Real Life

I'm a Munchausen by proxy survivor

After seven years, and I don’t know how many doctors, one doctor finally saw me for what I was. I was Munchausen by proxy, and I was close to death.

By Danielle Colley

I was in hospital at seven years old because my heart was failing. My body was bloated, and I was taking a multitude of medications because I was chronically ill.

I was on massive amounts of steroids, and I had been for at least a year.

I was on antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants, and morphine. I took sleeping pills and medication for my lungs, my blood pressure was sky high, my breathing raced and I had oxygen tanks, which my mother often insisted on turning higher.

I’d been sick my whole life. We went to doctors and hospitals regularly. We moved house a lot and I saw different doctors and hospitals all the time. I don’t remember much before the age of seven, it’s partly the medication I was on and partly because I blocked it out, but I remember that I was always unwell.

My mother told everyone that I was immunosuppressed and if I went to school I would become sicker, so I stayed home. I had no friends and was completely isolated.

It was this final trip to the hospital when the doctors began to see a strange pattern. They dug deeper into my medical history, and they ran tests, and the pieces of the puzzle began to create a disturbing picture.

My tests were coming back healthy. They couldn’t work out what was wrong with me. The final straw was when my mother was insisting that I kept stopping breathing in the hospital. No one witnessed it. She would say it ended just before they entered the room.

She insisted I needed a tracheotomy.

After seven years, and I don’t know how many doctors, one doctor finally saw her for what she was. She was Munchausen by proxy, and I was close to death.

They moved me to the Intensive Care Unit where I was constantly monitored and the Child Protection Services organised for my mother’s parental rights to be terminated, and I was placed in foster care. They weaned me off all of the drugs, and then I went to live with my Dad who is a wonderful man who has stood by me ever since.

My mother started when I was born. She told people I was born prematurely at 34 weeks, but the records show I was a healthy, full-term baby.

I first went to the hospital when I was five days old. My mother complained I was failing to thrive. Two weeks later I was hospitalised for dehydration, and for breathing problems. They believed it was due to reflux, and they gave me a feeding tube, which I had for a long time.

My parents broke up when I was young and Dad moved away, so it was just mum and I. She had a few friends and there was a little family around but everyone just saw me as a sick child.

Over the next few years, my mother would tell doctors of symptoms she observed at home. Her medical terminology was probably good, and they took her word for it.

She alleged I was violent and depressed so I was put on psychiatric drugs, and I was in a wheelchair for a time because they gave me a central IV so my mother could administer my medications and we needed to wheel the system around.

I was constantly getting tested for illnesses. She claimed I couldn’t breathe so I was tested for cystic fibrosis. I had spinal taps.
I never realised anything was amiss. She told me all the time that she loved me “the whole world wide full and back again,” why would I not believe her?

I was a child. She was my mother.

I couldn’t have therapy when I was removed from her custody. At the time, I didn’t really understand. I blocked so much out, and I’ve only now pieced it together as I got older and read all of my records.

Sometimes I have dreams sometimes about things I have forgotten; things she did to me.

When I hit puberty, things weren’t ok for me. I became self-destructive, and I hurt myself through anorexia and cutting. I started taking drugs, and alcohol and I went in a crazy spiral for about 8 years until I had a brush with the law that landed me in jail for 90 days.

I got sober before I went, and I’ve been sober ever since. She was never charged because the doctor, who testified to have her parental rights removed, would not testify to have her criminally charged. I have had a lot of therapy and I tried to have contact with my mother, but I realised she couldn’t be in my life and that she must never see my son.

It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I realised the magnitude of what happened. It’s not until I experienced that mother’s love that I realised that she did not protect me and love me like she was supposed to.

I was worried that I couldn’t be a good mother because of her. What if I was like her? What if I became her?

I tattooed her words “the whole world wide full and back again” on my ankle to remember why I’m such a strange person now. Miraculously, I’ve had no health repercussions and I’ve built a nice life for myself, and my child.

I don’t see myself as a victim, I see myself as a survivor and I talk to people about this for two reasons. One to raise awareness and if someone else it out there they know they’re not alone.

And two, because I hope to one day find someone who has experienced this also, so I know that I’m not alone.

As told to Danielle Colley by Katie Christenson.

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