The mother holds her baby but cannot be left alone with her. Picture / TV3
The mother holds her baby but cannot be left alone with her. Picture / TV3

Mother who cut own baby's throat reunited with child

A MOTHER who cut her baby's throat was reunited just months later with the child inside the psychiatric facility where she was being treated.

After treatment for the "land mine" psychosis which caused the attack, the mother was allowed back into the family home - on condition she is never alone with the child.

The woman was found not guilty of attempted murder because the attack happened during an episode of temporary insanity, diagnosed later as postpartum psychosis. The baby's name was suppressed in the court case.

TV3's 3rd Degree in NZ will screen footage showing the woman meeting her baby inside a Southland psychiatric hospital.

A camera records the mother cradling her tiny daughter just months after using a vegetable knife to cut her throat.

The father, David, told 3rd Degree his concerns for his wife started the night before the attack when she passed out at home.

The mother spent the Saturday night at Southland Hospital on a drip and was diagnosed with post-natal depression. She was discharged the following morning and advised to visit her GP on the Monday.

But she shifted far from reality over the next 24 hours. The couple rose at 5am with their daughter after a restless night and the mother took the baby to the living room to feed. David found her trying to take their baby's life - and her own.

"She was hearing things and seeing things that didn't exist and was saving the baby by killing it. The baby's throat was cut and [she] was cutting her [own] wrists," he said.

Evidence to the court later revealed the mother had suffered abuse as a child at the hands of an older relative who then became a prominent figure in her hallucination.

Their daughter was flown to Starship hospital in Auckland for life-saving surgery.

Her trachea was severed, an artery cut and a nerve on one side of the voice box also cut. The mother was kept at Southland Hospital's mental health unit.

She had no recollection of the attack - David had to break the news to her in bits, first with a picture of the tube in their daughter's throat and then explaining how it got there. "She will never forgive herself," he said.

David spoke of struggles with Child Youth and Family over custody, claiming the agency at one stage told him he would have to choose between living with his wife or daughter. "It's a choice no one in this world should have to make," he said.

In the end, the family were permitted to return home together - captured by 3rd Degree cameras - on condition the mother was not left alone with her daughter.

An inquiry into Southern District Health Board's handling of the case - including admission before the incident - cleared staff. It called it a "land mine" event which could not have been foreseen.

Before finding the mother not guilty of attempted murder in late March, Justice Graham Panckhurst told her "your baby was cherished and well-loved". He imposed a court order requiring her to undergo community-based mental health care.

Court reports from psychiatrists were conflicted other whether she knew the severity of her attack.

Otago University associate professor Phillip Brinded, a forensic psychiatrist, told the court in a February report "her psychotic mental state would ... have rendered her unable of knowing that the act was morally wrong".

Troubled mind

What is postpartum psychosis?

It describes a cluster of mental health illnesses which have psychotic symptoms and tend to follow childbirth.

What are the symptoms?
It can range from euphoria through to irritability and delusional behaviour, including auditory and visual hallucinations.

Isn't this post-natal depression?

The condition is more severe than "baby blues", which can occur in a quarter of women (and also men) because of the psychotic symptoms.

How often does it happen?

About one or two in every 1000 births.

How long does it last?
Through counselling and medication, episodes can be as short as a couple of weeks.