by Cheryl L. Meyer et al.
New York University Press, 2001
Review by Su Terry on Apr 12th 2002
Who Kill Their Children: Understanding the Acts of Moms from Susan Smith to the
"Prom Mom" by Cheryl L. Meyer, Michelle Oberman with
contributions by Kelly White, Michelle Rone, Priya Batra, and Tara Proano is an
intense, and yet easy to read study of women who kill their children. It is an
emotional riveting read that will open any readers eyes who is willing to
honestly listen to the stories of these women.
Who Kill Their Children is
a sociological and demographic study of American cases of women who were deemed
responsible for the deaths of their children from 1990 through 1999. It is a
unique study in that it is extremely current, focuses only women, and only on
mothers, and includes only deaths within the United States. It is also unique
in that this study was undertaken by members of the legal and the psychological
communities, and that it is able to garner unique insights from both of these
different professions. The study posits that mothers who kill are not
necessarily mad or bad as the majority of society condemns. The study divides
the mothers into five demographic grouping: young mothers who deny their
pregnancy and committed neonaticide(killing within 24 hours of the birth),
mothers who attempt to kill themselves and their children (purposeful altruistic
killing), neglectful mothers who actively or passively let their children die,
abusive mothers who inadvertently kill their children while disciplining them,
and abused women who kill their children due to coercion or their own domestic
victimization. Each of these groupings has its own chapter replete with copious
case studies. What I found to be particularly noteworthy were the suggestions
for working with the community at-large and the at-risk population in
particular in an attempt to short circuit future deaths.
Meyer and Oberman noted that
individuals who spoke to them about their study, had very strong views on this
subject. They noted that, in general, the public felt a special kind of
horror about women who killed their own children and condemned the mothers as
either mad or bad. The researcher had a hard time presenting any other
possible explanation for these mothers action. Yet the case studies are a very
compelling argument that these women are by and large neither mad [nor] bad.
Laura J. Miller (M.D., Editor Postpartum
Mood Disorders and Chief of Women's Mental Health Services, University of
Illinois at Chicago) commented on the study that Readers will find themselves
shifting from asking, 'How could she do that?' to 'How could we have let that
happen to her?'"
Meyer is an Associate Professor in the School of Professional Psychology at
Wright State University. She has a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology, a
Ph.D. in Social Psychology, and a JD in criminal law. She is also the author of
Wandering Uterus: Politics and the Reproductive Rights of Women (1997). The focus of her research is
interdisciplinary and incorporates the law, feminism, psychology, and
sociology. Michelle Oberman is an Associate Professor of Law at DePaul
College. She is a specialist in the
fields of womens health and the law, medical ethics, and public health policy.
This is her first book.
Who Kill Their Children is an important book. It is an eye-opener for any
one willing to look at this grizzly topic with an open mind. It is a book that
begs discussion, but be prepared for the mad or bad reaction from other. Be
also pre-warned this book can be a very emotional read with the case studies
lingering long after this book is passed to a friend. I high recommend this
book for college and public libraries. It is a must read for those involved in
social service professions.
© 2002 Su Terry
Terry: Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in
Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious
Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional
Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in
Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a
Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in
Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY. Interests in Mental
Health: She is interested in the interplay between psychology, biology, and
mysticism. Her current area of research is in the impact of hormonal
fluctuation in female Christian mystics.