Mothers who kill their babies may have medical reasons

Experts discuss neonaticide after 30-year-old Meredith Borowiec was charged with the attempted murder of one newborn baby and second-degree murder in the deaths of two others.

Experts discuss neonaticide after charges laid against Calgary mom in baby deaths

A University of Calgary psychiatry professor says people shouldn't be quick to judge women who kill their babies, which is referred to as neonaticide if in the first 24 hours of birth.

A newborn baby was found in this dumpster in October 2010. (CBC)

Meredith Borowiec, 30, was charged with attempted murder last week after a newborn baby was found in a dumpster in northwest Calgary last year.

That baby survived, but after a lengthy investigation police also charged Borowiec on Tuesday with two counts of second-degree murder.

The new charges are in connection to the suspected deaths of newborn babies in 2008 and 2009. Police say both babies died shortly after birth and their bodies have not been found.

Psychiatrist Scott Patten says there's often a medical explanation for women who kill their own babies.

Called postpartum psychosis, it can happen when a woman experiences the extreme end of the postpartum depression.

"You can blame people, or shake your head about why it might have happened, but if you want to prevent it from happening you need to deal with these problems," he said.

Women often marginalized

Patten says dealing with it involves a better public understanding of mental illness and support and monitoring systems for people at risk.

"For whatever reason these problems are stigmatized in our society, which creates a sense of shame in people," he said. "Sometimes they try to keep things secret or deal with them themselves when they really need some help, you know that's something we all need to address as members of this society." 

And Patten says women who have suffered with postpartum psychosis in the past are significantly more likely to experience it again.

"You're much, much higher risk that would happen on a subsequent pregnancy," said Patten.

Kirsten Kramar, a sociology professor at the University of Winnipeg, wrote a book called Unwilling Mothers, Unwanted Babies that says infanticide can be the outcome of pregnancy denial.

"It’s part of the process of not taking responsibility, I guess, for the fact that you have been sexually active and that you’ve actually gotten pregnant ... so what they do is deny the fact that they are pregnant, they conceal the pregnancy from their families and partners and they dispose of the baby typically after giving birth alone," she said.

Kramer said there are variety of situations that led women to commit infanticide, but typically the women are marginalized by class, culture, religious views, mental health or domestic violence and often don't have access to resources to deal with the pregnancy.

Borowiec makes her next court appearance Tuesday.