ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Book Review - Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood by Julie Gregory

Updated on October 27, 2011

Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome is a relatively rare and misunderstood form of child abuse and possibly mental illness although it is not listed in the DSM-IV as such. It involves a pattern of behavior in which a care-giver fabricates physical or mental illnesses in others, mostly children. The care-giver is usually the mother of the child who is the object of the abusive fabrication of illness. The term proxy is used because the care-giver assumes the sick role by proxy through her child. The motivation for this abuse and neglect of the child is to seek attention from authority figures which physicians and nurses represent and the sense of control and power the care-giver derives from deceiving authority figures who she perceives to be powerful. Some key symptoms of this behavior include: the care-giver's lack of distress over the hospitalization of her child, a child who has medical problems that do not respond to treatment or cannot be diagnosed, a parent who requires constant attention from the physician and other medical professionals and the absence of symptoms of a child's illness outside the parent's presence. The syndrome is named after the German nobleman Baron Munchausen who was famous for supposedly fabricating or embellishing tall tales about his adventures in the military.

The author, Julie Gregory, recounts in her memoir the abuse she endured as a child due to her mother suffering from Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome. Ms. Gregory details her frustration when no one believes her account of this abuse on the part of her mother. She poignantly writes about her discovery of the syndrome as an adult during a psychology class and understands the purposeful danger and abuse she endured at the hands of her mother.

Ms. Gregory's abuse was particularly cruel as her mother chose to fabricate a heart condition for her daughter and continuously encouraged the cardiologist to perform open heart surgery. Fortunately, the physician refused to do so, angering the mother and styming her efforts for further dangerous redress on this end. However, Julie was prescribed a plethora of medication for a possible irregular heart arrythmia and blood pressure issues. To make her child look as sickly as possible, the mother denied her solid food, only allowing the child to drink as many Ensures as she wanted. When the mother gets her wish to have her child undergo specialized testing of the heart, the child is elated with the hospital food due to her lack of nutrition at home. She never wants to go home until she finds out that she is scheduled for an invasive heart procedure. She fights the nurse who is trying to shave her and yells that her mother is making up the symptoms. The nurse does nothing but medicate Julie to calm her. The procedure is very traumatic for Julie but she endures it in a half dreamy, drugged haze.

When she returns to school from the procedure, she tells a friend about her traumatic experience at the hospital and the fabrication of illnesses by her mother to medical personnel. She is about 14 at this time. The friend reacts in violent disbelief, gathering the signatures of t0 other classmates, all declaring in a letter that no mother would ever do the things Julie was claiming and that none of them will be her friend any longer. She tries telling her school counselor about her mother but is again disbelieved and accused of being too imaginative.

Ms. Gregory does a wonderful job of portraying the nasty family dysfunction and the games played by her parents. Her mother encourages Julie's father to physically abuse the child by taunting his lack of manhood and masculinity. She taunts her husband by language such as, "What kind of man are you that allows his child to leave her snot rags all over the place? Are you a man or a fairy faggot?" The husband, Dan, worked into a frenzy of anger, likely at his wife, takes it out on Julie, banging her head repeatedly on the coffee table and forcing her to eat one of the used Kleenex that she left on the floor. This is just one instance of the family dynamics. Although never verbally acknowledged by Dan, he knows perfectly well that his wife fabricates illnesses for Julie so when she tries to do the same to the son, his favorite, he asserts himself and demands that she leave him alone, that there is nothing wrong with him and that he is healthy. He is fortunately spared as a result. This is the only acknowledgment in Julie's childhood of her mother's dangerous abuse.

The parents lack character, honesty and a moral compass. They take in foster children and elderly veterans just for the income, keeping them locked in their rooms all day and physically abusing the children. They also commit arson, setting fire to their trailer home to obtain the insurance proceeds. When Julie initiates emancipation procedures in court, her parents frighten her out of it by threatening to lie to the court about her supposed delinquent behavior. Her mother is a histrionic, abusive mess of a woman and the father is not much better. Neither work and seem to live off the income proceeds for their "care" of the foster children and veterans which they ignore.

Julie questions her sanity and state of health throughout her childhood and her young adulthood years. She can not decide whether, in fact, she is prone to illness and frailty or if her mother has created a fantasy vision of the sickly, inept child to serve her own evil purposes. Julie senses that her mother is ill in some way but, as she is not believed and genuinely often feels tired as a result of all the medications she if forced to ingest, she comes to believe that there is also something wrong with her.

She discovers in a psychology class that her mother's condition does have a name and that it is Manchausen by Proxy Syndrome. She undergoes a brief nervous breakdown at this new awareness that she is not the ill, fragile girl of her childhood but a strong, healthy woman whose strength was denied by a mother who sought to destroy her child due to her own emotional hunger. She comes alive then and decides to confront her parents and to help save the adoptive children currently under their care from enduring the horrific childhood of her past.

I highly recommend this book. It provides a wealth of information, anecdotal and factual, about this little understood syndrome and Julie's story is a riveting one which the reader won't forget. As in any memoir, the reader should be aware that they are reading only one side of the story and to keep an open mind that the author's perspective may not be the only correct one. However, I do believe her story about her mother's mental aberration and that alone would create an abusive environment for a child.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • UndercoverAgent19 profile image


      3 years ago

      This was a very informative review, and you treated the topic with respect and grace. I've had this memoir on my To Read list for years. After reading your hub, I am definitely going to pick it up next time I see it on the shelf.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      4 years ago from South Africa

      Wow! I am speechless. First time I hear about Manchausen by Proxy Syndrome, and I can imagine how relieve Julie Gregory was when she realized that her mother was actually ill.

      Heart-touching story!

    • lyndapringle profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynda Pringle 

      7 years ago from Austin, Texas

      Thank you! I have read another book, although fiction, about this syndrome and that book also explained how difficult this is to diagnose. The caretaker is usually given the benefit of the doubt and the doctors question their own findings of a normal diagnosis of the child in light of the caretaker's complaints. I hope the syndrome is as rare as the professionals claim.

    • profile image

      Kristin Turner 

      7 years ago

      Amazing and Informative and I think that you should be commended for writing about this subject. The more awareness that can be brought to this issue the more children can be saved. Your word usage was wonderful.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)