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In Retrospect: The Meaning of an Early Image

As the end of 2015 approaches, I am pondering a poem I wrote over a decade ago about my reason for writing Autobiography of a Sea Creature, Coming Home to My Body after Infant Surgery, my memoir manuscript for which I am seeking a publisher. The poem is entitled “The Calling”:

Accept thy shadow

as thy calling–

the black cloak

sheathing the hawk’s back,

her breast lit

with new morning light.

Writing this poem helped me launch the writing of my memoir in which I explore the origin of the depression I experienced in my early twenties. One of the truths I discovered in this process was the existence of a powerfully destructive eidetic image I had carried with me that had undermined my self-esteem.

spaghettibaby

In a session with my therapist, Lee O. Johnson, she asked me to draw the image I had of myself as a baby. This image appeared on my drawing paper: a record of my having undergone stomach surgery for pyloric stenosis at 26 days old. Perhaps this picture is best described as a representation of my mother’s memory and of my felt experience. The strings surrounding my abdomen originated from my traumatized mother’s observation of me after the surgery: “You had tubes coming in and out of every opening in your body, even from your head!” –words that, as a little girl,  disturbed me deeply. The angry gash at my center reveals the pain I felt, for the incision was made and the operation performed without anesthesia. My shocked, vacant eyes, hands thrown up in surrender and webbed feet dangling, speak to the horror and helplessness I felt.

How could I grow to feel powerful and confident with a conception of self built upon this image?  My trauma was unresolved and deep and connected to my mother’s pain.

In my memoir, I grasp the significance of the early operation in my development. I come to terms with what it meant to have been deathly ill as a baby. I feel more compassion for myself and my family. Since discovering the frightening image, I’ve replaced it with several others. Here’s one of them–a pastel that I made:

sufibaby

I am happily held by the waves, wearing a Sufi turban, awaiting loving arms to scoop me out of the water. In my wrappings, I feel safe and hugged, valued and sustained by a loving environment of sun and water. Robed in healing purple, I float to shore. This image makes me happy.

In this spirit, my memoir washes in to shores of welcome in 2016. I know the right publisher is on the horizon. I so want the word to get out about the connection between depression and invasive medical procedures on infants. May those who seek to understand their depression and low times find some clarity in my book’s pages. May they find some of the answers they are seeking. May understanding soothe pain. May readers who see themselves in these pages find new and deep compassion for themselves and new self-images to derive strength from. For though we were wounded, we are whole. Beneath the “black cloak, “new morning light.”