IOWA CITY - A prosecutor in the case of a Coralville woman accused of killing one son and injuring another son expects a defense of postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis.
Michelle Kehoe, 35, is charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and child endangerment. She's accused of killing her 2-year-old son, Seth, and injuring her 7-year-old son, Sean, on Oct. 26 in a remote area near Littleton in northeast Iowa.
Kehoe's attorney hasn't been identified. Buchanan County Attorney Allan Vander Hart said he expects the defense will say Kehoe was suffering from postpartum depression or psychosis when she allegedly harmed her children.
Experts offer a range of explanations for the mood swings and anxiety that follows childbirth.
Depression can get worse because of disruptions in sleep or social activities, said Robin Kopelman, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa.
Kopelman said postpartum psychosis, a rarer condition, can cause a mother to be delusional and at increased risk for suicide or homicide.
"Whenever a woman harms her children in some way, her mental health is brought into question," Kopelman said. "It's difficult for most people to imagine a mother harming her child."
Kopelman said while postpartum depression usually begins within weeks of childbirth, women can suffer from the disorder for several years if it is not treated.
Michelle Kehoe and her two sons left Coralville to visit relatives in Sumner but never arrived. Her husband, Eugene Kehoe, reported them missing.
Michelle Kehoe and her sons were found the next morning after she walked to a house and said a man had abducted them.
According to court documents, Kehoe used duct tape to cover her sons' eyes, noses and mouths before allegedly cutting their necks with a knife.
Kehoe recanted her story about the abduction and told investigators she didn't know why she hurt her children.
Kehoe, who was also injured, remains at University Hospitals in Iowa City.
Vander Hart said patient confidentiality laws have made it impossible for officials to learn her condition. Kehoe is expected to be taken into custody once she leaves the hospital.