Out of fear I took the advice of my lawyer and signed a plea of second-degree murder. Webster’s Dictionary describes murder as “the unlawful and malicious or premeditated killing of a person.” That is not me.
I was just an ordinary, church-going mother of three beautiful children, all wanted and very much loved. I was the kind of mother that had to research everything from vaccines to food. My children had to have the best of everything. My babies were all breastfed because “breast is best.” I co-slept with my babies, I used the best baby carriers so that my baby felt more secure with Mommy.
I only had natural births and with my last two children I gave birth at home with a midwife and my husband by my side.
I thought I knew so much, and by my third child I knew I wanted to become a Doula and a lactation consultant so that I could help new mothers and educate them on the health benefits of a natural lifestyle. Even after all my research, I never thought I would suffer from a postpartum illness.
Yes, I’ve heard of moms having postpartum depression, but I never had to worry about that because I avoided all those symptoms by “natural” living. I bonded with my babies as soon as I gave birth to them with “skin to skin”. I fell in love with my children as soon as I peed on that stick and saw that beautiful blue plus sign!
I was called a “helicopter Mom”, “Momma Natural”, or “Momma Bear”. My children were healthy, and everything had to be organic, non-gmo, or all natural. Why should I worry about an illness that is so far from me? My children are my whole life and I was more than happy to be a mother. Women who had postpartum depression, I thought, just didn’t breast feed or bond with their babies. And the very rare stories I heard of mothers that killed their babies were so “desperately depressed,” they couldn’t afford to go get help and maybe they thought that that was the best solution. I don’t really know, actually. I never gave it much thought because “that would never be me.” How could someone harm their own innocent baby?
Now I’m here in prison wishing I knew, and angry because I didn’t know more about postpartum illnesses like postpartum psychosis. I must deal with not only the horrible pain of losing my precious baby boy, but also not seeing my two beautiful daughters for three years. My freedom was taken from me because I fell between the cracks. I’m being punished for something that was completely out of my control.
My family did see that there was something wrong, but how would they know I was going through psychosis when we had never even heard about the symptoms and signs? How does someone know they’re going insane?
I am a loving and devoted mother! Why would any of us think that I could kill my own baby? I never talked about hurting my children because I never thought of it! I convinced myself that someone else could, though. I became paranoid and over-protective of my children. But that was “normal” for me. I’ve dealt with anxiety my whole life. My husband knew I freaked out about every little thing. I was “that kind of mother.”
I worried about my children’s health and safety but never my own because my children came first. I figured all my fears would go away after a while, that I would eventually get used to a new rhythm and sleep pattern with my husband’s work schedule and a new hungry breastfeeding baby. All I needed was sleep. That’s all, right?
On January 30th, 2017 my entire life was changed.
I have little to no memory of it. I blacked out most of that day, I was in and out of awareness/reality. I don’t remember what I said that day, but the police made sure to record everything. The prosecutor had plenty of “evidence” showing that I “wanted” and “knew” my baby was dead. In their eyes, I am just an “evil monster” that deserves punishment. Ignore the fact that I was psychotic and thought it was the end of the world and that I thought my baby was Jesus Christ that he had to die for the sins of the world.
Justice was served, right? Who won in this case? The prosecutor gets a win, I guess. Bill Montgomery looks good still because he’s “tough on crime”. A “baby killer” is locked up. Never mind that I am a victim, or my husband (the closest victim) not only lost his child but lost his wife also. Never mind that my daughters lost not only their baby brother but also their Momma to a system of black and white.
My case should have never been a criminal case. It’s a medical and mental health case. I was a law-abiding citizen. I never even had a speeding ticket. I would pass by the Women’s prison all the time when I went to go shop at Sprouts for my organic food, or Costco for my baby’s diapers. It never crossed my mind that I would be spending a thirteen-year sentence there because “I didn’t know”.
I didn’t know about mental illness or postpartum mood disorders. And I definitely didn’t know how the state of Arizona treats mental illness.
