Mom Wannabes Who'll Stop at Nothing

Psychologists explore reasons why women will do anything to get a baby.


July 18, 2008— -- A Pittsburgh-area woman allegedly paid another woman for a newborn baby and then claimed she gave birth to the child, police said. This was one of a string of similar incidents that mental health experts say shed light on the rare phenomenon of females with a pathological desire to obtain a baby at any cost.

For Andrea Curry-Demus, that price was $1,000. According to an AP report, Curry-Demus, 38, of Wilkinsburg, Penn., was charged with endangering the welfare of a child. Police were called Thursday afternoon to West Penn Hospital following reports of a woman with a baby that wasn't hers. With the umbilical cord still attached to the infant, Curry-Demus and child were brought to the hospital by medics who later determined the child was not hers, according to the AP.

Curry-Demus told police she befriended a pregnant woman and arranged to buy the baby after she miscarried in June and didn't want to upset her mother, the criminal complaint stated. Authorities said she told them she paid a woman named Tina $1,000 for the baby.

"We don't know where she got the baby, whether someone gave it to her or how she came to have that child with her," Police Cmdr. Thomas Stangrecki told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "But she didn't give birth."

And this isn't the first time she's been tied to such a crime. She was charged 18 years ago in a plot to steal another woman's infant, police told the AP.

Curry-Demus pleaded guilty in 1991 to aggravated assault after stabbing a Wilkinsburg woman in an alleged plot to steal the woman's infant. Curry-Demus, then known as Andrea Curry, was sentenced to 10 years' probation.

Though it is still unknown exactly how Curry-Demus came to have the baby, the case has disturbing similarities to other recent incidents of desperate women willing to do anything for a child.

In these cases the women were allegedly willing to kill for what they wanted.

Just a few weeks ago a Seattle-area woman was accused of killing a pregnant stranger, cutting her live baby from her womb and later claiming it to be her own. In the last four months, two other women, in Illinois and Missouri, were convicted of similar crimes.

Though such alleged crimes may seem incomprehensible, psychologists told ABC News that some people who kill pregnant women and attempt to steal their babies may be motivated by extremely low self-esteem and a pathological desire to bear children.

"Unlike many homicides, in which a variety of different factors and influences make it impossible to generalize, the woman who commits this crime is someone whose feminine identity is very much wrapped up in her fertility," said Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist and head of the Forensic Panel.

"This is someone who is otherwise empty and has very little sense of self or esteem or value, and becomes overly invested in this idea" of having children, he said.

Welner and other experts compared the crime to women who steal infants from maternity wards, and even to the far less extreme case of young girls who choose to have babies as a way to gain status and attention.

"It's a whole new life for a person who feels empty or insignificant," said Thomas Caffrey, a psychologist and former chief of psychological services at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York.

According to Seattle's KOMO-TV, Phiengchai Sisouvanh Synhavong allegedly called 911 and told dispatchers she had given birth, but that her baby may have died. When police found her in her car with a baby, Synhavong repeatedly asked, "Is my baby OK?"

Gloves soaked in blood, a boxcutter, bloody paper towels, yarn, a baby bottle and baby socks were among the items found in Synhavong's purse, according to court documents cited by the Associated Press.

Though Synhavong's case is rare, several similar incidents have been reported.

In April, Lisa Montgomery was sentenced to death for killing Bobbie Jo Stinnett and cutting her baby, then in the eighth month of gestation, from her womb. Prosecutors said during her trial that Montgomery strangled Stinnett with a rope, then used a kitchen knife to cut the infant from the womb.

And in June, Tiffany Hall, 26, pleaded guilty to killing her pregnant friend, Jimella Tuntstall, and cutting her unborn child from her womb in a bathtub. Hall later told police in Illinois she had given birth to a stillborn child. She was sentenced to life in prison.

Forensic psychologists, who were not involved in any of these cases, suggested several possible factors that drive people to commit such an act.

Suspects generally suffer from psychosis or a severe personality disorder, said Joel Dvoskin, a forensic psychologist and assistant professor at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.

Having children also carries tremendous cultural importance, said James Garbarino, a forensic psychologist at Loyola University. "They perceive it as bringing to them identity and self-worth and recognition in the community," he said.

"We have 15-year-old girls having babies of their own. We have a history of some women faking pregnancy," he said. "This, to me, is a very, very extreme form of that."

The key question for courts, said Dvoskin, is usually whether the defendants know the difference between right and wrong, whether their actions are motivated by psychosis or extreme narcissism.

"The most likely answers are that the person is actually psychotic or they just have such an extraordinarily extreme way of thinking about the world, that wanting something makes it theirs," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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