Munchausen by proxy is a dangerous disorder affecting a wide variety of people around the world. In recent years, the disease is getting more traction in Hollywood spaces. In some cases glorified, Munchausen by proxy is described by MedlinePlus as “a mental illness and a form of child abuse. The caretaker of a child, most often a mother, either makes up fake symptoms or causes real symptoms to make it look like the child is sick.”
In this article, I want to shed light on both real-world and fictional examples of the disorder. If you suspect someone has this sickness, contact a healthcare professional, CPS, or the police.
One of the most covered cases of the disorder includes Claudine (better known as Dee Dee) Blanchard and Gypsy Rose Blanchard. Eligible for parole in less than a year in 2024, Gypsy Rose Blanchard was the victim of her mother’s potent form of the disease. Dee Dee constrained Gypsy to a wheelchair, told Gypsy’s father their daughter had a chromosomal disorder, and shaved her head to make her appear to have cancer, along with several other acts undertaken to garner sympathy. The Gypsy and Dee Dee story re-entered the public sphere in 2017 and 2019 with Mommy Dead and Dearest and Hulu’s The Act respectively, both of which highlighted the intensity of a disorder left untreated.
Sharp Objects, based on Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl stars powerhouse actors in this psychological thriller. Amy Adams, portraying Camille Preaker, is a woman visiting her hometown as a reporter after a series of grisly murders of young girls. I won’t go into full spoiler territory, but a warning has been added in case anyone wants to experience the series blindly. At the conclusion of the show, Camille’s mother, Adora Crellin played by Patricia Clarkson supplies Camille and her sister with self-concocted ‘medicine,’ which leads the two to the point of death.
Being the most ‘motherly’ and ‘caring’ during these instances, Adora revels in being needed. She embodies the character as a dutiful mother tending to her sick children, leaning into savior territory. The show suggests her arrival in Munchausen by proxy is connected to a neglectful childhood. Although doctors are unsure about the exact cause of the disorder in real life, Adora’s origin is a leading theory in that field of study.
Hulu continued its showcase of the disorder in 2020’s Run, starring Sarah Paulson as the overprotective mother caring for her wheelchair-bound daughter. Played by Kiera Allen, the daughter grows more suspicious as the movie progresses, leading to revelation after revelation. One of the most shattering surprises: the mother is giving her dog pills to paralyze her legs.
Inspired by the aforementioned Gypsy Rose case, Run expands the disorder’s reach with the final scene showing the daughter visiting Sarah Paulson’s bed-bound Diane Sherman with familiar dog pills. It begs the question of whether Kiera Allen’s Chloe is sedating Diane out of revenge or because Munchausen by proxy has sunk its claws into another person.
2017’s Everything, Everything movie, based on Nicola Yoon’s same-name novel published in 2015, follows a similar trope to the other series and movies. A deeply troubled mother, masquerading as well-meaning throughout both the movie and book, tricks her daughter into believing she has severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). Benevolence and suppression blend in this story, forming a poisonous atmosphere throughout the plot. In the case of the mother in the book and show, her descent into the repression of her child is connected to a tragic accident from years into the past.
An interesting similarity between all the mothers suffering from the disorder is that their children had nothing to do with the torment they enacted. Whether by malicious intent or by simply being caught in the crossfire of them trying to amass sympathy, these children were essentially born into their fate of being the victims of a parental figure suffering from Munchausen by proxy.
The story of Gypsy Rose and Dee Dee is commonplace, or the figurehead, for Munchausen by proxy, but the disorder does not end with them. Another real-life example involves Lacey Spears and her son Garnett. The story of this mother and son was widely covered in the mid-2010s, but unlike the Blanchards’ story, the case is rarely discussed in the 2020s. Similar to Dee Dee having experience with medicine while being a nursing aid, Spears also was familiar with having taken nursing classes. These experiences familiarized the two mothers with medical lingo, so they appeared more knowledgeable when discussing their individual child’s ‘ailments.’
After a life of moving from state to state, visiting doctors, and using a G-tube, Garnett died due to complications caused by fatal sodium levels. Lacey Spears denies any involvement in the death of her child, but authorities obtained feeding bags each having around the equivalent of 70 small salt packs inside. As mentioned earlier, a pattern in this disorder is the procurement of sympathy from others.
An interesting aspect to note about Lacey Spears’ case is the story behind Garnett’s ‘father.’ A local investigator from Lacey’s hometown Decatur, Alabama, detailed a fabricated story behind Garnett’s father. Plastered on social media as a hero who died in a tragic car crash, Lacey shared that Garnett’s father was a local deputy who had succumbed to an unfortunate accident. Even going so far as to provide a name, the most chilling aspect behind her fiction is that the man is alive and well, having met Spears a handful of times before the birth of Garnett.
Spears was found guilty of depraved indifference murder of a child and sentenced to 20 years to life.
It is hard to determine if the rapid progression of this disorder into entertainment spheres is beneficial or consequential. On the one hand, there is a shock-value trope placed on the Munchausen by proxy, where the disorder seems to occupy a sinister and almost paranormal connotation. On the other hand, in some ways, these series, movies, and books educate the general public on a disorder that can have lethal effects if left untreated. Perhaps these two phenomena can exist in harmony.
Again, if you suspect someone has this sickness, contact a healthcare professional, CPS, or the police.
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