A 28-year-old mother who admitted to suffocating her infant daughter multiple times to get attention from doctors and people on Facebook has been sentenced to a year in jail and three years’ probation.
The woman, who had worked in a Burnaby pub, according to court documents, began bringing her baby to hospitals in October 2016, saying the infant was having seizures.
In December 2016, the baby was admitted to Surrey Memorial Hospital for a week after her mother reported the infant had stopped breathing during breastfeeding.
During that time in hospital, the woman called out six times for help from medical staff, who resuscitated the baby after finding it “limp and dusky grey and not breathing,” according to court documents.
Each time, the woman had been alone with the baby.
Concerned and confused by the infant’s symptoms, Surrey Memorial staff recommended a transfer to B.C. Children’s Hospital to have neurologists determine whether she had a heart or seizure issue.
The baby had another episode of not breathing the first day in Vancouver, so staff put her on an EEG and constant video monitoring.
The mother was told to keep the baby in view of the video monitor, but twice she took the child from the crib out of sight from the camera and twice the baby was limp and not breathing when she brought it back into view.
Throughout the infant’s hospital stay, the woman posted updates on Facebook about her daughter’s condition and talked to a friend about setting up a fundraising campaign that went on to raise about $2,000.
A doctor from the hospital’s child protection unit, meanwhile, suspected the mother was inducing her daughter’s episodes since none of a “myriad of tests” had revealed a medical cause, and the only two episodes at B.C. Children’s had happened when the mother had moved the baby out of view of the video camera.
The episodes stopped completely after the baby was put under “intense surveillance” in the intensive care unit.
The baby and an older son were removed from the mother’s custody a few days later.
(The woman, who had given birth to her son at age 17, had lost custody of him for a time after she had attempted to sell him on Craigslist as an infant.)
Her baby girl has had no seizures or episodes of not breathing since being placed in foster care.
‘Thrives off of attention’
The woman was charged with aggravated assault.
She later told police her baby had experienced real seizures in October 2016 but confessed to having intentionally suffocated her twice while she was in hospital.
She said she couldn’t remember the details of the other episodes but said she felt responsible for them, according to court documents.
She admitted to a social worker she had done it for attention.
“She stated she ‘thrives off of attention,’ and she received a lot of attention from the doctors and people on Facebook,” stated a ruling by B.C. Provincial Court Judge Peter La Prairie last month.
A psychological assessment of the mother, who grew up in a stable family home but suffered abuse, including sexual abuse as a child, youth and young adult, found she “very likely” suffers from a personality disorder as well as “factitious disorder imposed on another.”
Previously known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy, the latter is a mental illness in which a person acts as if an individual in their care has a physical or mental illness when the person isn’t actually sick.
“The psychologist notes that the assaultive behaviours are more reflective of (the mother’s) mental illness, as opposed to assaultive and injurious intent, but she was aware of her actions and was aware that what she was doing was wrong and illegal,” La Prairie’s ruling stated.
Denunciation and deterrence
Prosecutors called for a jail sentence in the range of 18 months to two years with three years’ probation.
The defence called for a suspended sentence or an intermittent jail sentence followed by three years’ probation.
In delivering his sentence, La Prairie noted the mother’s guilty plea and remorse as mitigating factors.
“This is a case that was difficult for the police to investigate and difficult for the Crown to prove,” he said. “Contrary to her lawyer’s advice, (the mother) cooperated with the authorities and confessed to the offence.”
However, La Prairie concluded a jail term was needed for denunciation and deterrence of the crime, which saw the woman abuse her position of trust over the infant.
The terms of the woman’s probation include a ban on contacting her daughter or publishing anything about her on the Internet or social media.
She will also be banned from being alone with children under the age of 12 or from being in public places where children are present or can reasonably be expected to be present.
She will also not be allowed to date, marry or enter into a common-law relationship with anyone who cares for or has access to children under 12 until she tells her probation officer about the prospective partner, and the probation officer has told that person about her history as described in her criminal record, pre-sentence report and the court ruling.