It would be easy to cast Sietske H., a woman just convicted in the Netherlands for smothering four newborns to death, as a villain. The bare bones of her case -- woman gets pregnant, kills baby because she is afraid of her parents' judgement, woman gets pregnant three more times, only to again kill each successive child -- read like a horror story far worse than anything Wes Craven could concoct.
And yet, it's the very bareness of the reports coming from the Dutch press that make Sietske H.'s story so hard to comprehend. Is she a sick, twisted murderer? A psychopath in the truest sense of the word? I'd like to say yes. It would make me feel better about society to put her in that box and close the lid, to make her and the horrors she inflicted on those poor babies go away. It would make it easier to cast her as a villain and an anomaly both. But I can't.
I can't because there are too many variables unaccounted for in the stories about Sietske H. They say they don't know why she became pregnant again and again even after her first stab at motherhood went so awfully wrong. It makes me shudder, makes me angry to think that a woman would do that. And yet, I wonder: Was she being raped? Victimized? Did she follow a religious path that forbade contraception?
As she's gone through the criminal proceedings, Sietske (which, by the way, is the only name given -- she's being protected under Dutch law) refused psychological treatment, despite a court order. And so I wonder: is she insane? Depressed? Suffering from a psychosis that, if treated, would have saved her and the babies both? And if she is -- why hasn't anyone noticed it, stepped forward? It might not excuse this tragedy, but it would explain it, no?
That Sietske apparently hid her pregnancy not just from her parents but from the father of the babies makes this case that much harder to pin down. It drives home that she didn't trust this man enough to talk to him about the pregnancy, making both the possibility she was a victim and the possibility she was mentally ill entirely feasible. It also makes for a good case that someone else in her life is complicit in this sad, tragic tale. To hide one pregnancy is possible; to hide four seems more than a little impossible -- if only because with each progressive pregnancy, the changes in a body become more apparent. A tight little tummy retained in the first pregnancy is a sagging mess by baby number four. So I ask: Why didn't they stop her? Why aren't they on trial too? Why is only Sietske H. headed for prison?
Sietske will spend 12 years in prison under Dutch law. Those four babies will not be forgotten. But I can't say whether justice was served here -- not really. Can you?
Image via bradbrundage/Flickr