Munchausen Syndrome by proxy is a disorder you may have heard of but do not know much about. Most of the people who suffer from this syndrome are women, and of the majority of those women are mothers--mothers who seem as though they love their children, but actually harm them.
11 The Definition
There's a difference between Munchausen Syndrome and Munchausen Syndrome by proxy. Munchausen Syndrome is a factitious disorder, meaning the person acts as though he or she has an illness by producing or exaggerating symptoms.
Munchausen Syndrome by proxy is when a parent or caregiver deliberately causes illness to their child (or to someone else in their care, such as an elderly person or someone with a disability).
People who have either syndrome are considered to have severe emotional issues and are therefore mentally ill. It is considered a psychological disorder with attention-seeking components, as the person with the syndrome is causing the pain or injury to their child as a way to gain attention and sympathy from others.
10 Is It Child Abuse?
Yes, Munchausen Syndrome by proxy is considered child abuse. When a person, oftentimes a mother, causes their child to be sick to the point of hospitalization or even death, that is absolutely abuse.
Children are vulnerable. They trust their mother, father, babysitter, and other caregivers. A child would have no reason to believe that a person so close to them would cause them deliberate, intensely horrific harm.
In Munchausen Syndrome by proxy, the child is a victim of abuse, and due to their age and vulnerability, the person causing them harm would be charged with child abuse.
Munchausen Syndrome by proxy is a psychological disorder. The mother or caregiver has issues with a need to seek attention while doing so in a sick manner. They possess serious emotional problems. This syndrome is rare, but it does happen.
There is not a known true cause of Munchausen Syndrome by proxy. Sometimes, the mother may have Munchausen Syndrome herself, or was the victim of abuse as a child who has now perpetrated abuse against her own offspring.
8 Typical Warning Signs a Mother May Exhibit
It can be very difficult to spot the warning signs in a mother with Munchausen Syndrome by proxy. She will appear extremely loving, caring, and wanting the very best for her child. It is often a shock to find out when a mother has been making her own child sick.
A mother with this disorder typically knows a great deal about illnesses or the possible sickness in her child. She tends to understand medical terms and medicine in extreme detail, more so than other mothers of sick children would. Sometimes, these mothers have worked in the healthcare field and possess a great deal of knowledge in this area.
Once it is discovered that a mother has been making her own child sick, it can be horrifying to learn of the things that she has done simply for attention and sympathy.
Mothers with Munchausen Syndrome by proxy have given drugs to their children, infected intravenous lines attached of their kids, starved children--sometimes to the point of death, tainted urine samples usually with blood, forged her lab results or medical records, lied to healthcare professionals about the health and history of their children, and more.
It may make any of us sick to think about this, but sometimes a big warning sign that a woman has Munchausen Syndrome by proxy is that she's had babies or children who have previously died, usually of unexplained reasons or unknown causes.
7 Spotting the Signs in Children
There are often a few warning signs in a child who is being abused; that really should raise questions by anyone who notices them. Children who are the victims of Munchausen Syndrome by proxy have been to countless doctors, and are often hospitalized. Usually, the child's health improves significantly when away from his or her mother during hospitalization (but not always if the mother is allowed to be alone in the room with the child).
These children have symptoms that cannot quite be explained by any physician. The victims are often never diagnosed with any type of disease or disorder. Their mother is always the one who reports the symptoms, which always reappear once the child goes back home.
When a medical team begins to get suspicious, they may start to notice the signs. Blood in the urine may not match the child's blood type. Drugs can be found in the child's system. It is discovered that the child has been dragged to different hospitals around the surrounding areas, or even around the country.
6 How One Is Diagnosed
Health care professionals are aware of this syndrome and try their best to spot any clues. It takes careful notice to realize a mother who suffers from this disorder, as she does appear caring, loving, and totally devoted towards her child. A woman with this syndrome is able to easily manipulate doctors and staff to think she is a wonderful mother. It takes a close look by healthcare professionals to notice and then report the abuse to authorities.
Sometimes, Child Protective Services receive a call regarding this type of abuse. The mother must be psychologically evaluated to determine her diagnosis as Munchausen Syndrome by proxy. However, in the worst, most terrible cases, it is too late for the child once a mother has been diagnosed with abusing her child.
When a mother (or anyone) is diagnosed with Munchausen Syndrome by proxy, suddenly everything she has done and everything wrong with her child starts to make sense. It can be heartbreaking to discover a mother who is faking an illness in her child and actually making them sick.
