Please welcome author of several award-winning books, Alexandria Constantinova Szeman as she shares her story. Warning: May Contain Triggers
[share ]”The first time I realized someone was trying to kill me, I was four years old.”[/share]
Thus begins my memoir, which, unhappily, is about a certain category of female serial killers, of which my mother is one. Female serial killers are usually more successful than their male equivalent, sometimes termed “sexual predators,” if only because the females tend to prey on people already known to them, and to use methods of killing that are rarely discovered, such as suffocation or poison. To date, there are 4 recognized categories of female serial killers, not including Team Killers, who work with partners and are most like male serial killers in other aspects.
Black Widows, who kill for insurance, social welfare, or inheritance monies;
Medeas, who kill their own or adopted children to punish or otherwise manipulate the men in their lives;
Angels of Death, who are often in hospitals or Nursing Homes and kill in ways that are undetectable during autopsy or in ways that are ultimately considered part of their victims’ disease process; and
Munchers, who practice Munchausen’s by Proxy (MBP), an untreatable and incurable personality disorder where the women intentionally and repeatedly abuse, torture, sicken, injure, and sometimes kill their children (or other people dependent upon them for care), attempt to “save” the child if there is an audience present, rush the child to the hospital or doctor in order to acquire said audience if none is available in the home — all so the MBP women themselves can get attention, praise, love, and respect for being a Good Mother.
MBP is not a new phenomenon, though it has only been officially recognized and named in the last 40 years, nor does MBP simply “appear” after these women become mothers. Just as male serial killers do not suddenly begin raping, torturing, and killing others when they become adults, MBP women – often called Munchers by the medical community and law enforcement officials who have discovered the abuse and killings – do not suddenly begin hurting children after they give birth.
Munchers’ childhood histories reveal that they originally got the attention and “love” they so desperately crave by practicing its precursor personality disorder, Munchausen’s, which is also incurable and untreatable. A person who practices Munchausen’s intentionally sickens or inflicts injury on himself in order to receive medical attention as well as intensive care from family members. Both men and women practice Muchausen’s, at about the same rate, but males very rarely transfer their violent, self-destructive, attention-seeking behavior onto one of their children.
94-98% of female Munchausers, however, discover an easier way to get the “love” they so desperately seek. They use a “proxy” – sickening or inflicting injury on someone else, usually a child, attempting to “save” the victim when there is an audience, and then seeking extensive medical attention for the proxy – in order to gain admiration, respect, and love for themselves in their own role as selfless caregiver. Munchausen’s by Proxy is always preceded by Munchausen’s, and, if the children are taken away from the MBP mother or if they simply leave home, the MBP mother returns to her self-destructive Munchausen’s behavior.
[share ]My own mother killed at least two children before I was born.[/share] Within the family, these incidents were called a “miscarriage” and a “stillbirth.” Both occurred at the home of her parents since they happened before she ran away to Kentucky and got married when she discovered that she was pregnant for the third time. My biological father, who was also the father of the previous 2 babies, was himself 31-33 at the time. I was born when my mother was 12. I got all of this information from my own medical records — not from my mother herself — as well as from her family members, who often argued about these things amongst themselves when they thought they were alone.
My mother tried to kill me before I was born by insisting that the doctor induce labor when she was approximately 5 months pregnant. She told him that he’d gotten her due-date wrong. (She told me this story herself many times when I was growing up, though she omitted the part about her age, the fact that she was less than 5 months pregnant, and she insisted that she’d been trying to “save me” because she’d been “past her due date.”) The doctor resisted her request for 6 weeks before finally surrendering and inducing labor, only to discover, to his horror, that I was at least 2 months premature upon birth.
While I remained in the hospital after birth, my mother tried to kill me with an unidentified poison — hospital records indicate an additional ¼ ounce of fluid in my formula whenever she fed me. The nurses noted the additional amount of fluid in my records on the nights my mother visited as well as the fact that, after she’d fed me, I projectile-vomited, lost a drastic amount of weight, was listless and lethargic, and had to be “forced” to take the formula from my mother on future occasions.
The nurses eventually requested that the doctor be present at my mother’s evening feedings, but only after they discovered a large lump and severe bruising on my head after one of her visits. Once the doctor was present when my mother fed me, the amount of formula did not increase, and I stopped being ill during my remaining stay in the hospital.
My MBP mother was trying to kill me before and after I was born — a pattern which never stopped as long as I lived at home with her, and which I first realized when I was 4.
