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The Sydney Morning Herald.
May 19, 2009 – 7:19PM
A woman has appealed for greater understanding of mothers with mental disorders after a court was told how she had smothered her four-week-old boy with a pillow.
Rebecca Doreen Morley, 39, of Perth, avoided a prison sentence but was placed on a two-year strict supervision order when she pleaded guilty to infanticide in the West Australian District Court on Tuesday.
She faced a maximum sentence of seven years for suffocating baby Frederick at her inner-city Leederville home on June 11 last year.
Morley’s barrister Laurie Levy sought to avoid the recording of a conviction against her, but Judge Antoinette Kennedy said she had no choice but to convict Morley to reflect the seriousness of her crime.
However, Judge Kennedy said there were lessons to be learnt from the fact that Morley’s repeated cries for help, up to the time the baby was killed, had largely gone unheeded by family and doctors.
“The lesson is that no cry for help should be ignored,” she said.
Morley, who broke down in court throughout Tuesday’s sentencing, released a statement through her lawyers saying she did not suffer from post-natal depression, as reported after earlier hearings of her charges.
“Often post-natal depression is used as a general term to cover all kinds of psychiatric disorders after childbirth,” the statement said.
“If only depression is looked for, other disorders can be missed, with tragic results.
“Rebecca believes these disorders require greater recognition in society and more preventative action taken.”
In psychiatric evidence tendered to the court, Morley was described as irrational and “dissociative” when she smothered her baby on the morning of June 11.
Just hours earlier she had assured her husband Chris Nicholls that everything was okay.
Mr Levy said it was tragic that Morley had desperately wanted to have the child, borne out by the fact that it was an IVF child, after the failure of attempts to have a normal conception.
She was a teacher who had come from a good family and was devoted to children, he said.
“She even wrote a paper about the psychology of children in sport,” Mr Levy said.
He said Morley had been taking anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs since 2000 but the severity of her condition was discovered too late.
“Tragically, although there were indications of mental illness, the type 2 disorder she suffered was not picked up until after the events of June 11,” he said.
Mr Levy said Morley felt desperate as things started to go wrong immediately after Frederick’s birth.
“But people kept telling her this was normal,” he said.
“Although she was climbing up the walls and crying out for help she was discharged from hospital.
“She became compulsive obsessive. She thought it best to go down to her family at Kojanup, where she talked about suicide.”
He said she had seen a psychologist and a psychiatrist, had been prescribed medication and at one stage wanted to admit herself to Graylands Psychiatric Hospital in Perth.
After killing her child, she told police: “What have I done? My mind snapped. I went mad. I just couldn’t cope.”
She felt her heart was “going to burst in her chest” and said she was “such an evil person”.
“Where have I gone, where’s Rebecca gone,” she had said.
Morley’s former husband and father of the child, Chris Nichols, said it was a sad day and that he still had to get himself “back together”.
Outside the court he said he was still “upset and a little bit stunned”, almost one year after his son’s death.
“Even today I can’t believe it,” he said.
“I have had to relive it again.
“My son would have been one last week”.
He said not enough people had “picked up the signals” from his former partner.
“When someone says they can’t cope and can’t manage you have to listen to that,” he said.
Morley did not speak to reporters after the hearing.