So below are the two articles that appeared on April 11, 2005 (I always wondered if it were purposeful it was published the same day as Hunter died) The first was a sidebar beside the main article, explaining that I did not want to give an interview and had been coerced into it. I always thought it nice of them to at least mention that. Gary Remal interviewed me with my Attorney (John) present over the course of four hours. Below is the basic result.
Natachia Barlow Ramsey, a 31-year-old mother who killed her 4-week-old son in 1999 as the result of severe postpartum depression, was given nearly unprecedented permission by District Court Judge John Nivison to discuss her case after the Kennebec Journal obtained court documents showing she had been reunited with her older child after losing custody for six years.
As part of Nivison’s deliberations, editors at the newspaper agreed not to reveal the location of her home and to not identify her child.
Natachia Barlow Ramsey had not sought public attention and sought to avoid the story out of concern for her child, with whom she has continued a relationship since her son’s death. She agreed to the interview only after editors indicated the paper was prepared to publish the story with or without her participation — and after her attorney received court approval for her participation.
Despite her reluctance, Natachia Barlow Ramsey said she hoped the painful decision to discuss her case would help educate other women who may encounter depression or worse after childbirth — to know what they are facing and to encourage them to reach out for help.
As part of the court order, Natachia Barlow Ramsey was not allowed to discuss her surviving child nor the child-protective court proceedings that led to their reunion.
She did not refuse to answer questions about her own case or her experience, despite the often difficult and emotional memories they evoked.
— Gary Remal
Copyright, 2005, Blethen Maine Newspapers, Inc.
Author: GARY REMAL Staff Writer
Quiet and thoughtful, tall, articulate and neatly dressed, 31-year-old Natachia Barlow Ramsey smiles easily and inspires confidence.
But nearly six years ago, overwhelmed with physical and family problems
after the birth of her son, distraught and alone in the midst of undiagnosed postpartum depression, Natachia Barlow Ramsey smothered her 4-week-old baby in his bassinet before attempting to take her own life.
Now, after years of difficult therapy, most while confined at the Augusta Mental Health Institute, Natachia Barlow Ramsey has been reunited with her older child who was taken into state custody at age 8 shortly after the infant’s horrific death.
Rescue crews stopped Natachia Barlow Ramsey from bleeding to death in the bathtub of her Searsport mobile home on April 11, 1999, after she made a confused call to a mental-health crisis line.
But they were unable to revive the infant, Hunter. Her older child had been left with Natachia Barlow Ramsey‘s estranged husband earlier in the day.
In 2001, a jury ruled that she was insane at the time of the killing and acquitted her of manslaughter. Natachia Barlow Ramsey was committed to the Augusta state psychiatric hospital.
But in March 2004, a Superior Court judge gave Natachia Barlow Ramsey permission to live in her own apartment. And last December, District Court Judge John C. Nivison ruled that her elder child, now 12 years old, can live with her.
A statement from court Guardian ad Litem Maureen E. Dillane, approved by Nivison, indicated that officials of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and Dillane agreed to return the surviving child to Natachia Barlow Ramsey‘s home for “trial placement.”
“If I had any concerns about what would happen, then my child wouldn’t be in my house right now, because I would refuse,” Natachia Barlow Ramsey said in an interview with the Kennebec Journal.
A TROUBLED PAST
In 1999, Natachia Barlow Ramsey experienced a difficult pregnancy and childbirth. She contracted pneumonia while in the hospital and had to stay longer than expected. She left the hospital sooner than doctors recommended because she felt she was needed at home.
“There’s nothing I’m going to be able to tell you about that day that is going to make a lot of sense, because it doesn’t make sense to me now,” Natachia Barlow Ramsey said.
He picked up the couple’s older child, then left, leaving her alone with the baby she believed he did not accept.
“When he left, I wanted to die,” she said. “Everything was very unclear. I just remember thinking that I couldn’t leave Hunter, because I wanted to die and I couldn’t leave Hunter because no one was going to care for him. In my mind, that day, there wasn’t anyone else that could or would care for him. That he would be alone.
“And I know that doesn’t make sense now. That day it made sense to me. Things made sense that day that do not make sense to me now.”
Planning to take her own life, Natachia Barlow Ramsey said she believed no one would care for her son. And she wanted to be with him.
So, in her confused state, she suffocated the baby while he lay in his bassinet in the bedroom of her Mount Ephraim Road mobile home.
After her son’s death, Natachia Barlow Ramsey was diagnosed with major depression; she takes anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications to prevent flareups.
Given a family history that includes the suicides of both her mother and maternal grandfather, she believes she probably suffered from depression long before she killed her baby.
“My family is very old Maine, so even after the death of my mother and grandfather there was never any counseling or anything,” she said.
“It’s taken me many years of therapy and, essentially, permission from therapists in order to feel as though it’s OK to miss him.
“Your job as a parent is to protect your children and to keep them safe.