Not until I was locked in a room with just a hole in the ground to use for a toilet, naked and cold, screaming for my family, absolutely terrified for my life. Asking the officers and nurses what happened to my baby, a nurse so coldly told me, “You know your baby’s dead?” My breasts were engorged with milk because my baby was gone for hours and I didn’t even know. Officers put me on the ground as I screamed from the pain of being put on the hard floor, cuffed, bare naked, on my stomach, turned from one side to the other while the officers stepped on my legs to hold me down with their boots, just in case I tried “escaping”? I was covered with bruises. At one point, I woke up in the hospital because they found me unconscious. Then I was sedated again and put back in jail, treated worse than an animal with no regard that I was a mother that just lost her baby.
I’m still traumatized. But, somehow, I survived. In the first days and weeks behind bars, I tried multiple times to kill myself. The voices in my head told me in order to save my son from going to hell, I had to take his place so that he could go to heaven. I was stuck in a psychotic state for weeks.
Only after my mom convinced me that they weren’t trying to kill me and that it was okay to take medication, I started returning to reality. I realized that my son was gone and that I was the reason he died.
It made no sense to me and I had no memory of it. Why would I kill my precious son? I love him more than my own life! There is no way this could happen to me!
My capital lawyer told me that I suffered from a rare illness that affects 1 out of 1,000 women after having a baby. Postpartum Psychosis or PPP comes with a 5% suicide rate and a 4% infanticide rate. I was told it was not my fault, but unfortunately, I live in Arizona and even worse, I live in Maricopa County.
My choice was to be locked up for a long time or a life sentence in a mental hospital. Those were my two options. Which would you choose? My son’s life was lost because of this mental disorder, not because of me! But let’s punish her anyway because there is no defense for temporary insanity in Arizona. I’m already punished! I will never get to see my son take his first steps or say I love you. I am suffering every day, and now I have to suffer in prison! Afraid that someone might look me up because the media had no problem putting my name everywhere. “Andrea Portillo murdered her five-month-old son.”
How could someone do something like that? Like being blacked out drunk, I had no idea what was happening to my body. I did ask for help, I begged for help, but no one came in time for me or for my son. But here I sit in my cell, trying to cope and heal. Thankful at least for my husband’s support and my family that never left my side.
Women that have postpartum psychosis and don’t get treated and actually end up committing infanticide most likely find themselves in prison instead of a hospital receiving medical attention that is so desperately needed. How many more mothers will suffer and be put through a court system that stereotypes a mother with mental illness? How many babies, children, and women will die before this state or this country realizes that postpartum psychosis is a real issue, and that we are not criminals? We can be everyday ordinary, loving, caring, devoted, amazing mothers that suffer from a horrible illness, and labeled a “baby killer”, a “monster”, or just plain “Evil”.
I look back and I honestly don’t know how I managed not to kill myself. There is no pain like losing your child from such a tragedy as this. And even more upsetting is that this illness could have been so easily preventable had I heard of it and got treated for it. I’m not the first mother to go through this and I won’t be the last.
When my days are so hard because of my severe depression from going through what I have gone through, and I want to just end all my pain, I think about all the other mothers that are dealing with postpartum depression, postpartum bipolar disorder, postpartum panic disorder, postpartum posttraumatic stress disorder, postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, and postpartum psychosis. I think about that poor baby that might die next unless someone speaks out and tells the mother she’s not alone, and she just needs the right help! I stay alive to be a voice for the women that are too scared to speak up out of fear their children will be taken away from them, or that people will think they are crazy, or afraid of the voices in their heads. I live for my son who would’ve been three years old right now had this killer called postpartum psychosis been caught.
I am not a murderer! My name is Andrea Portillo, wife and mother of three beautiful children, and now an advocate of mental illness. I want to bring awareness to postpartum illness — that it can happen to any mother, even the most loving ones such as myself.
My voice and the voice of my son will be heard, despite the health care system and the criminal justice system failing us. We need to have more research to prevent this from ever happening again. We need too educate not only mothers but their families and community as well. We need better justice in the legal system and de-stigmatization of mental illness, and to save the lives of future mothers and their precious babies. But I know its just easier to lock me up and get rid of me. Then when the next story hits the news about another young mother that killed her baby, we will all be shocked, then sad, then judge, and then change the channel.
Andrea Portillo is an inmate at Perryville Arizona State Prison.