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Remembering Mom

Yesterday was my mother’s birthday. She would have been 99 years old. We lost her in 2007 on her mother’s birthday, December 20. My brother died in winter, too just four and a half months ago.

4/5/11 was a great day for me: Students were uncannily generous, as if they knew I was sad, and colleagues were especially sweet. It’s hard sometimes knowing that it’s just me left now, all my immediate family members gone.

There’s cosmic irony in this situation since I was seen as the weak one in the family, the “identified patient” as one of my first lovers, who was in graduate school for social work, would tell me. Here I am though strong as ever—the one who weighed just four pounds at the time of my operation, the one Mom prayed hard for. She was my advocate. Could I have made it without her? I don’t think so.

Unfortunately, however, she never got over the trauma of my operation, complaining  later that it took “ten years off my life just like that.” As I grew up, I listened to her various descriptions of me after surgery: “an alien from outer space, tubes coming out of every opening.” Thank goodness I have not heard those words for years. That’s the part I don’t miss about my mother. In my forties and fifties, I tried to get her to change the way she talked about my operation, but it was difficult; the needle had played in the same groove for so long.

Perhaps the same words spoken over and over located her, grounded her in some way. Saying them, she knew where she was; she recognized something about herself. What else do I recall her saying? That she would have been left “a lonely woman all her life” had I not lived.

I still remember her sadness when she told the story of the nurse who brought me from the recovery room into a special room on the hospital floor after my surgery. Not a word was spoken to my mother. No information was passed on to her. No good news or bad news. Silence. And, the bleak picture before her: me wrapped in all my “thick black hoses,” barely visible but for the technology. Me, whose eyes “were closed,” she told me later after I begged her for some recollection other than her standard “tubes in and out of every opening, even your head!”

My mother was traumatized by my surgery and by all the events surrounding it and never recovered. She suffered alone. I started to write that she suffered with my father, and to a certain extent this was true, but I think she shielded him. Later she would tell me of the despair she felt then: “When there’s an empty crib at home, you know that child is at death’s door.” How had she coped?  To whom did she pray?  Parents need so much during these times. She did finally speak with the surgeon right before I was discharged when he gave her instructions how to care for me. Interesting how it was the surgeon himself and not a nurse. In 1952, surgery for pyloric stenosis was not common.

I remember her telling me about the baby in the room across the hall that nobody visited. The baby that the nurses often gave up trying to feed because he fussed so much. The baby that had no one sitting vigil in the hall, watching him through the hallway window. Lucky for me, I had someone watching over me. I lived for her, I believe. Later, I had to learn to live for me.

0 Responses to Remembering Mom

  1. What a deeply loving, sensitive and yet poignant blog. Perhaps it takes a real survivor who is also an only daughter and has personally done “the hard yards” to write as you have. My mother was so silent about what she went through with me, yet she too was there for me 100%, I know. Thank you, Wendy, for helping me to understand my life-giver and advocate a little more.

  2. What a deeply loving, sensitive and yet poignant blog. Perhaps it takes a real survivor who is also an only daughter and has personally done “the hard yards” to write as you have. My mother was so silent about what she went through with me, yet she too was there for me 100%, I know. Thank you, Wendy, for helping me to understand my life-giver and advocate a little more.

  3. This piece strikes chords not every piano can play, but desires it so. I appreciate your ongoing commitment to this blog, the courage to write, and your natural ability to do it so well.

    • I’d love to hear others’ stories about how family members coped with their infant surgeries. Now that would be a book in itself, wouldn’t it? Thank you for your support, Roey. It helps me keep going.

  4. This piece strikes chords not every piano can play, but desires it so. I appreciate your ongoing commitment to this blog, the courage to write, and your natural ability to do it so well.

    • I’d love to hear others’ stories about how family members coped with their infant surgeries. Now that would be a book in itself, wouldn’t it? Thank you for your support, Roey. It helps me keep going.

  5. I’m so glad this post gave you insight into what your own mother may have gone through. I hope your mother had more communication with the medical staff than mine had. Isn’t it great that we were able to pull through!! All that effort our moms put in was not for naught.

  6. I’m so glad this post gave you insight into what your own mother may have gone through. I hope your mother had more communication with the medical staff than mine had. Isn’t it great that we were able to pull through!! All that effort our moms put in was not for naught.

