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Michele Kalina: The Psychology of Infanticide

Michele Kalina and infanticide

What leads a mom to murder her babies

The news that a Pennsylvania nurse’s aid Michele Kalina has been charged with the poisoning and suffocating of at least four of her own infants brings up big psychological questions.

As Sierra reported earlier today, Kalina was arraigned on Monday. Her husband and daughter notified police after they found the remains of five newborn babies hidden in her closet. Forensic evidence says she is the mother, and the babies are thought to have been conceived through an extramarital affair — her boyfriend and husband both apparently unaware of the pregnancies.

What would lead a person to commit such a heinous crime? It’s unfortunately not the most rare phenomenon, and it brings up comparisons between this and past cases of infanticide.

The psychology at play undoubtedly varies from case to case. For example, remember Andrea Yates, the mother who drowned five of her children in the bathtub in 2001. By all psychiatric accounts, Yates suffered from post partum psychosis (about 15 percent of moms suffer from post partum depression, and a small percentage of these go on to have psychotic symptoms).

Yates had hallucinations and delusions that Satan was speaking to her. In a complete disconnect from reality, she believed her act of violence was saving her children.

The sketchy details of Kalina’s case so far paint a different picture.

Kalina was not overtaken by a psychotic episode. She methodically and repeatedly ended her childrens’ lives and hid the evidence (if I remember correctly, Yates, actually called the police herself directly afterwards).

Without more information about her psychiatric profile, it’s hard to say what disorder she suffers from, but her case sounds like it has more to do with extreme features of a personality disorder a lack of empathy, disconnect from others or unawareness that they even exist, and an ability to be cold and calculating about something that would tear the rest of us up inside.

Women who are able to kill their newborns are sometimes describe as being in “denial” that the infant exists in this case, that the baby is actually a living being separate from the woman herself.   This is a defining characteristic of personality disorders the lack of regard for others existence as separate beings.

Unfortunately, these are the cases that might be hardest to catch and prevent. Cases of post partum depression or psychosis raise major red flags and sometimes trigger family members into action. To me, Cottrez does not fall into this category tracing her pathology  and figuring out how to prevent future cases like this, unfortunately, seems trickier.

Image: CBS/KYW

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