Defending Depression: Intersectionality and American Infanticide

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In the past decade, the diagnosis of postpartum mental illness has become the primaryway in which Americans understand the actions of murdering mothers. Thisunderstanding of maternal violence is not only recent in American history, it is alsoquite exclusive. The majority of mothers that have successfully employed a postpartum defense in infanticide cases in the past century have been white, middle-class,married women, yet studies show that poor and minority mothers are significantly more likely to experience postpartum depression. Only a privileged subset of new mothers can avail themselves of mental health care should they experience postpartum disorders, and even fewer are able to use mental illness as a legal defense. Through the postpartum defense, the legal system replicates the class and racial inequalities of the mental health system: white, middle-class women are “good mothers” who tragically suffer from mental illness, while poor mothers are violent “deviants.” In this article,I review cases in which the postpartum defense has been used and examine the class and racial power dynamics that undergird the American discourse of postpartummental illness and infanticide.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-126
JournalJMI: Journal for the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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