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Preverbal Trauma: Dr. Robert Scaer Weighs In

Check out these quotes below about preverbal trauma from  the book The Trauma Spectrum: Hidden Wounds and Human Resiliency by Dr. Robert Scaer, a neurologist with almost forty years experience in the field of physical rehabilitation. Preverbal trauma is a field about which relatively little is known. While technology can do amazing things, such as keep a one-pound ‘micropreemie’ alive, we do not fully understand the negative repercussions of such radical interventions.


“Until the mid-1980s, medical science indeed considered the preverbal period of human development to be one of a primarily reflexive, noncognitive state of awareness of the environment. . . . the infant brain was felt to be resilient and plastic: It could tolerate injury much better than an adult because it was not fully formed” (99).

“We have found that . . . [t]he brain of the infant, and for that matter the fetus, is also exquisitely vulnerable not only to physical insult but also to pain, experiential trauma, and variations in the intensity of the bond between mother and infant, even the emotional equanimity of the mother while the fetus is in utero” (100).

“I was taught in medical school that . . . infants probably had a markedly diminished or absent perception of pain . . . . The screams of infants that I circumcised or stuck with needles to obtain blood, however, did not seem to support this medical assumption. These beliefs–that infants were not sentient, did not feel pain as much as adults, and, in any event certainly would have no memory for the negative events–permeated my early medical training” (101).

” . . . exposure of the fetus to the stress-related hormones of the distressed mother is likely to alter the infant’s adaptive capacity to further life stress. . . . exposure of the fetus to stress, including that derived from the mother, is a significant factor in the susceptibility of the infant to the later development of many diseases, especially heart disease and diabetes” (107).

“Vohr and colleagues . . .  concluded that ‘extremely low birth weight infants are at significant risk for neurological abnormalities, and developmental and functional delays’ . . . . One must conclude that in the specialty of neonatal care, science may have outstripped our society’s ability to deal with the complications and negative outcomes created by its expertise” (109-110).

Had the doctors considered the negative somatic, neurological, and emotional outcomes of my pyloric stenosis surgery at twenty-six days young–the consequences of intubation while awake, incision while paralyzed and aware, and the separation of baby and mother?  Are these types of actions ethical if the infant and the family cannot get the personal, social, and medical support they need to address critical issues that arise as the baby grows up? I’m weighing in: Physical survival should not be the only criteria in saving a baby’s life. Quality of life is equally important. Preverbal trauma is a reality, people. What’s it going to take for the field of medicine to wake up?

Newtown on my Mind

I was going to write about re-enactment, a psychological byproduct of trauma from exposure to danger, but I can’t stop thinking about the shooting at Sandy Hook school.  In articles in Huffington Post, SFGate, and New York Times Online, I look for pieces in which a more in-depth understanding of the psychology of the shooter Adam Lanza is revealed, but… Continue Reading

Newly Wired or The PTSD Moment I Didn't Have

I’ve changed. My brain has changed!  It’s true. I overrode my automatic Post-traumatic Stress response last night. There I was lying in bed, enjoying an Esther and Jerry Hicks video, when I noticed the LED light behind me reflected onto my computer screen. Freak out!  That round, bright light hovering over me (the computer was on… Continue Reading

PTS While You Sleep – The Power of Meditation (Part III)

After re-reading key sections of Peter Levine’s book Waking the Tiger, I conclude that it doesn’t have practical material that I can use to help me find relief from PTS (post-traumatic stress) symptoms while I sleep (see previous posts Parts I and II).  To heal from trauma, Levine’s advice is to work with a practitioner of Somatic Re-experiencing, a form of… Continue Reading

PTS While You Sleep – The Why of It (Part I)

So I wake up in the night needing to pee. Before I get up, however, I notice that my back and neck are extremely tense and I am barely breathing. I’m not in respiratory distress, but I’m breathing shallowly and only through one nostril, my mouth closed. Flash of insight: Ok, it’s not the type… Continue Reading

Addiction – A Way to Cope with PTS

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts –  Close Encounters with Addiction,  a book by Dr. Gabor Maté, provides new information about addiction. “He locates the source of addictions in the trauma of an emotionally empty childhood, making it a relational rather than a medical problem,” according to Dr. Harville Hendrix. Maté contends that our brain… Continue Reading

In the Land of Hypervigilance

I have lived a life that is very different from what most people must experience. I have lived in the Land of Hypervigilance. Each morning shortly after waking, I do stretches that an osteopath taught me. These movements manage a painful hip that cries out when under stress. Yesterday lying on my back, having finished… Continue Reading