I discovered my own pre-memory MBP abuse when I was an adult, from my medical records, which were difficult to find not only because of my age but because hospitals and doctors’ offices simply do not follow the laws requiring them to retain medical records. Once I gathered as many of my records as I could, however, it was obvious that, in every instance, my mother was doing something very wrong to me, and that the medical personnel knew it, though they weren’t sure exactly what she was doing.
Each doctor and medical facility where I received treatment as a child eventually refused to continue seeing me, thereby absolving themselves of the moral dilemma about how to handle my Muncher mother. This contributed to the difficulty in locating my own medical records, and many MBP victims experience this difficulty in confirming their mothers’ suspected MBP abuse because Munchers “doctor-shop” whenever a doctor or hospital refuses to do invasive, painful procedures – often suggested by the MBP mother herself – or when they begin to suspect her stories about the child’s injuries and illnesses.
I always knew there was something wrong with my mother, though I didn’t know what it was. I just thought she hated me and my siblings. She certainly told us that often enough. She also claimed we were stupid, ugly, fat, clumsy, retarded, and [insert any other insult that would permanently damage a child’s self-esteem]. That’s an aspect of MBP abuse that’s often not recognized: the constant emotional and psychological abuse that always accompanies the physical abuse and attempted killings.
So, from at least the age of 4, I knew something was wrong with my mother, yet I thought I deserved everything she did to me because I ruined her life by being born (that’s what she always told me) and by being too stupid to know when to die (which is what she said whenever she “revived” me after drowning me during my bath, or smothering me with my pillow).
Of course, I didn’t realize that she meant the latter statement literally. I thought her “wanting me to die” was her obviously inappropriate way of saying that she didn’t want children. Therefore, I constantly ran away, beginning at age 4, seeking a new mother. I also told every adult in my life, from family members and neighbors, to teachers and medical personnel, exactly what my mother was doing to me and my siblings, while begging them to find me another home.
No one listened.
Actually, I suppose they did listen. They just always insisted that mothers don’t do things like that to their children. Then they’d contact my mother, tell her what I’d revealed to them in the strictest confidence after eliciting their promise that they would not tell my mother, listen to her weeping protestations of innocence and her insistence that I was such a liar and the biggest storyteller [she’d] ever met, then send me home with her, where I would be subjected to even more severe abuse for not keeping my “big mouth shut.”
It’s rare for Munchers’ victims to be aware that their mothers are intentionally hurting them. For one thing, it’s incredibly emotionally painful to realize that your own mother is repeatedly seriously hurting you or constantly making you violently ill on purpose just because she wants attention for herself, because she’s bored, because it excites her, because she can, or because no one will stop her. It’s not a surprise that such information gets repressed by the victims, most of whom are children.
More integral to MBP abuse and to the victims’ inability to “recall” such abuse, however, is the Muncher’s role of “The Good Mother.” If there’s an audience, be it family members or strangers, the Muncher will be the most affectionate, caring, concerned person imaginable. If the audience is comprised of medical personnel who are attending her sick or injured child, her Good Mother performance becomes Oscar-worthy. This discrepancy between the private and public personae of the Muncher — violently abusive in private, but incredibly loving in public — causes most child-victims to repress the abuse, though studies have demonstrated that even MBP victims who cannot actively remember the abuse never feel safe around their mothers, and do not believe that their mothers ever loved or cared for them.
How does a Muncher get away with constantly taking her children to emergency rooms with severe injuries or to doctors for treatment of bizarre illnesses?
By making up stories about what happened to the victims, and by constantly insisting that if she herself hadn’t been there to “save” the victims, they would, no doubt, be dead. Being a Saviour is an integral part of the Muncher’s Good Mother role, so she tells these stories over and over, receiving praise from her listeners, and it is these stories of what happened to the children that her victims eventually begin to believe.
A Muncher also gets away with her repeated, violent abuse because she tends to marry or be in relationships with men who are emotionally unavailable and sometimes physically absent (traveling for work, for example). When present, the men simply ignore what is happening to the children.
In homes where the adult male — be he father, stepfather, or boyfriend — is sexually abusive to the children, the MBP abuse significantly increases in severity and number of occurrences. My father first raped me when I was 3, and my mother walked in while it was happening: she blamed me. My stepfather raped and sodomized me, and forced me to perform fellatio on him, from the time I was 5 to 18. He repeatedly raped my siblings until each ran away from home. My mother’s MBP abuse increased each time she discovered another instance of his sexual abuse. (My mother raped me herself, with implements, when I was 11, but she did not take me for medical treatment of my injuries.) None of us children were ever taken in for treatment when we were sexually abused or raped. Whether Munchers view the male’s sexual abuse of the children as “permission” for the MBP woman’s own increased violence and abuse of the children, or as retaliation against their spouses or partners for “infidelity” is not known, but studies support the evidence of increased MBP abuse in homes where the adult male is also sexually abusive to the children.
