"Vive la difference!"

I asked Fred, my scar-buddy, to be a guest writer on my blog. He also underwent surgery for pyloric stenosis as an infant. What follows is his piece about his scar and so much more.

“Vive la difference!”

We live in the age of communication, and not only because of the internet, cell phones, and easy travel.  We’re also becoming far less secretive. All this has allowed us break out of our private prisons and embrace our individuality.  As somebody who has lived through this revolution for over 60 years, I say, Vive la difference!

By my 6th birthday I had become aware of something that made me different from my younger brother and sisters, in fact from all other children with whom I could compare myself.  And as a shy child I did not like being different.

There was a thin line down my front, mysteriously white and slightly ridged, and pock-marks straddled this line.  This little constellation had always been there, yet it seemed alien.  I decided there was a piece of white string caught under my skin.

With my father overworked and often away, I would ask my mother what it was. Her answer was always the same and did nothing really to help me: I had been “a little bit sick” and she would explain “sometime”.

During 1951 my family migrated to Australia and our modest home became a short-term lodging place for a steady stream of other new settlers. It was not unreasonable that some of these guests would help my hard-pressed mother bath her four children, aged 6 and younger.  It was then that I discovered, and was repeatedly reminded of, what it is like to feel exposed and naked.

“What happened to you there?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then I’ll ask your mother.”

My harried mother would handle these inquiries with a cursory mention of her first child’s constant vomiting soon after his birth, and that the scar was from the surgery that dealt with this.  This explanation would have satisfied the curiosity of our passers-through, but what I overheard did not help me much.

This pattern of events and the trauma of my mid-century infant surgery have made an impact on folk like Wendy and me that we have only recently learnt to recognize and manage. I grew up in a world where words like “cancer” were unmentionable, and where children were taught “what is right” but “protected” from understanding.  Mom never “communicated” with me about my scar.

Only in recent time have I come to comprehend enough of her own emotional world to embrace and forgive her.  Mom’s code of silence was very typical of those times and the ten years before my birth had been very stressful for her.  This in itself may have triggered my pyloric stenosis.  But only in this age of communication have I been able to connect with the countless experiences of parents who describe their traumas with this infant malady.  I have come to realize that my illness and surgery probably overloaded my mother’s emotional world.  She relived her decade of pain in nightmares until dementia finally erased her memories.

I am grateful that I am now able to understand and forgive Mom’s scarring of my life.  Working through the complexities of this mother-son bond has taken a lot more time and effort than getting that little white constellation over my stomach many years ago.

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