Desperation is a form of madness

One of the things I am trying to wean myself of is the propensity to be judgmental.

For this reason, I love traveling because it has taught me to keep an open mind and try to not judge what I do not understand or the baffling actions of people whose reasons I am not privy to.

I also try to study my own prejudices and attempt to rise above them but honestly; it is hard to reverse the thinking of years.

I just hope that in making the effort to be empathetic, I can only become a better person.

I remember watching a TV show or movie, I don’t quite remember the genre of the TV production but it was a scene in which an animal had been caught in a trap set by poachers.

And the animal had been trying to free itself without any success, growing more and more desperate by the hour. The more it tugged to get free, the more the trap dug into its flesh and tightened around its leg.

Why judge? If we would read the secret history of those we judge, we would find in each mans life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.

Stuck, frightened, thirsty, hungry and utterly desperate; the animal started to gnaw at the iron grip of the trap but the steel wouldn’t yield so its teeth kept sinking into its own flesh, tearing at its own leg.

I don’t think I pondered much on it because I had not been giving the programme my full attention anyway.

I suspect that that animal would have probably kept gnawing at that trap and not even been aware that it was damaging its leg… basically eating its own flesh in a bid to set itself free from a trap which it could have stepped out off had it had the reasoning capacity necessary to figure out the release mechanism.

Perhaps it did have a sufficient reasoning mechanism but its desperation made it incapable of processing the thought of how else to free itself without biting its own leg.

Whenever I see people act out of desperation and do things that ruin their lives in an attempt to fix what they think is terribly wrong; I am reminded of that animal trying to chew its own leg off.

When people are desperate they can do anything and in most instances they tend to.

I find sometimes it is hard to judge someone who acts out of desperation because it occurs to me that the person I am judging might not have been in their right senses or couldn’t have had the full use of their faculties otherwise they would not have behaved as they did.

This is not to excuse or condone certain heinous choices or actions but it is to say beyond the actions of a person; beyond the consequences of what they do – there lies the often unexplored and disregarded motive or intent.

Sometimes ‘why’ matters more than ‘what’.

In fact I am almost tempted to say why people do a thing always matters more than what they have done.


Someone once wrote, “Man punishes the act but God punishes the intention”.

I liken desperation in its purest and extreme sense to a form of madness; a temporary insanity and I try to afford those afflicted with it the benefit of doubt by extending my compassion where condemnation would have been a ‘befitting’ response.

This is why, I have never really written about infanticide.

I don’t understand it and much as I try – I can never quite put myself in the shoes of women who kill their new born babies and I am afraid to judge them as much as I am hesitant to speak for them because my ignorance handicaps me.

But perhaps I don’t need to be specifically in their circumstances to empathize; perhaps I just need to know what it means to be desperate; what lengths it can drive one to and the brinks it can push one to.

Perhaps it is enough to know that while desperation never drove me to consider killing another person; it might drive one to consider killing oneself and we consider suicide a lesser crime than infanticide although I think both acts stem from the same malady – insane desperation.

One of the most unpleasant memories I have of my years at the University of Zimbabwe is of being in my first year and having one of the cleaners find the body of baby dumped in one of the garbage bins of a female hall of residence called CarrSaunders on campus.

I stayed in Swinton Hall but the incident affected all of us; because in trying to track the culprit all the female students in residence were under suspicion.

It was reasoned that every female student was a suspect even those who didn’t stay in Carr-Saunders because the culprit could have come from a different hall of residence and dumped the baby there to avoid detection.

It was upsetting to say the least and very baffling to me how anyone could go into labor and not make enough noise to attract attention.

I’d always heard how excruciatingly painful childbirth was and later having experienced it I was even more flummoxed at how that student could have endured all that without making a sound.

But she did.

She was a first year student from CarrSaunders, whose roommate went home for the weekend and she had gone into labor at night, by herself, in silence and given birth to a baby that she proceeded to strangle and place in a bucket which she hid under her bed.

...we treat the symptoms by incarcerating these women... and overlook the root causes

They caught her and surrendered her to the police and I have no idea what became of her but I have avoided dwelling on the incident ever since because it created discomfort in me to imagine such a thing and not consider anyone who does it to be anything else but an evil monster.

With the years, I have come to understand vaguely how anyone could hide a pregnancy for 9 months, how they could give birth alone and silently endure that awful pain and kill the baby they are afraid the world will see or know about and hide the body in the most ludicrous of places – sheer desperation.

The kind of desperation that would make an animal chew off its own leg thinking it would set itself free from entrapment but not considering beyond that moment to how it will survive in the wild with just 3 legs?

