The other day, as I was warming tortillas in the countertop convection oven, something quick that I could eat with tahini while I worked on my computer, I wondered if there was any connection between my propensity as an adult to underfeed myself, a sort of resistance to eating, and the fact that I was starving before my ps surgery. As I sat there thinking about this, the word “starving” became real and not just a word I was repeating for the umpteenth time. Wow, I was starving! How many times had I described the fact that as a baby, my food was going undigested and I was projectile vomiting everything Mom put in my mouth. Plenty!! I had not though allowed myself to really imagine what that experience may have been like.
What about that 3-week period between birth and surgery? What was my day-to-day life like in that window of time? Most of the time, when discussing my childhood, the tale of my surgery takes over. Years ago, I found my baby book and opened it with excitement only to find the pages blank! First word, first smile, record of weight gain, record of food introduced undocumented. I was unknown, details withheld. No wonder I studied science initially; I wanted answers for blank spaces. (As if science, I came to discover, had all the answers!)
Then I smelled the burning tortillas, not just burning but flaming! By the time I wrestled the oven out the door and onto the concrete driveway where it could cool, the tortillas were black. Maybe that’s what my experience was like in those early days–a belly on fire. I’ve seen pictures in a medical text of the peristaltic waves (the muscular movement the alimentary canal makes in order to move material along) of a ps baby pre-surgery. The waves are visible because the baby had lost so much weight and the movement can be intense since the material is blocked.
Life must have been awful, especially the last few days before surgery. So what is the connection, if any, between my reluctance or slight aversion to nourishing myself with food and my early experience? My mother told me that once I started eating again, I was a good eater and ate everything! This behavior is easier to understand, given that there was such a shortage early on. Actually, come to think of it, I’ve gone back and forth undereating and overeating until I went into therapy in my late twenties. Well, there it is. Early on, I’m starving (there’s that word again) and then I’m eating everything. The pattern was established in my first two months of life–a tug-of-war back and forth of nothing versus everything.
There’s another factor to consider–nursing abruptly stopped when I was taken to the hospital. After I came home, my mother fed me with a bottle. This is where the deepy deep stuff comes in– the break in intimacy with my mother. This subject is one of the main themes of my memoir manuscript, The Autobiography of a Sea Creature. A few excerpts are posted under My Memoir pages on this blog. More are forthcoming. For now, let me just say that I’m glad I got the oven outside before the house caught on fire!