A woman from Australia was spared jail for killing her three-month-old daughter by keeping her on rail tracks as she was suffering from postpartum depression.
Melissa Arbuckle, a 32-year-old veterinarian, had pleaded guilty to infanticide before the Victorian Supreme Court on Tuesday over her newborn Lily’s death at a train station in Melbourne’s Upwey on 11 July 2021 and was released on Thursday.
Arbuckle’s lawyer Megan Tittensor said she was suffering “severe postpartum depression and psychosis” when she made the decision to die by suicide along with her daughter.
Arbuckle, however, survived with internal bleeding and fractures.
Robyn Harper, the crown prosecutor, told the court that on the day of the accident, Arbuckle had said goodbye to her sister and mother who had come to visit Lily. Later, she messaged her husband de ella to say their daughter de ella was “losing it after a feed” and took her for a walk.
Arbuckle’s attorney argued she believed her child was suffering from “shaken baby syndrome” – a brain injury that happens from forcefully shaking a baby – and would die.
“This act was committed by someone with a significantly disturbed mind. She had a fixed delusional belief she had harmed her child and they were both broken,” Ms Tittensor was quoted as telling the court by 7News.
“She had come to believe dying was her only option. She would hear voices telling her she was a bad mother,” Ms Tittensor added.
Justice Jane Dixon, releasing Arbuckle on Thursday, said it was “extremely unlikely” that she would re-offend and handed down a good behavior bond to her for three years. According to the court order, Arbuckle will be allowed to live unsupervised, but she will be required to make appearances before the court.
“She seems very much aware of the incredible suffering her actions have caused,” she told the court, according to news.com.au.
A widely-reported case linked to postpartum depression had occurred in 2001 in the US when Andrea Yates, a mother of five, had drowned her children in the bathtub. Yates had been suffering the effects of severe postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis and schizophrenia.
Decades after Yates confessed, she has denied herself the opportunity to walk free from a mental health institution every year, choosing instead to live there and reportedly grieve for her children by watching old home videos and making aprons, cards and gifts so she can sell them anonymously, the proceeds of which go to a fund to help women face postpartum effects.
If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email [email protected], or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.
If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you are in another country, you can go to befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.