You Wanted to Survive: Writing to my Baby Photo

You wanted to survive. You wanted to connect. You are almost smiling in this photo. Almost. You are sitting in an armchair and leaning onto a cushion. The photo album says “4 months” in your handwriting, but Mom said you didn’t smile until you were 6 months old.

You are interested in something, looking to the right, the object of attention out of the range of the camera. Your eyes shine, not only with the flash of the camera. You are interested in life, sparked, animated. You lean in toward what you see.

You still have stitches probably. After all, it’s 1952 and dissolvable stitches are not yet a reality. On your tummy is a large red gash. You are sitting up though; some healing has occurred. Maybe the stitches are already out. Mom never mentioned those details although she did say that after the operation, she had to change your bandage every day. Did I remember that right?  Change an infant’s bandage covering the incision from a stomach surgery?  Wow. What could that have been like for her?

Your fingers are fat, your cheeks plump, head a normal size. You are a “miracle baby,” the words that you heard from your pediatrician year after year, along with “before the operation, I wouldn’t have bet a plug nickel on you.”  You interpreted this to mean that you weren’t worth anything, not even a plug nickel. But he meant that  you were so wasted, so skin and bones 4 pounds, so emaciated that he wouldn’t bet that you could have survived surgery. But you did.

You are wearing a lovely knit top with 3/4 length frilled sleeves and a satiny bow tying the collar closed. You lean on a cushion, chest resting against fabric, your right arm in front holding you up, index and middle fingers extended as if in demonstration of walking. Your left arm reaches out to the camera, hand balled in a loose fist.

What are you feeling? Do you feel safe? Do you understand what you’ve been through–an operation for pyloric stenosis, a blockage between the stomach and small intestine? Why are you alone in the huge chair? Why isn’t someone holding you? Are you positioned and posed for the photo? Will you sit while Mommy gets something done? Getting something done was always of prime importance to Mommy.

You have fuzz on your head, not hair. You are new to this world. You have already been cut into and terrified and in more pain than you could bear. The world is puzzling. When will you really smile?  In 2 months as Mom reported? In this photo, your lips are barely separated, your upper lip slightly upturned. You are taking interest, smile on the way.

4 months

0 Responses to You Wanted to Survive: Writing to my Baby Photo

  1. What a wonderful post, Wendy: so imaginative but also deeply perceptive, sensitive, and laden with your message to us your appreciative readers. You have several very special gifts! I hope this essay will help others who have been through trauma in infancy sense and understand their own story much better, as I know you do, albeit so long after your painfully earlier years.

    • Thank you, my faithful reader! We were such wonderful babies, coping the best ways we could. So important, I think, to stay in touch with that baby in some way, even just to appreciate her or him.

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