The Dangers of Being Seen/Unseen

Many people who’ve experienced the trauma of infant surgery or who have post-traumatic stress (PTS) for a number of reasons have issues with visibility. It is dangerous to be seen.  I recently spoke to a survivor of infant pyloric stenosis surgery who told me that one of his biggest issues was the anxiety brought on by needing to be invisible while at the same time, needing to be seen.

I know that shame is and has been a factor in keeping me in the shadows. I spent many years feeling ugly due to the jaggedy scar on my belly. But I also think it has to do with feeling worthless. If I knew my worth hands down, I’d feel confident that others would, too. I learned to keep a low profile though, for hadn’t I bothered everyone in my family with my early illness? I think it goes deeper though.

I don’t feel that I exist. I’ve felt this and heard this from other trauma survivors–survivors of sexual abuse, domestic violence, assault, war. We don’t feel real or alive. We’ve turned away from the grounding of our bodies in an attempt to survive, odd as that sounds.

For me, this state of non-existence also has something to do with my mirror–Mom–being taken away from me in the hospital. Where had my world gone?  There was no one to comfort the terror of the aloneness and the anguish and pain of surgery without anesthetic or pain control. There was no one seeing me. Invisibility. There are consequences.

A poem:


I became the tiniest of girls

a seed

so small

a bead

the tip of a pin

the slightest

sliver of glass

a microscopic drop





slice of bright light

so slim

no one could see me

not even in the darkest room

and in time

I too

could not




Wendy, March, 1953, 8 months old

One Response to The Dangers of Being Seen/Unseen

  1. The photo of you as an 8 month old with a big bow (as was fashionable for little girls in the ’50s), a pout and a faraway look really touched me: how invisible and yet wanting to be invisible can a baby be? It is probably telling that one of the photos I have posted elsewhere shows me at a similar age and also with a distant look.
    Although some of the triggers were different, I grew up with the same visibility problems – my feelings of shame and lack of trust and confidence are I believe caused by what happened when I had my pyloric stenosis and by how it like yours was “fixed” – but in a way that dealt with the physical symptoms only. So much for a “scientific approach” to the practice of medicine. It seems I will never completely outgrow my in/visibility conflict. I was and sometimes still am afraid of being “seen” – and at the same time I want to be seen, recognized, affirmed.
    I am deeply grateful that posts such as this one underline again for me that my pain is not just me or strangeness. Thank you!

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