“In my skewed thinking that day I thought that’s what I was doing, keeping him with me and protecting him. For me, anyway, it was a disbelief. How could I do that? Just the feelings of guilt around knowing one of your children is dead.
“One of the things that bothers me always the most is anyone thinking that he wasn’t wanted, or I thought he was bad, or anything like that.
“And I wasn’t hearing voices and no one was telling me that he was evil.
“It was about that moment, it was irrational. It was irrational because I was contemplating suicide.”
QUESTIONS FOR STATE
A brief statement issued by Nivison’s court indicates that Department of Health and Human Services officials approved plans to return her older child to Natachia Barlow Ramsey‘s home.
“Trial placement with the mother was recommended to the court based on the unanimous agreement of all the parties,” wrote Maureen E. Dillane, who represented the child in the child-protective proceedings.
Jim LaBrecque — an advocate for families that have had children removed by state officials and a longtime critic of Maine’s child-protective system — said Nivison’s decision raises troubling questions about the equity of treatment of all parents in similar court actions.
LaBrecque said he knows of other cases in which children have been removed permanently from their families for far less serious abuses than the death of a child.
“Just about every case is less heinous than (Natachia Barlow Ramsey‘s),” LaBrecque said. “There are many cases where parents’ rights are terminated from ever seeing their children again for the simplest things, like one slap across the face. This all boils down to the department’s position and whether or not they like the parent.”
Department spokesman Michael Norton declined to explain the agency’s position in Natachia Barlow Ramsey‘s case, citing confidentiality laws.
Since Hunter’s death, Natachia Barlow Ramsey has received intensive psychological treatment. She still takes medication for recurrent major depression. Natachia Barlow Ramsey also decided to avoid a recurrence of postpartum depression by voluntarily undergoing sterilization.
“Not knowing before about postpartum depression or that I could get sick, I had no way of really knowing what could happen,” she said.
“But then you become aware and you become educated and you have choices to make, and my choice was to have a tubal ligation to prevent the possibility of ever becoming severely postpartum.
“Weighing all the options and knowing how important my child is to me, I made the choice of being the best parent I could be, and that was to not allow the possibility of having more kids.”
Natachia Barlow Ramsey was indicted on a charge of murder, but a plea bargain reduced the charge to manslaughter while allowing her to use an insanity defense before a jury that subsequently acquitted her because of her mental condition.
Between 2001 — when a jury found her not guilty by reason of insanity — and early 2004, courts granted Natachia Barlow Ramsey incremental increases in her freedom. Although acknowledging her progress, judges have yet to fully release Natachia Barlow Ramsey from state custody.
In December, Superior Court Justice S. Kirk Studstrup further reduced her restrictions, giving her virtually unlimited use of her car and unsupervised time in the community. But he also continued to ban nonprescribed drugs or alcohol and required Natachia Barlow Ramsey to return to Riverview Psychiatric Center at least once every 14 days.
Assistant Attorney General Fernand R. LaRochelle, who prosecuted Natachia Barlow Ramsey and followed her case through the courts, said prosecutors have watched her progress closely.
“I’m not aware of any situation in which she has caused (her treatment team) any reason for serous concern,” LaRochelle said. “Some people progress at a much faster rate than others.”
While Natachia Barlow Ramsey‘s use of the insanity defense in the death of her baby, and the return of her elder child, may raise questions in Maine, the laws in a number of other countries regularly treat women with postpartum depression who kill infant children more leniently than women in similar circumstances in the United States.
In some states, however, women are still serving long prison sentences or may even face the death penalty for killing their young children.
Michelle Oberman, a Santa Clara University School of Law professor and author with Cheryl L. Meyer of “Mothers Who Kill Their Children: Understanding the Acts of Moms from Susan Smith to the ‘Prom Mom,'” said many countries put postpartum killings in a special category of crime, requiring a guilty plea but then mandating treatment, probation or short prison sentences.
“About 17 or 18 countries around the world follow the British common law, which began in 1922, in cases where a mother kills a child under the age of 1,” Oberman said.
The greatest threat posed by these women comes if they become pregnant or once again give birth, Oberman said.
“Assuming (Natachia Barlow Ramsey) has an appropriately set-up team monitoring her, it’s hard to believe she would be at risk and certainly not to her 12-year-old. The only exception would be if she got pregnant again,” Oberman said.
Psychiatrist Deborah Sichel, a former Harvard Medical School instructor and author of “Women’s Moods: What Every Woman Must Know About Hormones, the Brain and Emotional Health,” said Natachia Barlow Ramsey‘s apparent history of depression is typical of women who suffer the most severe cases of postpartum depression or psychosis.
Research on the small minority of women who behave violently toward their children after pregnancy often reveals past problems, she said.
Accurate diagnosis and treatment by specially trained professionals is necessary for successful recovery and to prevent future harm.
But Sichel cautioned that other forms of anxiety or stress can bring on further problems.
