Dr Manny's Notes

Mom who abandoned sons in van may suffer from postpartum depression

Sarah Hatfield says she can't remember what happened


A woman in Colorado is the subject of a police investigation after leaving her two young sons in a van and disappearing for hours.  A handgun has also been reported as missing from the woman’s home.

Sarah Hatfield, 26, could not explain how she ended up outside a Denver hospital 12 hours after abandoning her 2- and 4-year-old sons in the car, as well as her wallet, phone and car keys.  

Police arrested Hatfield for two counts of misdemeanor child abuse, and doctors are examining her for a potential seizure disorder.  Hatfield has reportedly suffered from insomnia and migraines in the past.

While it is possible that Hatfield could have suffered an epileptic seizure, as well as temporary memory loss, I believe psychological issues could have potentially come into play in this case as well.
For example, Hatfield could be suffering from postpartum depression.  Usually, the onset of this condition occurs soon after delivery, but in some cases, postpartum depression accompanied by underlying mental health issues like bipolar disorder can create a psychotic episode.

This episode can be time-specific, meaning it is entirely feasible that Hatfield could remember that morning with clarity, but not the next six to 12 hours afterward.

I have seen cases where patients appear to be functioning normally, say “good morning” and “goodbye” to their families, and then go out and commit an act like vandalism, without remembering how they got there.

The fact that Hatfield left all her belongings, not to mention her sons, in the car and just walked away tells me she could have been trying to escape a reality she didn’t want to be in – and suppressed it to the point where she couldn’t remember it.

The truth is, there are a lot of women who live in silence when it comes to depression, psychotic disorders and other mental health issues.

I hope that if Hatfield is indeed suffering from psychological issues – or epilepsy, as other doctors have suggested – she gets the help she needs.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.