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Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

email: margalitc at yahoo dot com

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Family secrets

I'm just finished a full day of lazing around the house ingesting large amounts of ibuprofan and reading the most amazing book. I picked this one up at the library having never read any review of it, and found it to be one of the most captivating and disturbing books I've read in a long time. The book is Secret Girl by Molly Bruce Jacobs (Brucie), and it is the true story of Brucie's family and their abandonment of one of Brucie's sisters who was born hydrocephalic and mentally disabled. This is a complicated story, filled with recriminations and confusing personalities who didn't seem to care much about this sick little girl named Anne.

Brucie's parents, Dice and Molly were wealthy socialites in suburban Stevenson Maryland, right outside of Baltimore. Dice was a writer for the Baltimore Sun, Molly was a lady who lunches, doling out her time between charity events and social events. Brucie and her other sister, Anne's twin, Lauren, were raised by a nanny. When Lauren and Anne were born in the early 1950's, there was no hope for hydrocephalic children. The shunt wasn't invented until Anne was 3, and there is no explanation as to why one wasn't installed at that time. Molly was disgusted by her damaged baby and turned away from her, refusing to bring her home. Dice went alone with Molly because she was emotionally fragile and quite a bitch on wheels. I think it must have been easier to go along than to fight with her, so he left Anne in the hospital where she remained until it was time for her discharge. They then had her moved to a nursing home setting, where she was cared for for several years, until the caretaker could no longer handle Anne.

Dice and Molly rarely went to see Anne, and when they did, only stayed for a few minutes. They refused every single medical and social request to help Anne. They often just ignored the fact that Anne existed. They never once took her home for a visit. She was moved to a state institution for the mentally disabled, where she remained until the 80's when Ronald Reagan's cutbacks to the disabled institutions forced their closings enmass. Then Anne was moved to a halfway house where she remained the rest of her life.

Brucie and Lauren had no clue that they even had a sister until they were 13 and 10, respectively. Molly took Lauren to see Anne once, but Brucie never laid eyes on her sister until she was in her late 30's. What made her decide to finally visit her sister, who only lived a few miles from her home, makes this an even more compelling story. Brucie was a serious alcoholic in the midst of marital dissolvement with two young children. In addition she had left her career as an attorney and was trying to determine what to do next with her life.

The book is the story of Anne and Brucie's relationship from the first time Brucie went to visit Anne until her death years later. It is an emotionally draining story, but one with great heart.

As I read this book I tried to imagine what it would be like to simply abandon a child. Nobody should know better than I, since my family abandoned me, but then I was an adult and I don't know the pain of abandonment since birth. I just can't imagine how a family could do this, especially since Anne was only moderately retarded (IQ 40 - 70) and could do everything for herself. She worked a job as a janitor for many years, knew how to cook and wash and clothe herself. But they never gave her a chance at all. I understand that at this period in time, families did institutionalize their disabled children, but most didn't abandon them. Anne was a complete secret to their family and friends. Nobody knew she existed, not even her siblings. How could the parents have behaved like this? What could possibly have given them so much shame?

This was, as I said, a difficult book to read, but I think this memoir is a necessity for parents of disabled children. It gives insight into how much we as a nation have changed, and how much we still have to go.
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