Exclusive: Jaycee Dugard’s Mother on Abducted Children and a Parent’s Greatest Fear

In an exclusive excerpt from a forthcoming book, "Safe Kids, Smart Parents," Jaycee Dugard’s mother Terry Probyn recalls the horror of losing her daughter, and the struggles of reuniting 18 years later

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Jaycee Dugard.
Child Quest / Handout / REUTERS

Jaycee Dugard.

After more than a decade in captivity, three kidnapped women have been rescued from a Cleveland home, evoking memories of Jaycee Dugard, the California girl who re-emerged from the shadows after 18 years of isolation. In an exclusive book excerpt provided to TIME, Terry Probyn, a board member of the JAYC Foundation and Dugard’s mother, reflects on the horror of her daughter’s abduction, the agony of uncertainty and the struggle in reuniting after nearly two decades apart. (Probyn’s foreword can be found in the forthcoming book Safe Kids, Smart Parents, on sale July 2.) Also live on TIME.com, a forthcoming chapter by co-author and Jaycee Dugard therapist Rebecca Bailey, concerning tips for preparing children for abductions.

I compare my experience with that of a combat soldier.

No, I have never fought in a war, but the hostility that went on inside my mind is what I imagine a seasoned veteran experiences after years of fighting off the enemy; but I was no hero and my enemy was unknown.

Safe Kids, Smart Parents2

Terry Probyn is a board member of the JAYC Foundation and Jaycee Dugard’s mother. She is the writer of the foreword to the forthcoming book Safe Kids, Smart Parents (on sale July 2, preorder now)

I was just adrift in a battlefield of lost answers for 18 agonizing years, coping through a mental mechanism I like to call autopilot.

On June 10, 1991, my reality was shot into chaos when my beautiful, innocent baby girl was kidnapped. My enemy took away my firstborn and a would-be lifetime of memories, as well as countless other things. Life is never the same after the tragedies of war, but as human beings, we cope. I knew my life would never be the same, but through years of traditional counseling, autopilot coping, and nursing a flame of vigor that never burned out, I kept hope alive.

(MORE: Elizabeth Smart, 10 Years After: Would Fighting Back Have Helped?)

I suffered 18 hellish years wondering what had happened to my daughter. As I reflect back on this real-life nightmare that I could never wake from, something inside kept telling me that I would see her again, but I had no idea if it would be in this lifetime or another. And then on Aug. 27, 2009, my baby girl, now 29 years old, walked back into my life just as quickly as she had disappeared that horrific Monday morning. However, I was now faced with the challenge of how to reintegrate with not only my own daughter, but with her two daughters as well.

How do you cope with such an overwhelming shock? I hope none of you ever have to grapple with putting loved ones who have become practically strangers back together and figuring out how to live with each other. I am so grateful she is back, but it has been a very demanding and difficult task.

The first few weeks of reunification were rough for all of us. There were times when I thought that I couldn’t handle all of the changes we were going through, but I also knew that in the end it would all be worth it. I knew that no matter how tough it was for all of us, I would never give up hope that we’d get through it, just like I knew I could never give up the hope of holding her in my arms again and telling her that I love her.

(MORE: ‘I’m Free Now’: The 911 Call That Led to Cleveland’s Dramatic Escape)

I have quite a bit of fear pent up inside me that doesn’t necessarily show on the outside. Imagine your worst nightmare and then being forced to live it. For 18 years of my life I was not in control of the situation — not a damn thing I could do about some jerk kidnapping my kid, no idea what had happened to my kid or where she was, and no clue as to where to even look for her, except in my mind and my soul. Later I lived in fear that it would happen again, terrified that some other ***** or maybe the same one, who knows, would take my younger daughter away from me, too. Live with that for 18 years and it is only to be expected that fear takes over.

This is the condition of simultaneously being a victim and a survivor.

It is not likely any of you will have to experience this pain but if you have lost your child for even a minute you know a bit of what I am referring to.

I am so glad this book [Safe Kids, Smart Parents] has been written. Kids need to know what to do emotionally as well as physically in scary, challenging situations. Children need tools and techniques that not only give them power, but knowledge, too, so that the risks of the worst-case scenario are greatly diminished. Think back to when you were really young. What did your parents teach you? How much did you talk to them about the really difficult topics? Abduction is scary. Abuse and exploitation are terrifying. But, please don’t avoid this book.

You never know when something you read or say to your child might make the difference between avoiding a difficult, scary situation or preventing a true tragedy.

— From Safe Kids, Smart Parents by Rebecca Bailey, Ph.D. with Elizabeth Bailey, R.N. Foreword by Terry Probyn, JAYC Foundation. Copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Bailey and Elizabeth Bailey. To be published by Simon & Schuster, July 2013. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. 

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