The Toll of Munchausen by Proxy Abuse—a personal reflection by the “other” parent

Personal Narrative | 11 comments

Our suspicions about Munchausen by proxy/medical child abuse began when my young son, Sam, came for his first Christmas visit since he had moved to Anchorage with his mother, Amy. Amy and I were divorced. Sam was six years old.

Amy had warned us that Sam was suffering from a range of illnesses, including kidney stones, a blood parasite, and bowel problems. She claimed that Sam had struggled to gain weight. But when he arrived, he seemed in good health. A little thin, maybe, but many kids are thin at that age, and he was happy the entire time he stayed with me in Seattle.

When summer arrived, I flew to Alaska to attend one of Sam’s soccer games. He played very well, which did not surprise me. Sam was a very active child, and attended all sorts of after school activities. However, when I returned to Seattle with Sam, I found two bottles of pills in his suitcase. They were labeled as vitamins. I thought this was strange, since I had not been informed of any pills sent with Sam. I decided not to give them to him. I did not know what they were for, and as they appeared to be adult-sized pills, I could not imagine why Sam might need them.

Amy refused to let Sam come down for Christmas that year, and she painted a disturbing picture of his health over the phone. She claimed that Sam had a rare form of kidney disease called Nutcracker syndrome. He had passed stones, and had fatty tissue tumors in one kidney. He apparently still had a blood parasite. I was shocked when Amy later informed me that Sam was soon to be scheduled for surgery. She went into vivid detail about the procedure, and I remember her happiness and excitement as she described what would be done to our son. To raise the $7,000 needed for the co-pay, she had organized a soccer fundraiser and a charity auction. She did not want me involved with the payment. In fact, Amy insisted that I had harmed Sam. She had spoken a lot about Sam’s nephrologist in Alaska, and how concerned he had become about the tumors inside his kidney. The doctor, she claimed, was very angry with me for allowing Sam to gain weight while in our care, because rapid weight gain was dangerous for children with Nutcracker syndrome. But what kind of doctor would be upset about a child gaining weight? I felt that none of what she was saying added up.

How could Sam be so healthy while in my care, but so sick when with his mother? I came to the realization that this was more than just Amy trying to get attention and sympathy from us. Things finally “clicked” when one evening, a story came on the television about “Munchausen by proxy.”. I had never heard of this kind of abuse before. As the story unfolded, I started to question myself. Could the diagnosis explain all the inconsistencies we had been experiencing? “Munchausen by proxy” seemed to fit. Amy had always struggled to maintain long-lasting friendships and relationships because of her need for attention. When we divorced, she told all sorts of lies about me to our friends and family. I was shocked to hear that she had described me as an alcoholic, and Sam as a child “born out of rape.” Sam once asked me, “Why does my mom lie so much?”

I started to think back on everything I had been told over the past several years concerning Sam’s health. I made notes. I was scared at this point, and could not sleep. My heart was racing. I started calling around to get medical records from Alaska. I called Sam’s pediatrician and found out that he had been seen by several other doctors at several hospitals in that area. He had missed a lot of school to attend these appointments. The pediatrician’s notes were a web of lies. Amy had deceived every single doctor she had come into contact with, starting with Sam’s obstetric history. She claimed that Sam almost died at birth from pneumonia, and that she had found blood in his urine since he was two years old.

I had to see Sam. I was scared, shocked, and overwhelmed with emotion. When he finally came to Seattle, I was appalled at what I saw – a very skinny boy with dry, chapped lips. I had to fight back tears. I saw Amy talk to Sam about an upcoming appointment at the Children’s Hospital, and the “jelly stuff they would put on his tummy.” Sam asked if he was going to be put to sleep, like he had been before. Amy said no. When we were alone, I asked Sam what had been done to him at the hospital. He replied, “You don’t want to know.” I was going to leave it at that, but he began to explain that he had “it” done twice, and that it was painful. I asked him where it had hurt. He pointed to his private area, and said, “Down there.”

I decided to accompany Sam to the Children’s Hospital the next week. The appointment was for an ultrasound followed by a consultation with the hospital urologist. During the ultrasound, Amy became very controlling. She insisted on positioning Sam on the table herself, even though there was already a technician present to take care of this. While she was busy fussing over Sam, the technician leaned towards me and whispered, “He’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with him.” We heard the same from the urologist later that day. He explained to us that the tests looked good, and that it did not appear that Sam had Nutcracker syndrome. The “symptoms” reported by Amy throughout the years seemed to be unrelated, and surgery was not needed. I was overjoyed that the doctor understood that nothing was wrong with Sam, but Amy did not take the news well. She began crying, and complained about all of the money she had raised for the procedure. She pointed her finger at the urologist’s face and accused him of having wasted her time. Sam became visibly upset. He grabbed his right side, walked over to Amy, and moaned “It hurts, my side, it hurts.” This was a surreal moment for me to watch. It was Sam’s left kidney that was supposed to be damaged.

