Mother who had postnatal depression committed suicide with baby: State Coroner

·Senior Reporter
·5-min read
Woman curled up on a bed
Woman curled up on a bed. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — A mother who could not cope with caring for her infant daughter and was worried about work died after a fall from height, taking her five-week-old daughter with her. 

The woman, 35, had carried out the unlawful killing of her baby daughter and committed suicide by falling from height, in a stark reminder of the devastating effects of postpartum depression, State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam said. The court's findings into the deaths were made available on Friday (28 May).

The woman, who also had an elder daughter, had carried out the act on 29 October last year and was found shortly before 6pm at an HDB block along Bedok North Road. Paramedics pronounced both mother and daughter dead at the scene at 6.03pm.

She resided at the 10th floor with her husband, elder daughter, 4, younger daughter, who was born on 20 September last year, and her husband's sister.

Prior to her death, she had mentioned quitting her account executive job while she was pregnant as she felt stressed. However, her husband told her that feeling stressed at work was normal and that she "should be thankful that she still had a job during the COVID-19 period", according to findings. 

After her younger daughter was born, the woman had a confinement nanny to care for her and her daughter during the confinement period. 

Five days after the nanny left, the woman told her husband that she was stressed over having to care for their two girls, claiming that she had forgotten how to take care of children. 

In reply, her husband said that his mother would take care of the elder girl during the day and fetch her home at night. The husband told his wife that she did not have to do anything except rest and care for her younger daughter. 

When his wife raised the desire to quit her job again, her husband suggested that she rest during her maternity leave and not think about work. The woman did not speak about quitting her job again, and the husband thought that things were fine. 

On 29 October last year, her husband left for work as usual at about 7am. He gave evidence that he did not notice anything unusual about his wife, and was alerted to the incident by the police in the evening. 

The husband's sister had left the unit at around midday, after her sister-in-law came out of the shower. The sister was at her parents' house at about 6pm when her father told her to check on her sister-in-law and her baby. By the time the sister returned home, police officers were outside the unit and she learned of her sister-in-law and niece's deaths. She unlocked the door for police officers. 

A purple stool was found beneath the kitchen window that was directly in line with the position where the woman and her baby daughter lay on the ground below. There were no signs of struggle. Police officers found a mobile phone on the bed in the master bedroom, which contained a voice recording from the woman in Mandarin. 

The message was sent for translation and found to be addressed to her husband. She stated that the couple should not have had her baby, as she did not know how to take care of babies or their family. 

The woman "stated that her mind was not working and that she had no idea what she was doing. (She) added that she is not a good mother and not a good wife and had let them down. She asked (her husband) to take good care of their elder daughter. She expressed regret that she would not be around to watch her grow up. (She) also gave the password to her bank account and ended by saying that she has no other way as her mind is not working," SC Ponnampalam said. 

Officers also found two knives on top of the toilet cistern in the ensuite master toilet. One of the knives had blood on its blade that contained the woman's DNA. The baby's DNA was also found on the handle of this knife. 

A forensic pathologist certified mother-and-daughter's cause of death as multiple injuries consistent with a fall from height.

Evidence from woman's colleague and childhood friend

One of the woman's colleagues had messaged her on the day of the incident to ask if she was well. The woman replied that she "was not feeling very good" and that she "did not know how to take care of babies anymore" according to the findings. 

She "added that she did not know what (her baby) wanted, or why (the baby) was crying and why she would not sleep. (The colleague) suspected that (she) may be suffering from postnatal depression. She advised (her) to get some help and to employ a domestic helper to assist. (The woman) replied that she was not inclined to spend the money to employ a domestic helper," SC Ponnampalam said. 

Similarly, the woman had told a childhood friend who visited her a day before the incident that she did not know how to take care of babies anymore. She told the friend that whenever her elder daughter cried, the baby would cry and she did not know how to make them stop. She appeared depressed to the friend, did not seem to have an appetite, and slept poorly.

The woman had not expressed any suicidal intention to her colleague or childhood friend.

Commenting on the case, SC Ponnampalam said that the woman's death was "yet another stark reminder of the devastating effects of postpartum depression". 

"In acute cases such as (the woman), thoughts of self-harm seem almost inevitable. The pressures from caring for a new-born can be immense. Coupled with the demands from managing the household and family while getting ready to return to work, may all seem insurmountable," SC Ponnampalam said. 

"It is important that new mothers and those around them – spouse, family, and friends – recognise and understand the enormity of the stressors. Often, they may not resolve on their own without the appropriate help, changes or adjustments, and medical therapy if required."

A good support network and genuine encouragement from family and friends is essential to help a new mother cope, she added. 

If you have thoughts of suicide or are feeling distressed, you can call SOS' 24-hour hotline at 1800 221 4444. You can also email pat@sos.org.sg.

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