For two months, blogger Beccah Beushause captivated a rapidly growing audience of pro-life readers with the story of her baby, "April," who was diagnosed with a terminal illness while in the womb. There was just one problem--it was all a hoax. There is no baby April.
Readers began to wise up after Beushause posted photos of April that looked suspiciously like a doll.
When Beushause, a Mokena social worker, realized that readers were catching on, she rushed to delete her blog and a twitter account where sympathetic readers were following her story. But it was too late. Readers tracked Beushause down and exposed her identity.
Beushause has admitted to the hoax. She claims that she had a real baby that died in 2005 and this was a way to deal with her grief. Could be true--a complicated grief reaction or untreated postpartum depression--or it might be another fiction. Beushause also says that she did it to express her strong opposition to abortion.
There is no evidence that she committed a crime or profited significantly from the hoax. Nonetheless, it certainly was wrong for Beushause to perpetrate this hoax. She preyed on very powerful feelings, tricking readers into caring about her and her nonexistent terminally ill baby. Of course, readers feel manipulated and betrayed, but Beushause's actions aren't particularly shocking to me.
People sometimes feign illness and loss to garner sympathy and attention without intending to hurt anyone, even if that is the effect. But I wonder about Beushause. Is there such thing as a benign variation on a far more serious problem--Munchausen's by proxy syndrome? These patients foist imaginary disorders on their children with bullheaded determination and a maddening resistance to insight as they attempt persuade doctors and mental health professionals that their children are ill. They will actually injure and even kill their children in the attempt to manufacture maladies.
I've seen a couple of genuine MBPS patients in my clinical practice. These patients seemed to exist in a fuzzy zone that isn't recognized under legalistic definitions of responsibility--somewhere between conscious, calculating, and ruthlessly intentional on the one hand, but psychotic without the ability to exercise self-control on the other.
Even seen apart from the destructive consequences of their behavior, these patients were difficult for me to connect with. They were palpably primitive--instantly filling the interactional space with a sense of spooky foreboding. This facet of their presentation (not the child abuse itself) made them among the most challenging patients to sit with.
Think Kathy Bates in Misery for a sense of what I mean. (I intend no put down here. I'm just attempting to convey something about the presentation of these patients.) There were no points of emotional interconnection that didn't feel creepy, coercive and menacing. And these aren't the kind of folks who will stick around in a depth psychotherapy allowing time to work through all of this to the point of establishing a working alliance. At least in the cases I saw, the patients were present only reluctantly, referred by others in the health care system who were deeply concerned about the welfare of the patients' children.
The Retriever offers some interesting thoughts on this post.