In March of 2007, the Boston Globe reported that the wife of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick was being treated for exhaustion and depression. The then new Governor was under fire at the time for a number of decisions he had made and his critics had plenty to say about the first lady’s illness. The only thing I remember saying was, “Why not me?”
At the time, I was working ten-hour days in a challenging work environment and I had two toddlers at home. I was exhausted and depressed. Driving to work one morning the local news radio DJ was talking about the first lady’s illness and what sounded like a temporary leave of absence from her work and family responsibilities. I remember feeling envy. What did someone have to do to get time off for exhaustion and depression? Why did she get to rest and I had to power through? Why couldn’t I be as brave as the Governor’s wife and ask for help? Would I be able to keep my job if I walked into HR and told them how I felt? I didn’t think so and so I settled for some low-dose antidepressants and I kept on going.
I haven’t experienced that kind of low since the Governor’s first term but I did have more fantasies about bed rest and meals on trays and a 24-hour nursing staff to take care of me. They usually happened before a business trip I didn’t want to take or during a particularly demanding family situation. I’m very careful with my fantasies; I’m superstitious so I never imagine anything too serious putting me on bed rest– just a minor mishap– like a sprained ankle, or maybe a simple, non-invasive, non-life threatening procedure. I’ve never talked about these fantasies – except to a very close friend who has also had them – because they’re twisted – and so up until last week I didn’t know that many other women have them too. Apparently, hospital fantasies are common. Katrina Alcorn, author of Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink, talked about them in a TedX talk she gave in Monterey, California. (You can watch her talk below.)
Working mothers, feeling over-worked and under-supported and unable to see a break in the frantic pace of life, fantasize not about weekends at Canyon Ranch Spa, but about overnights at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. That’s just sad. If the fact that hospital fantasies exist doesn’t signal that we need to do more as a society to support working mothers, than I don’t know what does.
So ladies, if you’re currently fantasizing about crisp, white, clean sheets with hospital corners, a few days to do nothing but sleep, and small plastic containers of jello, you’re not alone. Call a friend and talk about it. Chances are she’ll empathize. And if you’re feeling good right now and haven’t had a non-sexual fantasy involving a nurse in a while, then call your representatives in Congress and tell them all parents deserve paid sick days, affordable, quality childcare, and reasonable parental leave policies.
You can admit you have hospital fantasies, but you shouldn’t have to be admitted to get some support.