Many who have had infant surgery spend considerable time and emotional energy hating their scar and trying to hide it. Like many, I spent many hours in front of the only full-length mirror we had at home in the 1950s. Like some, I started punishing my body and exploring the scar over my stomach (from pyloric stenosis surgery) before I was 10 years old, and did this for at least 15 years after that.
Some infant surgery scars are hard to hide – or hide all the time. I think I grew up as a fairly normal boy in most respects and situations, but shrivelled into deeply emotional and instinctively feral behaviour when I felt threatened by having my one and only imperfection exposed!
Yet I’ve been surprised to find that many others who have had the same or more major surgery as babies grew up with the support, skills and confidence that enabled them to handle their being damaged with dignity, appropriate maturity, and sometimes even good humour.
I’ve often wondered: why the difference?
The most significant factors I can think of are temperament, trauma, and parenting – and these are usually related. Let me explain.
I’m introverted – what goes on inside me matters more to me than who and what is “out there”. It’s helped me be considerate and aware of others’ feelings, but it also means I find it hard to get over myself and see the big picture.
I am sensing rather than intuitive. In the Myers-Briggs grid this means I want facts, not feelings, and to understand rather than depend on vague underlying truths – like trusting my parents to answer my questions “when you grow up”.
I am a feeler rather than a thinker. Don’t bulldoze me with reason, facts and rules; rather let me feel you empathise with me and then help me to weigh up all the facts and get into harmony with my situation.
Finally, I tend to judge rather than perceive. According to Myers-Briggs this means I tend to be stronger on empathy than logic.
Every theory or grid has its value as well as limitations. My personality profile has helped me to understand why I clashed with my parents, and especially my strong mother! It also helps me to understand why I was so deeply affected by the stonewalling by which she became integral to the growing problem I had with my infant surgery and scar, these taking on the dimension of trauma stress.
But my character profile also helps me in two other ways.
First, I realise now that it would have been impossible for my mother to help me: how many parents in her times (the 1950s) and her circumstances (1) knew what we can know today, and (2) have the skills to help their child-with-an-issue? I love Mum, feel sad that she went through so much because of my illness and surgery, and am grateful for her undoubted love, skills, and commitment.
Second, I have come to understand why I reacted so strongly and damagingly when my questions weren’t dealt with well, and my feelings of shame continued to build with each curious look and question and beach trip. I have written about this in previous posts.
What I have mentioned above and in earlier posts caused what I have come to recognise as post-traumatic stress. PTSD results from many different causes and comes in various levels of intensity. I am glad I never had suicidal thoughts but I certainly self-harmed. My symptoms were very clearly linked with my infant pyloric stenosis surgery and my parents’ difficulty in helping me to deal with that. The symptoms were only sometimes noticed by others but were with me almost as long as I am aware and affected my enjoyment of life in specific situations. I have never been able or felt free to seek professional help – and wish I could have!
What I have mentioned here and in earlier posts should make it abundantly clear that my parents’ inability to help me was also a major factor in why I am among those who (apparently unlike the great majority) have few or no lifelong pain resulting from their infant surgery.
I would value Readers’ response to what you have read.
- If your infant surgery affected you, how did it?
- What are the reasons it affected you?
- What has helped you to manage your “survival”?
- Any other comments? Feel free!