I'm Worried My Friend Is Making Her Kids Sick

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I have a very close friend whom I’ve known since childhood. She's sweet, warm and kind, but lately, I've been plagued by the thought that she might be suffering from Münchausen Syndrome By Proxy. Her two young, high maintenance children are always sick. She works part-time at a hospital to make ends meet, so I just assumed she was bringing viruses home from work. But it seems like every day they have caught some new, terrible plague or are going to the ER. She has a lot of the classic red flags: She used to have a severe eating disorder, she has anxiety and self-esteem issues, and she's very clingy with her kids—she doesn't like them to be out of her reach very often. Her marriage is often rocky. I hate to think my good friend could be doing something awful, but the more I read about the disorder, the more uncomfortable I feel. I don't know what to do.

Dear Mouthy Housewives,

I have a very close friend whom I’ve known since childhood. We lost touch, and then reconnected after we'd both married and had kids. She's sweet, warm and kind but lately, I've been plagued by the thought that she might be suffering from Münchausen Syndrome By Proxy.

Her two young, high maintenance children are always sick. She works part-time at a hospital to make ends meet, so I just assumed she was bringing viruses home from work. But it seems like every day they have caught some new, terrible plague or are going to the ER. And she tells everyone about it on Facebook. Even her closest friends are starting to reply to her posts with, "Again? Really??"

She has a lot of the classic red flags: She used to have a severe eating disorder, she has anxiety and self-esteem issues, and she's very clingy with her kids—she doesn't like them to be out of her reach very often. Her marriage is often rocky. Yet for some reason, she even keeps talking about wanting more kids.

I hate to think my good friend could be doing something awful, but the more I read about the disorder and compare the information to her, the more uncomfortable I feel. I don't know what to do.

Signed,

Cautiously Concerned

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mother applies a band-aidt

Dear Cautiously Concerned,

Before we begin to discuss your friend, let's talk about the Internet for a minute. First, I understand your anxious researching of symptoms. I, myself, am an expert in this. In fact, at this moment I am probably dying from African trypanosomiasis. The problem is that while I have most of the symptoms of this disease, in reality, an illness tends to be more complicated than a simple checklist.

The other thing to keep in mind about the glorious interweb and its social networking, is that some people confuse Mark Zuckerberg’s creation with actual therapy sessions. It’s also hard to really know a person from their Facebook posts. For instance, most of my FB friends assume I’m only interested in images of cats in costumes but this is not the entire picture. I also like photos of dogs in funny hats. So it’s important not to put too much diagnostic weight on anyone’s Facebook status.

Now, on to your friend. Münchausen Syndrome By Proxy (MSbP) is a serious and extremely complicated condition. One of the main problems in its diagnosis has to do with the similarities to an actual, organic issue with a child. It is possible that the stress in the household has caused the two children to have anxiety or depression that can manifest itself in physical ways. It’s also possible that there is something in the home that could be causing all types of illnesses, such as a mold infestation.  Or the kids are just being the petri dishes of bacteria that most children really are. I’m not saying that MSbP couldn’t be happening but I’m also not saying that it is. It’s important in a situation such as this to rule out other possible causes.

Also, anxiety, depression and being a helicopter mom do not necessarily translate into MSbP. The eating disorder early on in her life was probably a symptom of her anxiety and depression and is not necessarily indicative of someone who will grow up to abuse her children. Certainly, these days, with Kate Middleton, LeAnn Rimes and Rachel Zoe as role models it’s difficult to find a woman who doesn’t have an eating disorder or is not contemplating one. (Does the Grapefruit Diet work?)

You seem like a really good friend. And there may be reason to worry, but before jumping to conclusions (don’t worry, we all do it) I’d suggest a serious sit down with her. Try and get her to open up about her marriage, the stresses in her life, and how she may or may not be dealing with them very well. If you are still extremely concerned, keep track of how often her children are sick or in the hospital and how she reacts to these situations then seek the advice of a medical professional. Even then, I would proceed with extreme caution.

Good Luck to you and your friend,

Tonya, TMH

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