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One of the most unacknowledged, painful consequences of infant surgery and inadequate pain control is the assault on one’s breath. Early in my life, the natural flow of breath was brutally interrupted. It’s not something one typically thinks about, is it, when we imagine the difficulties a baby suffers due to early surgery. We think of a body’s discomfort in the vocabulary of the flesh—sharp, dull, pinching, piercing, hot, constant, intermittent.

My pyloric stenosis, or stomach blockage, was fixed by an incision through my gut’s skin, fascia, muscle, and the pyloric part of the stomach itself. That’s right: The surgeon pulled part of my stomach out of my body in order to slice it and relieve the pressure blocking the food from moving nicely into the small intestine. Instead of anesthesia, it’s likely that I was given a muscle paralyzer to keep me still. Hard to believe, but I felt the cut and all the excruciating pain.

Once in recovery when the paralyzer wore off and I could manage my own movements again, I learned to freeze my breath—hold it—in order to deal with the pain in my belly. Here’s how one does it. You might ask, how could I possibly know? The surgery happened so long ago. But time doesn’t matter because my body remembers: I still freeze my breath unconsciously off and on all day long, the trauma quite alive. Here’s how:

  1. Clench jaw and grit teeth so hard, you feel they might break.
  2. Hunch shoulders and tighten arms to rigid.
  3. Stiffen or freeze the belly to washboard, halting all movement.
  4. Hold for as long as possible.
  5. When impossible not to breathe, allow air to seep slowly into nostrils barely moving the chest or the belly.
  6. Breathe this way until you can hold your breath again.
  7. Repeat.
  8. Breathe in this interrupted way every day of your life until you realize your breath is broken and you need help.

This process is called the PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) of Broken Breath—my designation.

Healing one’s breathing is a big part of recovering from preverbal trauma. My breath is still interrupted, but I see improvement. In my next post, I will discuss some of my healing strategies. In the meantime, I keep tuning in to what my breath is telling me. 


"Becoming a Trauma-conscious Society"

is slow, but we are moving in this direction. What do I mean by a trauma-conscious society? The phrase, coined by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk in his book The Body Keeps the Score, has to do with understanding that many individuals are suffering from trauma due to conditions and situations of all sorts and that punishment… Continue Reading

The Attack of the Great White Shark: A Trauma Trigger Strikes

As I lay in the dark in bed recently trying to sleep, the fear of death paralyzed me. My stomach was tight, my mind raced with fears: Has pyloric stenosis finally gotten me after all these years?   The week before, I had been pulling oil, i.e. chewing coconut oil, an ancient prescription for reducing inflammation in the… Continue Reading

What was done to you was crazy! You are not.

Do you wonder why you are unhappy? Do you feel tense? Have you tried in many different ways to feel happy over the years but still feel unsettled?  When sitting quietly, are you ready to defend? Is your body walled off, protecting against something, but you know not what? Maybe you are still embroiled in the symptoms of… Continue Reading

Are Your Symptoms due to Infant Surgical Trauma ?

The following material is taken from psychiatrist Dr. Louis Tinnin’s former blog. The material was removed from the Internet after his passing last year, but I think it’s important for the public to have access to it. I called Intensive Trauma Therapy, Inc. in Morgantown, West Virginia (ITT) and asked the staff to repost the material. I… Continue Reading

EMDR and Preverbal Infant Trauma: My Experience So Far

In talking to a fellow pyloric stenosis survivor about EMDR, she wondered whether it could help folks like us who experienced such early trauma–stomach surgery for pyloric stenosis, typically 10 days to 6 weeks after birth, without anesthesia or pain control. She understood that EMDR helps people reprocess memory connections in the cortex, that part of the brain… Continue Reading

Profound Quotes from The Body Keeps the Score

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s new book, The Body Keeps the Score, is filled with wisdom, compassion, brilliance, and profound understanding. PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) has never been made SO clear. PTSD has never been presented as passionately and humanely. Read one, two, or all of the quotes below that I’ve chosen to showcase this… Continue Reading

Want to Really Understand Trauma? Read Bessel van der Kolk's New Book

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is my new hero. In The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, he delivers  the latest research and understanding about trauma and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in an emotionally sensitive way, making the information understandable and accessible to all readers. Kudos! I can’t… Continue Reading

Thank You, Dr. Louis Tinnin–Pioneer in Treating Infant Trauma

Dr. Louis Watson Tinnin, a man who has been a friend to all those who suffer trauma, especially preverbal infant trauma, died back in February, 2014. I was shocked that I hadn’t heard about his passing until last week and recently had wondered why I hadn’t received posts from his blog for quite some… Continue Reading