Feb. 27, 2008 -- As Hollywood buzzes about whether actress Angelina Jolie is expecting her fifth (and second biological) child, some observers are asking whether celebrities such as Jolie who collect babies is a sign of deeper problems.
"Following a bout with depression, the compulsion to have kids can be a way of self-medicating," California psychologist Lara Honos-Webb told ABCNEWS.com. "In essence -- a distraction and diversion from the inner feeling of emptiness."
Jolie, who has been universally hailed for her humanitarian work, has had her share of troubles. Raised by her mother, Jolie has been estranged for years from her actor-father, John Voight.
She has spoken publicly about cutting, an obsession with mortuaries (she wore a vial of then-husband Billie Bob Thorton's blood around her neck) and dalliances with women. Even her fluctuating weight and a televised kiss with her brother have been the subject of speculation.
One Big Happy Family?
Studies from NYU's Center for Advanced Social Science suggest that children from large families don't fare as well because "parental resources are a fixed pie, and children do better when they get more attention [and money]."
Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, a child psychologist from Columbia University's Teacher College, disagrees. "There is no real research, it's mostly anecdotal," she said. "But basically the kids are fine."
Not all large families spell trouble, according to Gunn. She cites one of her close friends who had 11 children. The family was the centerpiece of a chapter in a book by Bill Damon, one of the nation's leading thinkers on the moral development of children.
Twice-divorced, Jolie, 32, currently lives with actor Brad Pitt, 44, in a relationship that has attracted worldwide media attention. Last year, she told Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" that she might have "between seven and 13 or 14" children and that Pitt has expressed similar enthusiasm.
Jolie's family is as ethnically diverse as the United Nations, where she works on behalf of refugees. The megastar couple has three adopted children, Maddox (Cambodian), Pax (Vietnamese) and Zahara (Ethiopian), as well as a biological daughter, Shiloh.
Her manager, Geyer Kosinski of Media Talent Group, did not respond to questions from ABCNEWS.com about the latest pregnancy rumors, but Jolie's new baby bump was on display in a curve-hugging black dress at the Film Independent's Spirit Awards this week.
Jolie is not the first Hollywood celebrity to display her children like jewels. Actress Mia Farrow's life was strikingly similar. As a child, she had polio and her father died when she was a teenager.
Farrow, 62, had three husbands and a two-decade relationship with her dramatic muse Woody Allen. During her lifetime, she has had 15 children, four of them biological and the rest adopted.
The star of the acclaimed film "Rosemary's Baby" filed sex abuse charges against Allen when he had an affair and later married her adopted daughter Soon-Yi, splitting the family apart. Like Jolie, she devoted herself to humanitarian causes such as UNICEF.
Mother Teresa Depressed
Psychologists say depression is not uncommon among Mother Earth types like Farrow and Jolie. Mother Teresa, the giver of all givers, suffered from clinical depression most of her life, according to a recent story in Time magazine.
"Just as reports revealed a severe 25-year long case of depression for Mother Teresa, any person who rescues others so much so that they neglect or abandon their own spirit, might be headed for a similar state of overwhelm and depression," said Honos-Webb, who wrote about the topic in her book "Listening to Depression" and has written several books about depression, parenting and the psychology of pregnancy and birthing.
Do Jolie and Farrow fit the classic profiles of those who hide unrecognized depression behind pregnancy and adoption? While Honos-Webb has never treated either celebrity, she does point out that having babies can sometimes keep personal problems at bay.
Having babies can sometimes keep personal problems at bay.
"[It] keeps you busy — if not through adoption, than in pregnancy, you get the oxytocin [often called the 'hormone of love'] bursts," said Honos-Webb. "You get attention from other people and you define your own role — all those things manage depression."
Often subclinical depression is not obvious to the person, according to Honos-Webb. "It's difficult to admit those feelings, especially if you have a healthy child and every reason to be happy."
Having children to find happiness is a "recipe for a mental health disaster," according to Honos-Webb, who coins the phenomenon a "Mother Theresa complex." The result can be a failure to attach emotionally, causing eating disorders and depression in the children.
"There is such an imbalance to give and not to take," she said. "On the one hand, Mother Theresa was a saint, but on the other hand, it was a perfect formula for major depression."
Jolie, looking ever-fulfilled, has eagerly been photographed with her children in locales around the world. Both she and Pitt proclaim their commitment to the children. But, said Honos-Webb, "any psychologist can tell you appearances have nothing to do with a person's state of mental health. Having a parent who is emotionally disturbed will definitely show up in ways that you won't see on camera."
Celebrity columnist Ted Casablanca of the E! Network told ABCNEWS.com that Jolie's compulsive mothering has more to do with manipulation.
"She is a fiercely independent woman, the most independent big star in Hollywood," he said.
He sees more parallels between Jolie and Elizabeth Taylor, the stunning actress who had four children — one of them adopted — and eight husbands. Film star Richard Burton counted for two.
Like Jolie, the young Taylor was "domesticating herself in extraordinary fashion with lots of kids and husbands and remaining the most voluptuous woman in the world," said Casablanca, who writes an online column "The Awful Truth."
Though employable, neither woman had moneymaking careers when each turned to husbands and children to create a new image.
"This is really an independent way of cementing and giving her a foothold in another world that never has anything to do with the movie business," he said of Jolie who doesn't seem to mind the gossip and photographs of her children. "She lives for it. She's a brilliant saleswoman."
"She is a woman who wants to be beholden to no one," according to Casablanca, who maintains Jolie is "still working out what happened with her father" and is destined to leave Pitt.
"All that you see wrapping around her right now that implies cozy domesticity is deceiving," he said. "It's more of a wall for her right now. Obviously her engine is going to derail. I think she's going to derail more by her design and will actually finagle her way out of all this. But I fear Brad's going to be the little caboose she cuts loose."
"She won't get rid of the kids," he said. "She'll get rid of the man. She'll get bored being away from a movie that really defines her. [Having children] is a way of allowing Angelina to distance herself right now: 'I have kids to raise, I can't make too many movies and I have to be picky. She will get that leading Oscar. … She's a manipulator par excellence."
Meanwhile, psychologists say Jolie may, indeed, have a real spirituality to her that motivates her to help others.
"That happens being a mother and it's not pathology," said Honos-Webb. "It's a good thing, but it has to be balanced with everyday concerns and attending to your own health."
"In some ways," she said, "saving the world is easier than facing our own inner world of emptiness."