I felt sick to my stomach when I read the verdict yesterday: A judge sentenced Lacey Spears to 20 years to life in prison for the 2014 murder of her five-year-old son, Garnett, ABC News reported. Her weapon: salt. Prosecutors said that she loaded the feeding tube her child had since infancy with large amounts of the stuff, which his body could not metabolize. Even after he was admitted to a hospital with seizures, she continued to slip sodium into his tube.
The New York district attorney and judge painted a picture of a woman who forced her son to have unnecessary surgical procedures and hospitalizations throughout his young life because, they said, she wanted to attract sympathy — through her blogs and posts on social media, where she shared about his ongoing health issues. “My Sweet Angel Is In The Hospital For The 23rd Time,” she tweeted in 2009, with many more visits to follow. The judge noted that Spears suffers from Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome, a form of child abuse in which a mentally ill caretaker (usually a mother) fakes symptoms or causes real symptoms to make it seem like a child is sick, in order to gain attention for herself. Spears’ lawyers have filed an appeal, maintaining her innocence. “By not imposing the maximum sentence,” Judge Neary said, “I’m combining your punishment with something that you really did not exhibit toward your son, namely mercy.”
It’s a story that’s hard to comprehend: a mother purposefully poisoning her child. Over on Spears’ blog, Garnett’s Journey, only two posts are still up, the first with a string of photos of a bright-eyed, blond boy. “Healing takes courage” reads the top of the homepage, chillingly.
As the horror of what happened to little Garnett grips the world, the term “mommy blogger” — how the media has repeatedly referred to Spears — may also be making an impression on people. Obviously, Spears’ attempts to gain attention through writing about Garnett’s health travails were driven by severe mental illness. Still, I’ve flinched as I’ve read the news accounts associating a child’s murder with the act of blogging. It’s awful that someone suffering from Munchausen’s by Proxy, a rare condition that crops up in the news from time to time, now has social media at her fingertips to manipulate for her own sick purposes.
I think of how moms who blog are sometimes accused of wanting attention for ourselves. I write Love That Max, a blog for parents of kids with special needs. Max is my son, and he has cerebral palsy and an intellectual disability. “Do you like the attention you get from blogging?” a relative once asked. “I like the awareness it raises for kids like Max,” I responded, bristling that she thought that. Once, I made a video explaining why the word “retard” is demeaning to people with cognitive impairment. The various comments it’s attracted over the years have included ones from people who said I’d made the video for myself. Huh?
Many of the mom bloggers I’ve befriended over the years write for the same reasons I do: to share information, connect, commiserate, celebrate, advocate, and inspire. Yes, we blog for good. In the special-needs community, blogging has been a lifeline for some mothers, including those who are geographically isolated, those who are coming to grips with their child’s diagnosis, and those whose extended families struggle to accept their children’s disabilities. Blogging has been a godsend, for me and for many.
The already demeaning term “mommy blogging” has taken on a sinister twist with this case. But one mother who used her blog for a warped kind of attention is no reflection on moms who blog, just as a mother murdering her child is no reflection on mothers. This woman’s posts were an extension of the poison in her mind, as was the salt she used to kill her boy. May sweet Garnett rest in peace.