It’s not often that I read a news story that I feel passionate enough to write about. But today was a completely different matter. As some of you may know, I live in Perth, Australia. And the story that I feel compelled to comment on happened right here in this quiet city. Such circumstances led to the loss of two young boys in 2008 – aged two years and 10 months.
Miranda Hebble, aged 22 at the time, was the partner to a fly-in fly-out worker. On that fateful night, she put her two sons in the shower and left the room quickly to fetch something. But feeling exhausted, she lay down on her bed only to accidentally fall asleep. After ten hours, she woke up to find water overflowing from the shower and both boys dead. A post-mortem examination could not reach a definitive conclusion but indicated drowning might have caused the 10 month old’s death, while the two-year-old might have suffered exhaustion, hunger and possibly hypothermia with exposure. No charges were laid at the time.
When this tragic event resurfaced in the news recently, I wasn’t quick to judge. I didn’t assume that Ms Hebble was a negligent mother. I didn’t assume that her story was implausible and therefore, premeditated. Given that I am a young mother myself, with a 2, 4 and 6 year old; I was actually very quick to empathize. I knew there must have been more to the story.
The judgemental comments
Unlike me, though, the people of Perth weren’t so kind in their views. They refused to consider the possibility of postnatal depression and the extent to which this mother could have been struggling.
Most of the comments were to this effect:
“Oh for god sakes, anyone who believes she fell asleep is crazy. She didn’t have support, oh how sad. Join the other hundreds and thousands of women who do it on their own – they don’t fall asleep with their kids IN THE BATH. Poor woman has to live with it for the rest of her life? Get out the violin. She deserves to wake up everyday and remember. You don’t just fall asleep for 12 hours while your babies are in the bath. If she had postnatal depression I’d be a lot more sympathetic, but she needs to say that’s what it is, thereby increasing the awareness, support etc… Not hide behind this fell asleep crap, Jesus give these poor boys more than that. RIP to the innocent poor boys taken so tragically.”
“No excuse… 2 innocent children are dead due to neglect.”
“If you’re that depressed, kill YOURSELF not 2 innocent children!”
As a mother, I do know how precious children are. As a mother, I do know it is my responsibility to love and protect them. But as a mother, I also know that we all make mistakes; sometimes small, sometimes to a larger effect. And the sad truth is, sometimes these mistakes are unrepairable.
The most disturbing part of those comments, though, was the lack of compassion and empathy for the mother. Everyone refused to consider the possibility that the mother could have been clinically depressed and was in a terribly bad state of mind.
So, going on a hunch, I continued to read about the story as further updates appeared. I was determined to get closer to the truth.
Discovering more about the story
The first article I came across, gave me an insight into how the mother had been coping while the father of the boys, Christopher Stevens, had been working away:
“Mr Stevens told the court on Tuesday that Ms Hebble was anaemic and struggled with her sleeping patterns.”
“she was … a parent adapting to having two kids”.
“she was a quiet, antisocial person who stayed in her shell.”
“Mr Stevens said he never thought Ms Hebble could be depressed because she would often shrug off any problems she had.”
As I read these comments, I realized I was onto something. I knew I wasn’t reading about a horrible mother who had abused her children. Instead, I was reading about a mother who had been struggling at the time – both emotionally and physically.
I refused to judge like everyone else. I chose to empathize with her instead.
My theories were confirmed
After spending days thinking about those poor boys and the struggles Ms Hebble probably went through, I came across another article.
This article stated that despite having no diagnosis of postnatal depression, Ms Hebble definitely showed signs of it:
“Expert psychiatrist Felice Watt, giving evidence at the coronial inquest into the boys’ deaths, said although Ms Hebble had no documented history of postnatal depression there were symptoms of the condition scattered through her medical notes.
This “evidence” included loss of appetite, weight loss and sleep disturbance with bouts of insomnia, which could last five days, the inquest heard.
“Mothers frequently feel ashamed of how they feel and how they are coping,” Dr Watt said. “This can be one reason why they don’t tell others what’s going on.”
Reaffirming what I already knew
After maintaining a strong interest in the case, I had a chat to my husband. Due to studying Psychology in the past, I knew that there was always a need to look beneath the surface.
I said to my husband:
“There are so many people who judge Miranda for failing to seek help; arguing that she should have been responsible enough to do something if she had postnatal depression. That she shouldn’t have kept it inside and punished her children for it. But what if she wanted to prove that she could do it, that she could be a good mother? I know as a young mum myself, that’s what I wanted to do in the beginning. To prove people wrong. Maybe she honestly thought she would be okay. But unfortunately, she wasn’t okay like she thought she was. And a tragedy happened leading to her losing her two boys.”
After just one day of having that conversation with my husband, I read a third article proving that I was definitely onto something.
“Ms Hebble said she would cry when her partner was away and struggled as a young mother.
“I wanted to be strong. I wanted to prove I could do things,” she said.
Although she had a supportive family, Ms Hebble said she did not have many friends and was not as sociable as her partner, who was a fly-in fly-out worker.
The young mother said she would often feel down and went shopping or visited her parents to make herself feel better but never showed her sadness to her family.
“I don’t know why I was sad,” she said.
Malachi had trouble sleeping and when he cried, he would wake up Lochlan, which made her sleep “erratic”, she said.
Ms Hebble said even when her partner was home, she struggled to sleep because she felt like she should be doing things around the house.
“I was ashamed. I was the mother,” she said.
What can this tragedy teach all of us?
It can teach us that the world isn’t so black and white. That we are all capable of making mistakes. That not everything you see or hear about, whether in the media or in your own lives, is as it seems. That sometimes the most horrible of circumstances don’t necessarily have the most horrible of intentions.
What this tragedy can teach us is that sometimes what people need is less judgement, but more empathy.
My last article focused on how each of us can make a difference. How we can choose to make a positive impact on the world. I believe this starts in being kind to those around us. And in showing compassion to others. And listening out for people’s cries for help.
If any good can come from such a tragedy, I believe it’s this:
Rather than judging your friends for the mistakes they make, rather than judging the strangers in the street, rather than judging anyone for living their lives differently to you; show compassion, show empathy, give them a helping hand.
Because sometimes you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, before you can realize how it feels to actually walk in them.
Empathize before you judge. Empathy is what the world needs right now.