5 Treatments Available
Munchausen Syndrome by proxy is a psychological disorder. As such, when a mother or any person is diagnosed with this terrible syndrome, individual therapy is not only a must, but it is usually mandated by the court. Remember, when a mother fakes an illness with her child, it is child abuse. Women are arrested, charged, and go to prison where they may or may not receive the psychological help they desperately need.
The child victim also requires treatment once their mother has been found to have Munchausen Syndrome by proxy. Extensive psychological therapy is needed, individually and with the child's family (sometimes even with the mother in mild cases). The children may need medical care if there are still drugs in their systems.
4 Why a Mother May Get Away With It
Mothers with Munchausen Syndrome by proxy visit many hospitals and doctors. They lie. They forge records. Their children's symptoms seem medically real--initially. The mother is present and concerned, usually overly so but still, she is there and one may not expect she could ever do anything to harm her child. But it happens, though it is rare. Some children are victims throughout their childhood.
Typically with these cases, the children are young--babies to young elementary school age. These children are too young to understand what is happening to them and too young to be able to speak to the doctors themselves. They are under the control of their mother.
3 What Happens to the Child
A child who is the victim of a mother who has Munchausen Syndrome by proxy has undergone all kinds of horrible things at the hands of his own flesh and blood. The often countless, unnecessary, medical procedures can wreak havoc on the well-being of a child. The child may have a lifelong fear of doctors and hospitals, and they may not be able to trust anyone ever again--just one of the potentially life-long psychological issues.
Because it is child abuse, the child victim is taken away from the mother in many cases. The child may go on to live with another parent, grandparent, or another relative. Sometimes, in sad cases, a child is put into the foster care system.
When a mother is able to get away with harming her own child, the results can be devastatingly fatal. When the warning signs are missed and a mother continues to poison her son or daughter, these are the stories we hear in the news, when a child dies at the hands of her own mother.
2 When to Make an Emergency Call
If you EVER suspect any child is being abused, make a phone call. If you think a mother has Munchausen Syndrome by proxy, write down all the clues and warning signs you have noticed, as well as the changes and/or symptoms (or lack thereof) you spot in her child. Call or visit the authorities with your concerns; it could save the life of a child.
1 Real Life Examples
Munchausen Syndrome by proxy is rare but we do hear the stories on the news and on crime news shows. Here are three examples of mothers who faked illnesses in their own children, some of whom paid the ultimate price.
A young mother only wanted one thing--attention from her daughter's father. She was so desperate for him to notice her and to care, she began to poison her daughter. Her seven-month-old daughter was hospitalized for symptoms with unknown causes while she was showered with stuffed animals and balloons.
After a month in the hospital, the staff began to get suspicious as the baby's condition would improve and then suddenly get worse again when the mother arrived. They set up a camera in the hospital room. What they discovered upon reviewing the tape was everyone's worst nightmare: the poor baby girl was being force fed an IV full of fecal matter and other bacteria. The baby had nine infections because of her mother who was charged with child abuse.
A recent case, Lacey had one child, Garnett. A cute, little five-year-old boy who suffered from consistently mysterious illnesses. Lacey appeared as a loving and devoted mother, who just wanted her son to get better. She documented her struggles and his sicknesses on Facebook and a personal blog. She received a ton of attention and support.
Garnett was five-years-old when he died. His mother was poisoning him with salt by giving him large amounts in an IV at home. He died in the hospital where his mother also poisoned his IV when the staff was out of the room. She is serving 20 years to life in prison.
Considered the worst case of Munchausen Syndrome by proxy in history, Marybeth Tinning was responsible for killing nine of her children. Beginning in 1972, Marybeth's eight-year-old daughter supposedly died of acute meningitis. The attention and sympathy she garnered after the death was overwhelming welcome, as she was a woman ignored by her workaholic husband.
Three weeks later, her two year old son died of a supposed seizure disorder. Marybeth received even more attention and sympathy. Six weeks later, her four-year-old daughter died, suspicious at first, but it was ruled cardiac arrest. One year later, her two-week-old baby died of a mysterious illness.
After each death, Marybeth almost got more and more popular, what a poor woman, many thought. It took more than ten years and five deaths later when her last and ninth child died for authorities to finally step up and realize something was horribly wrong. She is currently serving life in prison.