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When a Mother Murders her Child

It simply is not the natural order of things for a mother to kill her child. Or is it?

In the wild, the weakest animal of the herd will often be left to fend for itself, sometimes abandoned even, in order to preserve the rest of the herd. Animals have been known to eat the ‘runt’ of a litter in order to save the rest of the pack; certain female animals even have ways and means of aborting pregnancies if the conception took place with the inferior male specimen.

And whilst I am not a Darwinist by any stretch of the imagination, time and time again we see how, in nature, a mother does what she feels is best for the rest of her family.

I am not saying that this is exactly the case of Tania Clarence, the mother of four who allegedly murdered three of her children last month. But I have been giving her case a great deal of thought over the last week or so. My heart has actually truly gone out to her husband and her, although they are strangers to me, simply because I simply cannot fathom how they will ever recover from this.

Firstly, the fact that she, the mother, has been denied bail and will not be tried, (so far as the papers indicate up to today,) with any diminished mental capacity really bothers me. The judge in this case must either be a childless woman or a man. I don’t mean to typecast - but a mother would have more sympathy with her. Or at least this mother would.

Let’s take a normal week in my life: two kids under four. One a whiny and bossy little madam who makes us laugh with adorable cuteness one minute and the next rage with anger when she bullies her little sister or throws a strop. Youngest is a busy body of note who fears NOTHING and so we are constantly watching her attempting to drink toilet cleaner, aqueous cream, acetone, chilli sauce… then she is putting long logs on the fire herself, including moving the fire grill. She insists on feeding herself, but hasn’t mastered it yet and so leaves a mess wherever she goes. Then she is brushing her teeth with the toilet brush. This is all par for the course I guess. But neither of my girls sleep well. Youngest is abominable when she is teething – waking every hour and screaming for at least forty minutes before settling; oldest has night terrors and sleep talks and refuses to sleep in her own bed. Yip, it’s not ideal. They seem to get colds frequently at the moment, probably something coming home from school, but then they refuse to eat as well which means they wake more because they're hungry or are simply grumpy. There’s snot on everything, cough syrup everywhere, half eaten morsels of food on every surface and a mother with very dark rings under her eyes.

Before you think I am in a living hell, let me assure you, in case you don’t know, this is a normal week in any mom’s life and these are good, easy kids. And I wouldn’t want them any other way. But it is, as I have posted about before, a really tough job and it is pretty much all consuming.

The three deceased Clarence kids were ill. They had a terrible genetic disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) which is also called ‘floppy baby syndrome.’ They required constant care and were only going to get worse, before dying way, WAY before their time. Please don’t misunderstand my flippancy for lack of empathy here. But they were already three and four years old; twin boys and a little girl. Their mother had already given up her job in order to care for the three of them full time.

Yes, she had a nanny. Yes, she had a maid. But unless nanny and maid were superpowered and on twenty-four hour call, there was a fair amount of stuff Tania Clarence had to do on her own.

I'm not sure if the kids were potty trained, for instance, but considering that they were destined for almost complete paralysis, I assume not. Any mother out there can relate to the relief I felt when I finally could stop cleaning poopy diapers. There was no end in sight in this instance, until the children had passed away.

I mentioned snot and food messed all over my home, I'm sure these kids needed to be fed every meal and helped for every drink. They reportedly needed to be ‘sucked out’ whenever they developed a cold, because they didn’t have the strength to clear their lungs by coughing up phlegm. Any time they suffered reflux of any kind, or vomiting for any reason, the parents must have been on death-watch for suffocation.

I can't begin to imagine what this must have been like for the mother of these kids. We love our children and hate it when they’re ill; so, imagine seeing a child suffer all day long and know that they won’t make it to their fifth or sixth birthday. Imagine watching anything and everything they eat and knowing that it may kill them. Imagine controlling anyone who comes in through the front door because you can't have strange viruses doing the rounds with children who at times battle to breathe and could suffocate if the phlegm isn’t removed from their lungs. In a way, she must have wished for death as a form of relief many a time over their short lives.

Then there is the sleep issue. A mother with four kids, even four healthy kids, even if Gina Ford herself was her night nurse, would not be getting enough sleep. Some reports have quoted friends saying that she hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in years.  Add to this the fact that her husband is a high-powered businessman who probably depended on her a great deal as well. Not to point any blame at the husband here, please. But husbands who have wives at home do depend on them to do the odd chores on their behalf. They also leave a great deal of the parenting to us, which is fair in some ways, as it is their job that keeps us provided for at home. But I am guessing, again, not that I know her at all, that the mother of these kids was exhausted. I am and I have two healthy children, plus help at home.

