When a Miramar woman allegedly hurled her 3-month-old baby boy into a lake earlier this month, many people, including seasoned professionals, were left speechless.
Jennifer Silliman, however, felt compassion for the new mom, Inakesha Armour.
Silliman, who lives in Palm Beach County, is making a documentary, Dark Side of the Full Moon, on the topic of postpartum depression and other ills that can accompany pregnancy. The Miramar mom’s lawyer says his client was afflicted — and needs help and understanding, not scorn and prison.
It remains to be seen whether that argument gets a sympathetic hearing in court. A court appearance for Armour, who was recently transferred from jail to the psychiatric unit at Memorial Regional Hospital, is pending. If nothing else, the case has shone a spotlight on a mental health issue that is highlighted whenever a mother, seemingly inexplicably, does something horrible to a newborn child. Few crimes elicit such visceral feelings.
David Waksman, a longtime Miami-Dade prosecutor, now retired, said “the mere fact that you have a mental condition is not an excuse for a criminal act.”
“It has to be so severe that it literally prevents you from knowing what you are doing,” he said. “You have to be very leery when someone says it’s ‘mental health issue.’ ”
But Silliman, 34, said “This is a real thing and a lot of women are affected by it.”
This was not Inakesha Armour’s first attempt at killing her child. She told police she thought about harming baby boy Cayden on a daily basis.
Pregnancy can bring on several mental health issues, including postpartum depression, postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder and postpartum psychosis.
Shoshana Bennett, a clinical psychologist and maternal mental health expert based in California, said postpartum psychosis can cause women to tailspin and sometimes have psychotic breaks — some even killing their children by stabbing, drowning or smothering.
While one in seven women experience postpartum depression, the far more extreme postpartum psychosis is much rarer — seen in one or two per thousand women who have just had a baby, according to Wendy Davis, executive director of Postpartum Support International.
“Postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are two separate conditions, and it is critically important that providers and families recognize the differences,” Davis, who has a PhD in psychology, wrote in an email. “The difference between psychosis and depression or anxiety is that psychosis is a complete break from reality while with anxiety and depression, the mom knows she is struggling but does not lose touch with reality.”
There is a 5 percent rate of infanticide or suicide associated with women who develop postpartum psychosis, according to the organization.
Armour’s clinical diagnosis, according to her attorney Jeremy James Kroll, is postpartum depression and psychosis. It has been reported, though, that she previously tried to kill her son by feeding him adult cough syrup and attempting to smother him with a pillow. Cayden survived after Armour’s mother foiled her plan. Cayden remains in critical condition at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood. His 33-year-old mother said he was under water for about six minutes. She plucked him out of the lake as he was turning blue, and a nurse drove by in time to give the baby CPR.
“We want people understand this is a mental health issue and we are trying to deal with it in a reasonable and appropriate way moving forward,” Kroll said.
A video of Armour on YouTube, posted before the birth, portrayed a loving mother-to-be and husband eagerly awaiting the arrival of their child.
“It breaks your heart to see someone who is a brand new parent have something happen to them that involves mental illness,” he said.
On Facebook, family members have asserted that Armour was “not a monster” and that she helped out with other family members’ children.
Kroll said that doctors had tried to intervene and help Armour get treatment. Her husband, Conlan Armour, told police that they kept watch over his wife and made sure someone was with her in the house when he was at work.
The day Cayden ended up in the lake, Armour had told her mother that she was taking the baby to visit a neighbor.
The family has set up an online page to raise money for the mother and son’s healthcare — and for Armour’s legal fees.
While Armour’s case will play out in the legal system, there are several cases that have played out in the public eye.
• A southern California mother, Carol Coronado, is facing murder charges for allegedly stabbing her three young daughters to death in May. Her husband claims she suffered from postpartum depression when she killed the girls and then tried to kill her mother.
• After the birth of her daughter, Miriam Carey was diagnosed with postpartum depression and psychosis, her family has said. In April, Carey was shot five times when she drove from the White House to the Capitol on a police chase with her baby girl inside the car.
• In 2010, Danqiong Yang, 37, who lived in Pinecrest, pleaded guilty to killing her toddler son and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Her attorney had planned to argue that she suffered psychosis stemming from postpartum depression but decided to avoid trial.
Perhaps the most infamous case of a mother taking the life of her children took place in 2001. Andrea Yates drowned her five children one by one in a bathtub. The Texas woman was later found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Yates believed that she was saving the soul of the child from the devil, said her criminal defense attorney, George Parnham.
Parnham still represents the mother, who now resides in the Kerrville State Hospital in Texas.
Bennett began her crusade to help women after struggling with postpartum depression from both of her pregnancies in the 1980s. When she was 28, she found out she was pregnant with her first child.
“As soon as I delivered, I knew there was something very, very wrong,” Bennett said.
She said she couldn’t find any help “because nobody talked about it.” She eventually got better, but then several years later she gave birth to her son and it happened again.
Bennett learned that Europe and other places were far ahead of the United States in terms of treating and screening women for mental health issues after and during pregnancy.
“Postpartum depression is not something that generally goes away by itself,” she said. “It could happen to the best of us. Women with a clean history can be affected by this.”
Jennifer Moyer, 47, was interviewed about her bout with postpartum psychosis by the documentary producers.
As Jennifer Moyer was preparing for the arrival of her baby boy after suffering a miscarriage the first time around, no one told her about postpartum psychosis.
So when the disorder took hold of her in 1996, she had no idea how to survive it.
Eight weeks after her son was born, Moyer began having sleepless nights. She soon started fearing that someone was going to try to harm her and her baby.
Distrusting everyone, Moyer would no longer let anyone — including her husband —hold her son. But her husband really knew something was wrong when one day Moyer refused to let go of the baby. He called her doctor and first responders arrived at her house in Palm Beach County.
“They had to pry the baby out of my arms, I was so scared,” Moyer said.
Moyer was diagnosed with postpartum depression. But she knew what she had was more severe.
It then wasn’t long before Moyer had a “full blown psychotic episode,” she said.
While sitting in church, Moyer hallucinated the priest saying he was going to sacrifice her son. First responders were called to the church.
Moyer said she was then properly diagnosed with postpartum psychosis.
“Getting the correct diagnosis was like a weight being lifted off my shoulders,” she said.
Moyer has since recovered and used her experiences to write A Mother’s Climb out of Darkness. The book chronicles how she overcame postpartum psychosis.
Treatment options have improved over the years. Dr. Kenneth Johnson, the chair and professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine, said the key is screening and being aware of early symptoms.
Moms are joining forces to help each other overcome postpartum challenges. Through blogs, conferences, support groups and walks, advocates say there is now more being done for new moms.
Despite the apparent breakthroughs, film producer Silliman said she would never have another child because of her experience with maternal mental health issues.
When Silliman began her third trimester of her pregnancy, images of a sharp object in her belly flashed in her head.
She never told anybody that even the sight of sharp objects — knives, razors or scissors — made her shake in fear.
She hoped that when her daughter was born the images would vanish, and she would magically return to her former, cheery self.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, she started seeing images of the knives stabbing her daughter. She knew she would never act on her thoughts but she avoided sharp objects at all costs — even using her hands to rip wrapping paper for Christmas.
That’s when she realized she needed help. She told her husband everything. At his suggestion, they hid all the sharp objects in their home.
“I was very lucky that he was so supportive,” she said.
She made an appointment with her therapist and discovered what she was experiencing was common.
“Women who come out on the other side are some of the strongest women you will ever meet,” she said.