A few days after this appointment, a pediatrician I had consulted in Seattle advised us to take legal action to obtain custody of Sam. I met with an attorney, and hired someone to serve Amy the court papers. The order was for temporary full custody. Any visits between Amy and Sam would have to be approved by me first, and they could be supervised if I wished. The papers also included a restraining order against Sam leaving Washington State and a declaration from the Child Protection Team at the Children’s Hospital.

Our day in court came. In her declaration, Amy had told all sorts of lies – especially about my character. She said that I was neglectful for not paying enough attention to Sam’s health, and that she and I had divorced because I had a drinking problem. Her attorney twisted Sam’s medical history with all sorts of lies, and further discredited me as a father. Worst of all, Sam’s pediatrician in Alaska wrote a declaration stating no concerns about Amy, and as a result, the commissioner decided that there was not enough evidence to proceed to trial. At this point, I knew that the system had failed our son. He would not be safe, and my worst nightmare would continue.

When I told Sam that he would be returning to Alaska, he burst into tears, yelling that he did not want to go back there. He was hysterical. I knew then that I had to do everything humanly possible to save my son from abuse. This was my job as his father – I needed to fight for him. Luckily, when I filed for a reconsideration of our case with the court, an order was added to the parenting plan mandating Amy to notify us of all medical appointments arranged for Sam, or be held in contempt. I really believe that this helped. Sam soon put on weight, and became much happier. His doctors informed me that he was attending far fewer appointments than he had been previously. Amy stopped describing “symptoms” to me over the phone.

Fourteen years have passed since all of this began. My relationship with Sam has been a constant struggle. After our dispute in court, Amy took advantage of the distance between us. She drilled lies into his head daily. For instance, she told Sam that I was a drug addict, and that I lived liked “trailer trash” in the woods. Although the worst was over for Sam, it took him a long time to see himself as the healthy boy he was. One time, after speaking with Amy on the phone, Sam told me, “Dad, I’m probably going to be sick tomorrow.” He never explained what he meant by this. Another time, Sam suffered a bee sting that took months to heal because he kept picking at it. He was eager to show it to me, and he seemed to be looking for attention. I had read about the “sick role” in my research about Munchausen by proxy, and it worried me to think that this was what Sam wanted.

Sam is 20 now, and I see signs of our relationship improving. I have never spoken to him about the abuse, however. What would be the cost of telling him? How would it benefit him to know what happened? Would he even believe me? Someday I may tell him, but for now we will let it be.

It is absolutely devastating to me to know that Sam was used as a pawn for attention and money. He was betrayed by the one woman who was supposed to protect him in life. I still cannot wrap my head around that.

Submitted Online |


  1. Melissa Altier

    Your son may have more memories of it than you believe, so use caution when choosing not to talk to him about it. If he has memories, he may question how you tried to help and certainly deserves to know you did in fact try to help. For me, knowing that a few tried helping was golden, despite the lack of success in their efforts. Medical childhood abuse can have lasting affects on a person’s physical health, not just their mental health. Your son could also have health issues in the future directly related to the past abuse, and informing his MD about the FDIA could be important. Any MD worth his/her salt would want to know such a history.

  2. Emily Canafax

    Make sure to always take his perspective on it: this is the script he learned from his mom and he’s doomed to act it out in his life. If I were you, I would begin speaking to him about it immediately. I think this happens more than we think.

  3. John Doe

    Thanks for the note. Same story here but my wife claims daughter has ADHD, RAD, anxiety syndrome, defiance syndrome and now testing her for Autism. Our child is adopted yes but an incredibly capable and smart 14 year old. My wife and I going through divorce and she claims she can’t work due to our disabled kid. Accuses me every day of not giving her all the drugs like Prosac she is on, that I’m an alcoholic and beat the child and totally irresponsible. She’s going for full custody. May not be Munchausens but just trying to max out her alimony I can’t leave my name as my wife has all day to litigate

  4. Amber

    We are experiencing the same thing , almost identical. We dont have alot of money and been told its very hard to prove. We are truly scared and googling everything possible to help us. We are also from a small town so legal help is limited.

  5. Gwen Bryan

    I am currently aware of a situation with my daughters fiancee wx wife. She is clearly guilty of munchausin but I’m so afraid the system the dad is going through will fail him. Cps has already looked into and done nothing. Do you have any suggestions to help us get justice??