It also would have seemed incredibly unfair that, at the age of forty-two, most of Tania’s friends would be regaining their ‘freedom’ from the demanding kids phase. Most women of this age have children who are semi-self sufficient and can play with friends and alone, without much scrupulous supervision. They would be at school for most, or part of, the day. Tania Clarence would only be getting children who grew more and more needy until eventually God took them home.

In contrast to this sad case in the UK, six murdered babies were found in a garage across the pond. The mother, Megan Hunstman, had simply delivered and then killed each one by strangling them. Oh, plus another body was also hidden in the garage, that of a stillborn. The motive was unclear, the paternity questionable, her sanity dubious indeed. In her case, I say, let her hang! (Or whatever the Utah government policy is on six counts of murder.)

But in the case of Tania Clarence, I am utterly torn.

Her husband travelled for work, out of necessity. Even with all the help in the world, this does bring out the worst in even the best of wives. I've often felt utter rejection and abandonment when my husband travels, especially when a child falls ill or I need to do something trying with both of them on my own and wonder where the other parent is. He wanted two kids… grumble grumble. It doesn’t feel fair at the time, even though in logic and hindsight, we know that it is not intentional abandonment and it is not meant to make our lives more difficult.

And here comes my dark confession: I have left children to cry for long periods at night simply because I couldn’t face another minute of consoling them anymore. I've understood, when a child is crying for no reason at the end of a very long day or the start of a long night and I am all alone in this parenting thing because my husband is away, how child abuse happens so easily and yes, how a parent can fatally react to a difficult child. And I have a nanny, plus hands-on family members who are always willing to help. I’m incredibly blessed with a great infrastructure.  

I thank God alone that it has never come to that in my home. But I understand how it could. I have happy, healthy, good, intelligent kids but they also have their ‘off’ days and I also have my trying times. I understand what Tania Clarence did. I don’t think there are many (honest) mothers out there who don’t.       

But the problem is this: we aren’t animals living in the wild. The ‘survival of the fittest’ theory does not apply to human kind. If it did, Julius Malema would not exist and Usain Bolt would rule the world. Here, we care for one another, weak and strong alike. In fact, often the weakest are given the most care. I believe the saddest part of the entire story surrounding this poor family is that Tania Clarence felt so desperate that she didn’t call for help and felt that this was her only way out. Her neighbour loved the family, it is reported. She had childcare available. She could have called a hospital, or a suicide help line.

It makes me incredibly sad that she felt there was no other way to escape what must have been a terribly challenging and exhausting life. The fact that she reportedly tried to kill herself as well makes it all the more tragic. Like most of the world, I am stunned that she went through with it after the first child was gone. I cannot believe that she was in her right mind, which is why I hope that she will find some psychiatric help in all of this. Suicide, or attempted suicide, may have been the outcome of the realisation of what she had done. But I am purely speculating.

Nothing we can say will ever be able to justify the act of infanticide; but gosh, it is almost too relatable.

An older gentleman who recently spent the afternoon in the company of a few toddlers told me last week, “You know, I forgot, but its actually damn hard having kids around.” He’s right. And he wasn’t even a diaper-changing, night-waking type of dad. My heart breaks for the Clarence family, truly it does. Something must have snapped that day and I honestly can understand how easily that happens. We cannot blame her husband for not being home because he couldn’t have predicted this. I just don’t think we can totally blame Tania Clarence either. Her world ceased to exist with that one demented decision.

Three precious children were taken before their time on that day. A couple has probably lost their marriage. Their fourth child has, in all likelihood, lost her mother forever, almost certainly to incarceration and in my mind, estrangement. And as for Tania Clarence, well, 'There, but for the grace of God,’ goes any mother.

The judicial punishment surely due to be carried out over Tania Clarence will never be fair. If she is granted the maximum sentence, some will say that it is too harsh; while the minimum sentence may seem to others as too light a toll. But this can not go unpunished because she is not the first or last mother to feel this way but we can not go around hurting our children. However, nothing the judicial system hands out will be worse than the hell she must be living in now.

I know how terrible it feels when I have punished my child and caused them hurt. It goes against an instinct I feel is much stronger than the animal trait seen in four-legged species, it’s the maternal instinct to protect and nurture. It’s the reason I could never, ever cause this type of harm to my children and the mothers I know well would never do to theirs. Even when we are at our lowest, the urge to hurt is never stronger than the urge to hold.

Standing over your child, asleep in their pj’s, is a sight that no mother can witness and feel unmoved. The idea that Tania Clarence stood over her pyjama-clad children asleep forever and didn’t feel that her deed was in some way a mercy killing is the only thing that begins to make sense of this madness; that her animalistic maternal instinct felt that her act was what was best for all involved. She, like a mother who has felt at odds with maternity for a long day and sleep finally comes as a respite, must have felt that at last they were at peace. That at long last, she too could rest. 


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