Original article now available at news.com.au
EXCLUSIVE: Colleen Egan
December 06, 2008 06:00pm
EXCLUSIVE: THE woman who jumped from a Perth building, killing her toddler and seriously injuring herself, has spoken of her grief.
Yeeda Topham, 41, was in the grips of deep post-natal depression when she carried her 21-month-old son, James, up eight flights of stairs in November last year.
She spent more than a year in custody and was released from the Supreme Court on Friday after pleading guilty to manslaughter, which carries a maximum 20-year jail term.
Mrs Topham, who is still recovering from extensive injuries, told The Sunday Times yesterday she was grateful to Justice John McKechnie for showing her mercy.
“I feel very humbled by what the judge has done and I’ve been overwhelmed by the support that I’ve had,” she said.
“I just want people to know that I feel great regret about losing James and the hurt that it has caused everybody.
“It is a relief to me to be back in a nurturing environment.”
Mrs Topham, a teacher who yearned to have children for several years before falling pregnant with James on the IVF program, said she wanted to help other women with PND.
“In the future, I want to use my experience to help others suffering with depression,” she said.
“That is what’s kept me going.
“I’d say to them, `Try not to give up. Keep going and don’t give up hope’.”
Mrs Topham’s father, Peter Bibby, said his daughter had bravely battled PND for more than a year.
The first six months of James’ life was “idyllic”, but depression set in amid marriage problems.
Mrs Topham, who breastfed James until his death, became obsessed by a belief that James had lost the mother-baby bond and mourned for the feeling that she was connected to the child.
She took five different medications, was hospitalised twice, attended counselling sessions and went to three playgroups and a weekly program for mothers with PND.
“She tried very hard to overcome it and she took good care of James,” Mr Bibby said.
“The longer it goes, the more you think things are working themselves out and being stable, but the person is getting more weary and feeling increasing helplessness.”
Mrs Topham, who had a change of medication in the weeks before the tragedy, secretly wrote dozens of poems about her love for her “precious one” and her thoughts about suicide.
On the morning of James’s death, Mrs Topham tried to gas herself and her son in a car, but pulled out of the suicide attempt.
She remembers giving James lunch and taking medication recommended by her psychiatrist if she felt suicidal — but she does not remember driving to West Perth and jumping from the building.
She had a high level of carbon monoxide in her body and doctors believe her judgment and memory were affected.
She spent three weeks in a coma with massive injuries, including multiple fractures in her face and a re-attached leg.
When she awoke, Mrs Topham’s first action was to ask in sign language about James.
“Her last memory is sitting at the table, crying, and then she wakes up in hospital to this nightmare and disbelief that she could have done that,” her father said.
“We had to tell her. It’s a shocking thing for parents who are mourning one (family member) and we could have been mourning two.
“She was clinging to life and we had to tell her this huge, burdensome thing.
“She called out James’ name uncontrollably for a long time.
“She never stopped being in the pain of that and all you can hope for is that time will put it in some perspective and give all the support you can.”
The trauma was compounded by Mrs Topham being charged with wilful murder soon after she awoke from the coma.
She was under 24-hour guard by prison services in the hospital, who required her curtain to be left open and lights left on all night.
“Two guards were watching her night and day,” Mr Bibby said.
A few weeks later, Mrs Topham was transferred to the infirmary of Bandyup Prison, where she stayed until this week.
Mrs Topham agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to the time she had already served.
“She had to deal with her grief in very difficult circumstances without having her family close by,” he said.
“It has been very hard, but I am grateful to the judge for showing compassion and understanding.”
Mrs Topham was visited every day by family members, friends or volunteers from a PND support group.
“We have a roster scheme now to make sure she is not going to be alone at all for at least the next year,” Mr Bibby said.
“She spent a long time very distraught but she is getting better and she has a sense of purpose in life to help other people with depression.
“She can get back to contributing to the community, like she always has.”
Mr Bibby said he hoped his daughter’s case would lead to a better understanding of PND.
“Her experience makes us feel there is much that can be done for people with PND and it would be good to think the laws were moving to address this,” he said.
Another mother, Rebecca Doreen Morley, 39, of Leederville, appeared in Perth Magistrates Court on Friday on a charge of infanticide. The case was adjourned until March 20.