Munchausen by Proxy
By: Beth McHugh 2007
When a parent, usually the mother, consciously attempts to make her child sick, while at the same time seeking medical attention for the child, this is known as a case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
These sad cases often make the news, as deliberating harming one’s child is a form of child abuse. Yet in this syndrome the mother seems to be very caring. So caring, in fact, that she may fool medical authorities, often for years.
The mother typically makes her own child sick so she can bask in the attention that the intervening medical attention provides her. She is often praised for her selfless attempts to make her child well, and commonly spends long hours seemingly devoted to the welfare of the child. She will stay with the child where other parents might sleep, she will go out off her way to seek numerous opinions as to the exact nature of her child’s malady. She will be helpful to doctors and staff, going out of her way to speak with them and offer any assistance she can.
The offending parent may go to extraordinary lengths to make their child appear genuinely ill. And in most cases, the child is ill, but it is at the hands of the mother. It has been documented that mothers suffering from this disorder will put blood into the urine sample if their child in order to manipulate pathology results. A mother’s own vomit has been used in one case as a “substitute” for the child’s when the child has not been sick at all. Another mother was caught on-camera injected her own urine into her child’s intravenous feeding tube in a hospital where the child was being treated for an “unknown” disorder.
Because the mother typically appears so caring to the medical staff, the situation can continue for weeks, months, even years. In fact, the hospital staff and treating doctors usually view the mother as extremely caring. One of the hallmarks of the illness, is that the mother can come across as too caring, and too knowledgeable, and too martyr-like. When suspicions are finally raised, staff may suggest that the mother takes a break from nursing. This may be strongly resisted by the mother. If she does accept the advice of the overseeing doctor, the child commonly gets better.
Yet sometimes this cycle may need to be repeated several times until an observant nurse or doctor notices the correlation between the child’s illness and the proximity of the mother. Sometime close-circuit cameras are used to monitor the behavior of the mother and it is then that some of the more bizarre actions are observed.
Many deaths have been recorded by children in the care of a parent
with this disorder. The offending parent has a deep-seated need for
attention and admiration. Taking care of a chronically ill child is
one way of bolstering one’s self esteem, but women who suffer
from this disorder need therapy in order to overcome the problems that
are driving this potentially deathly behavior.