Dear Reader: a letter from Stephanie Wrobel
I first learned of Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP) from my best friend, who is an elementary school psychologist in Colorado. For those who are unfamiliar, MSBP is a mental health disorder wherein a caregiver fakes or induces illness in the person they’re caring for, usually a child, in order to get attention or love from doctors and nurses. My friend suspected a couple of the parents whose children she worked with have undiagnosed MSBP.
As she explained it to me, I was fascinated, needed to know more. I discovered that perpetrators of MSBP are usually women, often mothers. I was shocked – wasn’t the mother/child bond supposed to be sacred?
Not in these cases.
I kept researching, poring over firsthand accounts. One in particular stuck with me: a memoir called Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood by Julie Gregory. Julie’s mother had MSBP, and Julie was the victim of her abuse. In the book, she recounts driving home from the doctor’s office with her mom one afternoon. Her mother praises her for being such a good girl, says she deserves a treat – ‘here, have a sucker’ – and pulls out a box of matches. Julie was just a little kid and didn’t know any better. She ate the match, having no idea it was one of the things making her sick.
That image of a child sucking on a match has haunted me for years. What could possibly be going through the mind of a person to make them willing to do such a thing to their own daughter? It got me wondering about these women, these mothers: do they know that they’re lying to everyone around them? Or do they honestly think they’re doing what’s best for their children?
These questions were the impetus for my book – a story about mother Patty and daughter Rose Gold. Though the latter is the titular character, it was Patty’s head I first wanted to walk around inside. How would she behave if everyone discovered her deepest, darkest secret? Would she seek revenge on the daughter who betrayed her, who testified against her in court, thereby sending her to prison? Would she be able to stage a comeback?
I wondered, too, how that daughter would fare once she finally broke free from her mother. Would she flail or fly? How would she feel toward the mother who fussed over and adored her while also routinely poisoning her?
The result of those musings is my debut novel, The Recovery of Rose Gold. This dysfunctional relationship dynamic seemed, to me, a fascinating and worthwhile story. I hope you enjoy it.