I went old school for this post! This post will focus on Talbot’s earliest articles for the New York Times. One of her earliest works is called “The Bad Mother” which describes Munchausen syndrome by proxy where mothers would purposefully harm their kids to get attention from the medical staff. One prominent physician, David Southall, would install covert video cameras in the rooms and watch as mothers attempted to smother their babies with pillows, disconnect their oxygen tubes, or manually choke them. In the early 2000s, authors asserted that doctors and care providers must be mistrustful of mothers and “come to terms with the that the implicit trust expected on either side of a medical engagement may very well be misplaced.”
At twelve hundred cases a year in the U.S. at the time the article is written, while horrifying, MSBP is less common than other forms of child abuse. Talbot also broaches the larger question of whether MSBP should be considered a disorder or a criminal act. She describes how having a child with a rare illness can inspire the admiration of friends, revive marriages with feeble partners, and provide a temporary residence that comforts an inadequate mother. A book called “Hurting for Love” describes how MSBP sufferers see their actions as a way to break out of the limiting role of caretaker and assert power over physicians to gain access to society. However, Talbot believes this depiction to be derived from the dated notion of isolated woman enticing the fantasies of powerful male doctors. Talbot also describes the issues in MSBP diagnosis–how warning signs are also signs of good parenting (such as sufferers denying wrongdoing and being overly invested in their child’s health or being overly familiar with the child’s medical history). It would be easy to conflate MSBP with the coinciding rise of parental anxiety; however, the notion that a parent can protect a child too much dates back to Puritan New England. Simply, there are many complexities of the disease that arise from improper diagnosis and dated conceptions about motherhood and mental illness.
Very long article but a good read!