SICKENED by Julie Gregory


The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood
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Horrific first-person account of child abuse by a survivor with keen self-awareness, a sharp eye for detail, and an original, poetic voice.

In Munchausen by Proxy (MBP), a caretaker, usually the mother, falsifies or induces physical and/or mental illness in a dependent person, usually a child, to gain sympathy from others and control over the dependent. Gregory’s mother did this to her for many years, dragging her to doctor after doctor, coaching her to act sick, punishing her harshly if she didn’t do it convincingly enough, demanding endless treatments, tests, and invasive procedures, including surgery. At first the illnesses were relatively minor—nausea, headaches, allergies—but as her mother’s collection of home medical books provided information about more symptoms and tests, they escalated. When heart catheterization failed to reveal the abnormalities the mother insisted were there, she demanded that open-heart surgery be performed on her daughter. It was not, but nose surgery later was. At home, Gregory suffered other forms of child abuse, including beatings and semi-starvation. That she survived this miserable childhood seems remarkable, for as Marc Feldman (Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology/Univ. of Alabama) notes in his foreword, many victims of MBP do not. Amazingly, Gregory never stopped loving her manipulative mother and ineffectual but sometimes brutal father. When she learned about MBP in a college psychology course and grasped what had happened to her, she began gathering her childhood medical records, some of which she has inserted into relevant passages here. Her attempts as an adult to reconnect with her parents were at best bitterly disappointing and deeply disturbing in the case of her mother, who had begun MBP behaviors with an 11-year-old girl in her care.

A painful but wonderfully written memoir that should create greater awareness of a bizarre disorder; that so many medical professionals and social workers were oblivious to what was really going on in the Gregory household attests to the need. (8 pp. b&w photos)

Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 2003
ISBN: 0-553-80307-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2003


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