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OPINION: "She says she killed her son. But this woman is not a monster."

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“Is that 911? I just threw my son off a bridge.”

These were the words of  Jillian Meredith McCabe when she spoke to an emergency telephone operator on Monday evening at 6.30pm. She was still on the phone to police when they arrived  to find her standing on the edge of the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Oregon, in the US.

It was a cold night, and the water was freezing. Officers said they would not expect a human of any size to survive in the river for more than 20 minutes, never mind a slight six-year-old boy.

And hours later, a tiny body was pulled from the water.

London McCabe was dead. He may have been dead when he went over the edge of the bridge, he may have been killed by the fall, he may have drowned in the icy water. He is gone. And his mother has been charged with aggravated murder, murder and first-degree manslaughter.

Are you enraged?

I was. In a week when I have read about an incest “cult” in NSW, a child sex abuse ring exposed by the disappearance of an American teen, the neglect of an Australian toddler to the point of malnutrion, and always, Luke Batty, whose father murdered him in plain sight, it seems the world is unbearably cruel to children. I have had my fill of it. I want to look away.

jillian-bridge-jpgThe Yaquina Bay Bridge, from which Jillian reportedly threw her son, is 130ft high. 

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Then I read on, and this woman’s despair and isolation began to shift into focus. She is a mother and a wife, and she was the exhausted and increasingly desperate primary carer for two severely affected human beings.

London McCabe had what is being reported as “severe” autism. He required constant care. This has absolutely no bearing or affect on the value of his life – of course it does not – it is a detail reported to give us a glimpse at a motive for a mother to do something so horrific to her own flesh and blood.

Jillian Meredith McCabe“He liked big floppy hats and anything that was fuzzy,” says London McCabe’s uncle.

Because when a parent kills a child we reach around for reasons. For answers, for any information that we can place between us and them to distance ourselves from the horror.

Jillian McCabe had a challenging son who required a great deal of care. And she also had a sick husband.

She had been married to Matt McCabe for years, and he had been the provider for the family while she cared for London. And then Matt developed MS.

She wrote on her blog:

‘My husband went from being able to walk/drive/work/make money/talk/throw our son in the air to being diagnosed with MS, having a mass in the brain stem, he is now walking with a walker, not being able to drive/work/make money, he now slurs his speech…

‘Matt went from the sole bread winner and provider to not in a matter of 2 weeks,” Jillian wrote about him on a blog in 2012 she had posted to explain why she and her family had gone from self-sufficient to asking for crowd-sourced cash to pay for medical bills.

‘Matt’s laying in a hospital bed… complaining we don’t have insurance, we don’t have the money for hospital bills, he has a shopping cart website to work on…’

Jillian closed that post with: ‘I NEED YOUR HELP.’

london-mccabe-born-jpgLondon with his mother, shortly after his birth.

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She did need help. Financial, or practical, or mental? Considering the terrible outcome of this story, probably a combination of all three.

Her husband’s family say that Jillian was struggling with her own mental health issues, as well as being under the immense pressure of caring for a non-verbal child and a rapidly-declining husband.

Her family say that had tried several times to get her admitted to hospital herself for help, but there was a bed shortage, and they didn’t have health insurance, so they were waiting for a bed to come up in a public mental health facility when she, as London’s uncle Andrew said, “Took him for a walk and did what she did.”

Are you still enraged?

I was. And then I wasn’t. I looked at the pictures of London, and I was just overwhelmed with sadness. In the photos, he is lying on the couch with his Ipad.

He is sitting in his carseat with his sippy cup placed in a holder beside him. He is clean, and sometimes smiling, and he’s being carried around by his Dad in one of those kid carriers that parents always imagine will allow them to go on long hikes, but actually just break your back.

London and Matt McCabeMatt with London. 

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He looks loved.

Parents killing their own children is such a horrifying act, reviled above all others, because we know – parents especially know this – what an unholy and unnatural breach of trust has to occur between a child and a parent for this to happen.

Unless there is trauma, abuse or neglect present in a family home, a baby looks to their parents for protection from the moment they’re born. You are their safe place.

Until you’re not.

When Jillian appeared in court yesterday, via videolink, she was dressed in restrictive clothing to stop her from harming herself.

Her husband’s family say that she has had a “breakdown” while caring for London. “We’re devastated,” London’s uncle told NBC news. “London was a good kid.”

London and Matt McCabeLondon with Matt in hospital.

Jillian is a killer. She needs to go prison for a very long time and she needs psychiatric help.

But I don’t know what’s to be gained by bellowing “Monster” at this extremely broken woman, and turning away.

Distancing ourselves from people whose struggles are beyond our own experience only broadens a gap that becomes harder and harder to reach across for help.

Empathy and understanding are not the same things as excuse and justification, and demonising those who need help the most serves no purpose.

Jillian has already lost everything. Unable to see a way out for her son and herself, she threw everything away that night on the Yaquina Bay Bridge.

I’m not enraged any more. I only feel devastated for a family destroyed.

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