When the bodies of 8 babies smothered by their mother were discovered this week in France, their father and the public were horrified. Not only had Dominique Cottrez managed to hide eight pregnancies and done the unthinkable eight times; she also added her name to a growing list of multiple infanticides in France since 2003 according to the BBC. Now Time explores the question: is there something about life in France which leads to this problem’s perceived prevalence?
Many cases of infanticide result from pregnancy denial, writes Time. Women cannot accept the new life inside of them and either hide a growing belly because they are already overweight, or only gain a small amount. When the baby comes he or she is not real. Cases like this bear resemblance to psychosis or schizophrenia and can be triggered in the mind of a woman even if she has already delivered and raised other children.
Infanticide is met with differing reactions from the law. When mental illness is established a woman will often acquitted. Usually her husband supports her as well. Some cases, however, have revealed evidence of planning, such as when a mother claims her child was kidnapped, yet had dumped him in the river.
Though baby blues affect a large number of women within the first weeks postpartum, and postpartum depression and anxiety touch the lives of anything up to a third of mothers and fathers, less than 1% suffer from psychosis, a condition thought to be responsible for many cases of infanticide. Meanwhile, about 230 women discover their pregnancy during birth in France. The psychological impact of this traumatic experience can be devastating.
In Germany, however, this year saw the tenth anniversary of the controversial baby drop which allows mothers to anonymously abandon their babies. Its existence testifies to the problem of mothers killing their babies in this country too. Advocates claim baby drops have saved numerous lives. Spiegel and The Local reported on the importance of these warm and secure drop boxes trigger an alarm when an infant is placed inside. Whatever has affected the perinatal mental health of French woman could account for similar gruesome problems in Germany, and in individual lives.
Experts note that most women who kill a baby were raped or beaten during childhood. They point to broken communities, ghost towns and the end of extended families, leaving mothers with scanty choice of familiar support during the early weeks and months postpartum. The role of parenting and the importance of family have also lost their value.
Such factors can only make an existing problem worse, however, not cause it. The question now is how to help women before they commit the barbaric act of taking the lives of their babies. Whether the law finds a woman mentally responsible or not, she is never free from the impact of her actions.