Because I knew, from an early age, what my mother was doing to me and my siblings, I am one of the rare MBP survivors. As far as I can determine, I am unique among MBP survivors because, from the time I was 4 years old, I also constantly told people exactly what my mother was doing to all of us. No one ever believed me — not even when confronted with physical evidence like X-rays of multiple, now-healed, broken bones — but that never stopped me from telling everyone I could.
I wanted her stopped.
I want all women like her stopped.
We can only stop women who practice MBP by becoming more educated about the components of this incurable, untreatable personality disorder.
First of all, self-destructive Munchausen’s behavior always precedes Munchausen’s by Proxy, so if MBP is suspected, the woman’s own childhood and pre-motherhood medical history should be investigated.
Once she has children, the Munchauser transforms into a Muncher by injuring and sickening a proxy instead of hurting her own body to get the attention she needs. Sometimes, these women will hurt pets if no children or other dependent family members are available; in fact, veterinarians were reporting this suspicious abuse and confiscating pets before medical doctors acknowledged it.
Additionally, the Muncher will virtually always attempt to “save” the victim in front of an audience. If no audience is immediately available, she will take the victim to a medical facility or call 911 herself in order to obtain that necessary audience, for which she will “perform” the Savior and Good Mother roles.
Intense medical attention for the victim — into which the Muncher inserts herself, by insisting on administering medications herself, for instance, even in a hospital environment, or by suggesting invasive and dangerous medical procedures — is an essential component in this personality disorder, though no one knows the reason for this.
Munchers will not take a child in for treatment of any injuries caused by the father, even if it is rape, sodomy, or other sexual abuse. They will not seek medical treatment for normal childhood illnesses, such as chicken pox, nor for injuries resulting from accidents which they themselves did not cause, such as a fall from the swing-set.
Munchers will not obtain medical attention for a child’s illnesses which they did not induce themselves, such as strep throat or appendicitis, since not getting immediate attention will increase the severity of the illness and risk the child’s life. Only when the child is in crisis from something like a burst appendix will the Muncher “suddenly” recognize the “danger” and “save” the child by rushing it to the Emergency Room or calling 911. My own mother did these things with my siblings.
Respect, admiration, and “love” from medical personnel, family members, neighbors, colleagues, and even strangers is the Muncher’s “reward” for being such a Good Mother (or caregiver of an elderly parent, for example) and is a necessary component of this personality disorder.
Posing as ideal mothers and self-less caregivers, women who practice Munchausen’s by Proxy are one of the most dangerous female serial killers yet identified. Many of their victims survive and escape, however, as I did.
If you believe that you are or have been a victim of MBP, you should gather as many of your medical records as possible. Then you should seek professional help immediately.
If you suspect that someone else is a victim of MBP, do not confront the child or the suspected mother as this will often cause the Muncher to disappear with the victim. Instead, contact your local law enforcement agency or Children’s Services (but be sure they are aware of MBP). I have listed some sources below.
As for me, I have many physical injuries which can never be healed. I was unable to ever have children, for example, because of that especially violent act of sexual abuse on my MBP mother’s part. She did not seek medical attention for me after that incident since her own severe abuse of me would have been discovered, and, besides, it was not MBP abuse. I have been through many years of therapy to help heal the emotional damage. Writing a book about my mother and women like her helped me grieve and heal.
My goal now is to prevent other children from dying and from being irrevocably damaged, as were my own brothers and sisters, by shining a glaring light on this most hideous type of child abuse and the serial killers “next door.”
Resources & Help For MBP Victims
If you believe that you are or have been a victim of MBP, then you should seek professional help immediately. The Resources listed here may be able to direct you to therapists or doctors in your area who can provide assistance. If you suspect that someone else is a victim of MBP, you should immediately contact one of the resources below, or your local Children’s Services, or Law Enforcement Agency. Do not, under any circumstances, confront the suspected MBP-woman yourself as such action may precipitate the Muncher’s (and child’s) immediate disappearance.
- Childhelp USA
in DC 703-241-9100
(they can also provide toll-free numbers for each state)
- American Psychological Association: Locate A Therapist
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN)
- ABA Center on Children and the Law
- American Humane Association, Children’s Division
- American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children
- American Public Human Services Association (APWA) State Contacts
- National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA)
- Prevent Child Abuse America Crisis & Support Contacts
About the Author:
Alexandria is the author of several award-winning, critically acclaimed books, including The New York Times Book Review‘s “Best Book” and Kafka Award Winner “for best book of prose fiction by an American woman,” The Kommandant’s Mistress.