  7. I was ten years old when i first saw my baby sister emerge from life saving open heart surgery. She too was this little thing of flesh attached to machines and noises that were awful not so much because they were generally intimidating, but because the technology outweighed all 6 pounds of her, just swallowed her up. She almost disappeared and i think thats what was so frightening for me. The true trauma would be raising a sick child, who would be sick all her life, in the medical bureaucracy and watching the physical and spiritual violations of the industry that had to occur in order to save her life. I can absolutely relate to how your mother must have felt watching you be at the mercy of professionals. The helplessness you feel when a child screams out no over and over is enough to create a total breakdown in even the strongest person. As I have witnessed some traumatic and violating events at the hands of doctors I have absolutely become traumatized from it. I am grateful that I am connecting with others like you who have traveled this path and are laying the ground for others to traverse because I know that psychological damage and trauma within the medical system must be enormous. We need you Wendy! Thank you for this courage.

    • Dear Liz,Thanks for your courage in writing. Your description of your sister’s frightening circumstances gave me some insight into how very scary my situation must have been for my family. What anger and terror you must have felt. That word “helplessness” was so powerful to read. A child screaming “No!” and yet the torture continues? Almost too much to bear. One thing I am extremely grateful for is that I healed completely–physically–from my surgery. I have never had difficulty with my stomach after that awful period. But how my condition and the surgery were handled could have been oh so much more kind to me and my family. Growing up, I often wished that I hadn’t been saved.  Have you heard of the book This Lovely Life by Vicki Forman? You might want to check it out. She shows how she deals with her anger and rage over how the medical profession deals with her situation–two premies weighing one pound each, born at 23 weeks, who are “saved” against the Formans’ will. In any case, I am so glad that my blog can be of some help and am honored to be part of your healing journey.  

  8. I was ten years old when i first saw my baby sister emerge from life saving open heart surgery. She too was this little thing of flesh attached to machines and noises that were awful not so much because they were generally intimidating, but because the technology outweighed all 6 pounds of her, just swallowed her up. She almost disappeared and i think thats what was so frightening for me. The true trauma would be raising a sick child, who would be sick all her life, in the medical bureaucracy and watching the physical and spiritual violations of the industry that had to occur in order to save her life. I can absolutely relate to how your mother must have felt watching you be at the mercy of professionals. The helplessness you feel when a child screams out no over and over is enough to create a total breakdown in even the strongest person. As I have witnessed some traumatic and violating events at the hands of doctors I have absolutely become traumatized from it. I am grateful that I am connecting with others like you who have traveled this path and are laying the ground for others to traverse because I know that psychological damage and trauma within the medical system must be enormous. We need you Wendy! Thank you for this courage.

    • Dear Liz,Thanks for your courage in writing. Your description of your sister’s frightening circumstances gave me some insight into how very scary my situation must have been for my family. What anger and terror you must have felt. That word “helplessness” was so powerful to read. A child screaming “No!” and yet the torture continues? Almost too much to bear. One thing I am extremely grateful for is that I healed completely–physically–from my surgery. I have never had difficulty with my stomach after that awful period. But how my condition and the surgery were handled could have been oh so much more kind to me and my family. Growing up, I often wished that I hadn’t been saved.  Have you heard of the book This Lovely Life by Vicki Forman? You might want to check it out. She shows how she deals with her anger and rage over how the medical profession deals with her situation–two premies weighing one pound each, born at 23 weeks, who are “saved” against the Formans’ will. In any case, I am so glad that my blog can be of some help and am honored to be part of your healing journey.  

  9. I have not had experiences like these and I have not had events like these happen in my family. I can only imagine how it was to live a life with these types of experiences. The fact that your operation affected your mother for 10 years was a big surprise to me.

    • I’m glad you have not had experiences like these. Each of us has his or her own experiences to understand and grow from. I’m sure there are things you’ve dealt with that perhaps I cannot relate to. It’s cool though, isn’t it, to see how different people react within a set of circumstances.

  10. I have not had experiences like these and I have not had events like these happen in my family. I can only imagine how it was to live a life with these types of experiences. The fact that your operation affected your mother for 10 years was a big surprise to me.

    • I’m glad you have not had experiences like these. Each of us has his or her own experiences to understand and grow from. I’m sure there are things you’ve dealt with that perhaps I cannot relate to. It’s cool though, isn’t it, to see how different people react within a set of circumstances.

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