If I had perhaps been giving that programme my attention I would have angrily muttered to myself, “Stupid animal! Why is it chewing off its own leg? Can’t it see that it will make things worse? Even if it manages to set itself free, it will be crippled and doomed in the jungle if it can’t outrun its predators. How does it think it will last hopping around on 3 legs? Stupid animal.”

But I wasn’t paying attention and many times we are not paying attention to the underlying causes of the acts that we’ve criminalized such as abortion, infanticide and to some lesser extent sex work.

Those are not the acts of evil people – just desperate, at times desperate to the point of madness.

When I read about the woman who gave birth to a set of twins and went on to kill them and hide their bodies behind a wardrobe; I knew that I had to write about this issue.

"When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society. So when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged." - Mattie Brinkerhoff

And I hoped that I would be able to write it with the compassion such a subject requires because there are enough of us all too eager to judge without seeking to understand.

For the sake of argument, who in their right senses would kill their newly born babies and then hide the bodies in a wardrobe of all places?

If indeed the intent was criminal they would have planned it more carefully so that they never get caught but most of these women give themselves away – not by surrendering themselves to the police but by making sure that they get caught.

Usually infanticide cases come to light after the bodies of the babies are discovered because the manner in which they are disposed of usually isn’t even effective as a means of concealment.

These are desperate acts of desperate people, who having done the unthinkable find that they have put themselves in a mess and probably desperately hope to get caught because their own guilt, grief and confusion is an unbearable torment.

Why else would a sane woman or girl decide to put a coat hanger or wire or cooking stick into her her private parts and try to use it to pull out a foetus?

Who can inflict that sort of brutality upon themselves unless there is something seriously amiss with their state of mind?

Desperate people do desperate things and we punish the action but never bother to examine the root causes and deal with them.

I wish space permitted so that I could use another anecdote – which anecdotes I feel might better communicate the sentiments I wish to convey.

Suffice to say; no one suffers more than the perpetrators of these crimes because in their desperation they are driven to self-destruction.

We must start a conversation around how these women can be assisted because for too long we have judged without understanding and in the process misdiagnosed what could be the worst social cancer prevailing in our societies.

Some questions beg for answers; questions like where are the men responsible for these ill-fated pregnancies because these are the men who are responsible, in part, for these tragedies.

Parting shot: No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg. ~Frederica Mathewes-Green


5 thoughts on “Desperation is a form of madness

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  2. Sharese says:

    As always, very well written 🙂

    I am glad that you have written on the subject of infanticide, however I am someone perplexed at your correlation of it with abortion. If anything I would think allowing people to make choices about their bodies to be able to go to term with a baby or abort is what would actually PREVENT the infanticide.

    I am lucky enough to live in a country where abortion is legal (I am aware that in Zimbabwe it is not, as I have also lived there and my sister still resides there with her family). I have had an abortion. I do not think I was desperate or out of my head. I definitely know for a fact that it did not ruin my life or make me weaker as chewing off my leg in the wild would.

    Instead I knew my situation (I had used a condom, taken all precautions available to me but it failed as it does 1% of the time). I knew that I was not financially or emotionally equipped to have a child while working full time and going to school.

    I had my abortion 5 months ago and I don’t regret it at all and at no point reflect on it and feel that I was “desperate” in any way. Instead I feel that I was informed, thoughtful and considerate during my entire decision making process.

    This is not to say that there is desperation. I feel though that this desperation comes from societies repressining education about sex and women’s bodies as well as restricting access to birthcontrol and abortion. If a person feels trapped (like the caught animal) then there is desperation. However if a society gives a woman options and education and trusts and supports her choice for her body then desperation is eliminated.

    • itsdelta says:

      hey girl…thanks for the feedback! In Zimbabwe conversations around infanticide and abortion are often avoided, controversial and I snuck abortion into the article to open up that conversation because it is a far more common phenomenon in Zim. Thanks for sharing your personal experience of it.

  3. Mercy moyo says:

    Maybe such situations arise frm trying to b a seemingly morally upright society..a facade which covers up a multitud of sins..whats the use of pretending sme thngs dnt exist because morality demands it?pple do abort,sme do kill their babies even if society luks d other side.what better way of trying to combat dat whch we dnt approve of by acknwoledging its presence n acting on it?d more we a in denial the more morality is exposed as being a facade n fear to solve d problem.d gud thng abt other countries is d ability to c byond black n white to the shades in between n act on it…its realy bein delusional in thnkng dat our society deems itself perfect n moraly uprite wen d evidence is contrary.just because one does not approve of somethng does nt mean it doesnt exist.

  4. j muganiwa says:

    Thought provoking article. While not all such actions may be attributed to desperation, most are. As l read through l was reminded of Yvonne Vera’s Without a name, Virginia Phiri’s Desperate and Zimbabwe Women Writers’ A tragedy of lives. The story behind the story always helps if one really wants to understand.

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