Just want to give a shout out about Terry T. Monell’s article “Living Out the Past: Infant Surgery Prior to 1987,” which discusses the history of infant surgery without anesthesia and details the trauma that many of us still live with. Even though Ms. Monell’s article contains many medical terms, I found it easy to understand and absorb. I felt enormous validation from this article and even realized that the symptoms I experience can be described as DTD or Developmental Trauma Disorder.
One amazing insight I gained –and I hope I’m understanding the material correctly–is that because an infant cannot “secur[e] safety . . . by using verbal, facial, and motor affects to engage a caregiver” (165), a feeling of betrayal results, which affects our ability to trust others. In other words, when one’s signals communicating distress do not result in an adult caretaker relieving the distress, the infant loses faith in not only his or her relationships with others, but also (my interpretation) in one’s sense of agency. Consequently, an adult who has experienced early trauma from unanesthetized infant surgery can feel “a pervasive feeling of helplessness” (cited by Chamberlain, 1991) (166).
Here’s my translation of the above information in my own life. So as an infant, when my facial expressions and bodily movements screamed out help, no one came. I was paralyzed by a drug, unable to secure a safe space away from the surgeon’s knife, and essentially powerless to change my situation. I gave up trying and succumbed to absolute terror, helplessness, and excruciating pain. Monell goes on to write that the adage “‘Time heals all wounds’ does not apply in early developmental PTSD, which destabilizes the sense of self (Levine, 2010, p. 88) (166). And so, I am still dealing with this early trauma in my life today.
There’s so much more I want to say about the article, and probably will in future posts, but for now, I just want to express my appreciation. Thank you, Terry T. Monell, for writing this stunning article that pulls together an astounding amount of information and answers important questions for survivors, their families, counselors, medical professionals, and people everywhere who want to understand those of us who were severely traumatized before we could talk. Many of us are still confused about what happened to us early on, including me, and Ms. Monell shines a bright light.
btw, I obtained the article for close to $5.00 by ordering it online from the Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health 25(3), Spring 2011. The reference list at the end of the article is priceless.