  6. Shay M

    Hi I’m Shay M, and I am a year younger than your son. I have been searching for support groups and guidance for adults who have suffered this abuse. I originally moved a state away because the people I was living with weren’t accepting of me, and were involved with something I won’t discuss on here. When I went to a new doctor where I am living, she told me that no one was supposed to be taking as much *of a certain medication* as I was, and described why, and asked for my doctor’s information. A physician’s assistant had been my “primary care provider” since I was ten years old. I’ve been steadily learning about my abuse, and it has emotionally effected me. However, I believe that it is my right to know. I need therapy and medical attention to fix the physical and mental damage done. And I wouldn’t have known to describe my symptoms, and to seek help for myself, otherwise. You need to have a discussion with your son, and his doctor. Your son could have damage to his privates because of the “surgeries” he went through. If Sam is still taking pills/medication because of his mother convincing him that he needs them, he needs to get off of them. In fact, the next time you see him, please ask to see his veins. If they are very, very thin in his arms/ practically invisible on his hands, please get him to seek medical attention immediately. I don’t know if your son will believe you, but it would be safer than not letting him know. He may not like you for a while, but one day he will thank you. And, he will be healthier because of it. I wish you and Sam the best.

  7. Diane

    He has a right to know the truth about his own life.
    If he never realizes that he’s been abused, he will seek out relationships that feel “normal”, and the abuse cycle will continue.
    I’m in my 40s and still having shocking realizations about things that happened to me. I suffer horribly form c-ptsd.
    If you withhold it from him, you too are guilty of gaslighting and manipulating him. I’m not saying that to seem harsh. I think you want what’s best, and are open to hearing the perspective of “the child”.

  8. Liz

    I think my own mother is Munchausen. Both parents were severely abusive and so my brother n I ended up w lots of allergies, and the parents went on a crusade replacing our blankets n mattresses. They seemed to really love how sick we got and even gave away my beloved cat. Of course no one considered all the stress from their tirades n belt beatings may have been a culprit. She became extremely enmeshing and sabotaged my friendships n independence to keep me by her side. I felt like a prisoner. Later on she made up a list of dozens of food allergies she supposedly had n expected us to memorize it. And she falsely accused our father of molesting us. He was a monster but I don’t recall him doing that. When she had my baby sister she left her then husband claiming he was mentally ill. She pretended to have cancer for a year n a half, but did it real sly. “The biopsy on this lump came back benign, but I think it’s something BAD” And she was always putting medicinal packs on it n making a show of it. When my sis was a few years old she claimed her father was molesting her and subjected her to an invasive exam. I went w them cuz I hadn’t woken up yet and I felt so uncomfortable. My 3 yr old sister came out saying, “That HURT”, but She snickered and said, “That didn’t hurt, you were just scared!” My poor sis just clung to the Mickey Mouse stuffy they gave her, and wouldn’t let go. Mommie Dearest took her father to court for years and ended up losing. When I finally woke up I emailed Her n called her out, saying that if she did the same crap to my sis she did to me we’d have words. And that I’d be watching her. I still struggle with self sabotage and weakened immune system cuz of her toxicity n programming, though I went no contact 11 years ago. I only interacted w her to see my sister who is grown now. And here’s the toxic cherry on top; Mommy Dearest is a medical doctor. She went back to college when I was 13 n she’d divorced my father. I often wonder if she made any of her patients worse, but there’s not much I can do about it. Mothers like this are a MENACE.

  9. Megan

    Thank you to everyone who has commented here. I am “Sam’s” stepmom. Here’s an update.
    When my husband and I were asked to write this narrative we were eager to help! We had written this before our son and his wife came to live with us in July of 2017. It was clear when he came to live with us that he was growing further away from his biological mom. My husband and I had every intention of sitting him and his wife down and explaining the situation for fear of our future grandchildren’s wellbeing. We were never given the chance to explain the past to them.
    Our son was killed by a drunk driver in September 2017. He was 21. He was a good kid, living with us to save money to be a missionary. He enjoyed forging, hiking, fishing, fires, and even mastered making a fire with two twigs. He had so much to give to this world and we miss him so much. Our days are so hard and it’s still so unbelievable that he is gone.
    Thank you again for your concern.

    • Dr. F

      Thank you, Megan, for updating those who have read (and continue to read) about “Sam.” The narrative has touched many people, and I apologize again for my mistake in not including it in Dying to be Ill.

  10. Stephen Fisher-Bradley

    My father was neglectful, exploitive, and physically, mentally, spiritually and sexually abusive to me and my older brother. As a result my brother was a severe alcoholic and i have a bad case of CPTSD. Three more children came along, 11, 13 and 15 years after me. My youngest sister had CPTSD and terrible physical illnesses her whole life, of which she died recently at the age of 55. Before dying she told me her tale of being subjected to Munschausen by Proxy. She was taken in for painful nose cauterizations time after time. When I was young the abuse did not take such a medical form. It was more overt because he was on the farm with no neighbourly oversight. Later he made his living as a preacher and had to be more careful. Whatever the differences, I’m sure his underlying psychological profile was the same.
    Does anyone know anything about therapy for adult children of MBP abusers?


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