“Having a 12-year-old child calls for very close followup,” she said. “It doesn’t preclude her from having her child back, but it does need careful supervision.”
Maine has experienced few cases such as Natachia Barlow Ramsey‘s, in which a mother kills her children after giving birth.
Her case recalls that of another Maine mother, Constance M. Fisher, who drowned her three young children in the family’s bathtub in Waterville in 1954.
A Kennebec County grand jury refused to indict her.
She was treated and bore three more children, drowning them in her Fairfield home in 1966 when they were almost exactly the same ages. She later took her own life while at AMHI.
High-profile cases in other states include that of Andrea Yates, a Texas woman accused of drowning her five children in a bathtub in 2001.
Yates was sentenced to life in prison, although her conviction was overturned in January by a Texas appeals court because a state witness may have presented false testimony.
In 2000, Texas mother Christina Riggs was granted her request to be executed by lethal injection for drugging and smothering her 2-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son in 1997 before attempting her own suicide.
She was the fifth woman to be executed in the United States since the 1976 reinstatement of the death penalty.
In Fisher’s time, doctors knew less about identifying postpartum depression or its treatment, Natachia Barlow Ramsey said. Today, professional help and new medications can reduce symptoms earlier if identified.
“This doesn’t mean you’re an ogre or a monster, which I think regardless is how” women in her position may be perceived by the public, Natachia Barlow Ramsey said.
LONG ACQUITTAL PROCESS
Judges worried about the safety of the Maine public are slow to relinquish court control over anyone acquitted of a crime because of insanity.
“There are some people who will never come out from under the commissioner because there’s always a sense that they want to continue monitoring. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be living out in the community and having the best life they’re able to have, it just means that they want to be able keep an eye on them and bring them back into the hospital if need be,” Natachia Barlow Ramsey said.
“I had a wonderful psychiatrist. But at the same time, I think that there are examples of people who have been within the system for 15 years for stealing a six-pack of beer that really have been institutionalized and should have been out a long time ago.”
Natachia Barlow Ramsey is convinced that today she would be able to recognize the onset of psychological problems in time to reach out for help.
“I have a very large support system. Six years ago, when I became very sick, I didn’t know I was becoming sick,” she said.
“The person I was a decade ago is not the same person I am today. I wanted to be a better parent. I wanted to be a better person. And I wanted to lead a better life. So I’ve spent six years working really hard in therapy to do all those things.
“The average person reading this article isn’t going to know me and isn’t going to know this, they’re not going to understand and I’m sure there’s a majority of people who are going to say I’m a monster,” she said.
“There were many parties involved and (the child returned only) after careful consideration. This was not a willy-nilly decision,”Natachia Barlow Ramsey said.
“The only thing I can tell you is that I love my child.”
Gary Remal —
Author: MECHELE COOPER Staff Writer
AUGUSTA — A Kennebec Journal staff writer was honored with a national journalism award by the National Mental Health Association.
Gary Remal received the award at a luncheon during the association’s annual meeting Friday in Washington, D.C.
Remal wrote about Natachia Barlow Ramsey, a young mother who smothered her 4-week-old baby in a bassinet before attempting to take her own life. A jury ruled in 2001 that she was insane at the time of the killing and acquitted her of manslaughter. Natachia Barlow Ramsey was committed to the Augusta state psychiatric hospital.
In 2004, after years of difficult therapy, she was able to convince a judge to return a surviving child, now 12 years old, to her home for “trial placement.”
A panel of media professionals selected winning entries for their educational value, quality, comprehensiveness and creativity in addressing timely mental-health issues.
“Through accurate, aggressive and creative reporting, the media play a vital role in educating Americans about the reality of mental health and mental illness,” said David Shern, NMHA president.
Natachia Barlow Ramsey also attended the June 9 award ceremony, with Remal introducing her to the audience. Her trip to Washington was funded by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, she said.
Remal said she did not seek this spotlight, but never shied away from looking him in the eyes and answering his questions.
“I very much appreciate the national recognition from NMHA, but I recognize that without Natachia Barlow Ramsey‘s courage and candor in talking about her own horrific experience, hoping to make a difference for other women who suffer from severe depression following childbirth, I would likely not have received this award,” Remal said Monday.
Remal was recognized in 1987 by the national Press Managing Editors Association for a story about a ballot-tampering scandal, and his subsequent coverage of the story.
Last year, the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Maine recognized him for “consistent, conscientious and fair coverage about mental illness.”
In 2000, he received recognition from the New England Associated Press News Executives Association for a series about the challenges and opportunities faced by state capital cities.
“I am very proud that Gary’s excellent reporting on this important issue was honored by the National Mental Health Association,” Kennebec Journal Executive Editor David Offer said. “The story gave our readers insight into a subject that is too often misunderstood.”
Since 1983, Remal has covered an array of state, county and municipal issues for the Kennebec Journal.
A native of Fitchburg, Mass., he studied politics, urban planning and journalism at Boston University and Harvard.