whole time and how he felt she was failed by the medical system.

Andrea was taken into custody and charged with 5 counts of murder.

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 it’s knees. All who knew Andrea from school where shocked, in complete disbelief over the headlines.

This wasn’t the Andrea they knew. She was sweet, smart, shy, intelligent, empathetic, all the best traits of a nurturer. There were so many questions to be answered.

The whole town gathered together in memory of the Yates children on the day of their burial. Hundreds of people gathering to show their condolences and support. This tragedy truly struck an arrow the 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. Everyone who either did or didn’t know Andrea were baffled, confused and just wanted to know, why?

The Aftermath

After this is when the media storm ensued, and we all ate it all up like sharks to chum. We all know the media needs a clear victim and villain, and Andrea was their villain. She was deemed simply crazy and evil.

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

Let’s recap a little.

You have a woman who has a history of severe mental illness that’s never treated, a husband who worships religious fanatics and could be deemed one himself considering his extremist viewpoints; she was isolated from her family; she kept having child after child, which, would be extremely challenging without mental illness.

Then you add isolation to the mix; she had a husband who 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, and she never really got the treatment she needed from doctors.

To me, 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’s case, of sound mind, or don’t get the medical help you need. She was constantly admitted, released, then readmitted to care facilities when she never should have left the first time. She had suicidal tendencies since her adolescence.

She had nobody to be her advocate and she was never in a place mentally to be her own advocate.

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

However, I always give credit where its 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 very clear unstable state.

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

Andrea was originally 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.

In the end, Andrea, now 57, still resides at Kerville 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. Her defense attorney George Parnham still remains in contact with her and visits her every 2 months.

He represents her each year for her eligibility of release, and each year Andrea chooses to waive this right. 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.”

It seems to me that she feels she belongs there. She loves her children, as bizarre as that may seem, she truly loves them and misses them dearly. She, at the time of the murders, 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 an 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 bad mother destined for hell, so her children were also destined for hell.

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

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

For Andrea, maybe now, 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. As for me, I just hope she finds the love for herself and internal peace she was always hoping for.

Advocate For Sick Mothers

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 be struggling as a mother, but I would never kill my kids, at least I’m a better mother than her.”

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.

By 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.

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 in reality and they need help help not ridicule.

One of the reasons I’m writing about Andrea is I read on mom forums women anonymously talking about similar thoughts, feelings and struggles with motherhood and postpartum and they still get attacked for having such feelings; they get shamed, ridiculed or disgraced.

This is why women don’t reach out for support or help due to the fear of being ostracized. 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, help them to get help.

Let’s be there for our fellow mothers. If we want to make sure this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen again, we need to support the women who are suffering.

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