Images Key to Unlocking Preverbal Trauma


My pastel “Self-Hate,” on display at the Sacramento Poetry Center this month, along with two others of mine and those of eight other artists who also write as part of Jennifer O’Neill Pickering’s Sable & Quill exhibit, is an expression of the feelings I felt about my body and about life in general, especially as a teen-ager. Anger ruled my life.

A decade later in my early twenties, I discovered the source of this rage–infant surgery at 26 days old to correct pyloric stenosis, a stomach blockage, without anesthesia. Did you know that before 1987, anesthesia was often not administered to infants for invasive medical procedures and operations?  The medical community had convinced themselves that babies didn’t feel pain. It also worried that anesthesia could cause brain damage, for how could safe doses be determined? Instead, a muscle paralytic was given so that the baby could not fight. Sometimes a sugar cube soaked in alcohol was given or small amounts of anesthesia.

Since the torture occurred before I had language, I didn’t really understand the messages I was receiving from my body, emotions and senses over the years. My body was frozen in terror, for as a baby, I could not flee or fight–only lie helplessness. Many others have suffered this fate, some of whom have contacted me through this blog. We number in the millions and may or may not understand the depression, rage, and numbness we have felt throughout our lives. Post-traumatic stress or PTS it has come to be called. Preverbal infant trauma is not something the public, or the victims themselves, is generally aware of. Through artwork, early feelings find their way to the surface, feelings for which no words were ever attached.

Jennifer has given me the opportunity to speak briefly about this and read from my memoir manuscript, Autobiography of a Sea Creature – Coming Home to My Body after Infant Surgery, at the Sable & Quill reading this Saturday, January 9, 2016 at the Sacramento Poetry Center (25th and R) reading 7:30-9 pm, which follows the art reception 5-7 pm.  I am grateful for the opportunity and look forward to reading and hearing from the other artists as well. Hope to see you there!




6 Responses to Images Key to Unlocking Preverbal Trauma

  1. You have done well to retell the events that were the genesis of your memoir manuscript and this blog, Wendy. Every time I read your story (and it was probably mine also) I recoil in horror.
    Parents who have had to submit their newborn to pyloric stenosis or similar early surgery almost invariably find it the most difficult and traumatic experience of their lives – and modern infant surgery is so benign compared with what happened only a few generations ago.
    We are survivors, much more so than today’s sick babies.
    But some of the pitfalls that traumatised you and me remain: sloppy diagnosis and unnecessary or delayed surgery, insensitive medical staff, parents who deal with their bad memories by stonewalling their child, medical mantras dismissive of the possible psychological and other long-term effects of infant trauma.
    You and I will continue to read, research, write about and reveal what we and many like us wish we had known long ago.
    Go, Wendy!

    • Thank you, Fred, for this comment, and yes, let’s keep getting this information out there. As you have written, so many need to understand that the early surgery, though our parents were told that the baby would heal 100% from pyloric stenosis surgery, has had lasting effects on our lives in many different ways, and differently for each person. Also, our parents were NOT told that anesthesia would not be used and this, to me, is morally wrong. So many of us survivors thought that we simply could not possibly remember what happened to us, and nothing could be further from the truth. We have not remembered in words since we had none, but our bodies and our emotions remember.

  2. Hi Wendy,
    Wished I had paid attention! Missed your reading,very disappointing.Very powerful images-the size of the pieces adds to the impact-sending that unrelenting shock of that baby’s experience right to my core.Left me reeling.I think on some level,it triggered me.Not to hold you responsible or anything like that though.Helpful information actually.I feel like I’m “following the leader” (you,that is!)in that the body experiences I have today have definite roots in infant trauma.Been all over the block with everything else..

    I’d like to ask you some questions via email privately,would that be all right? If not,that’s okay too.


    • Gosh, Jen, I truly hadn’t seen this email until now! Bummer!! When a Comment comes through, my email is not notifying me, nor is my dashboard administrator for the blog functioning right to alert me. Yikes. So here I am months later–so sorry. I have a new way of checking now, so please fire back a response when you are ready and I’ll find it quickly. Of course you can email me with questions and I’d be honored to answer; hopefully, I have something helpful to offer. I’m glad that you are getting some insights about body memories and somatic sensations originating from the early trauma from my posts. Very important to me. Thank you so much for writing and hope to hear from you soon.

      • Hi Wendy,

        I’m not sure of this,but maybe it’s because I didn’t check the notify me of comments via email boxes down below.

        At this point,I’ve spent a lot of time/money! with emdr and counseling,just about ready to give it up.Right now,it’s too hard to describe in writing (and somewhat in public) here.Maybe someday we can talk.

        Thanks so much Wendy!


        • Hi Jen, Call me anytime 510-701-2360 if you like. Jan Osborn has been wonderful for me: 916-719-3832, email:, 12344 Fair Oaks Blvd, Suite J, Fair Oaks, CA 95628. Everyone’s different, I know, but she’s at a high level in training. She was asked to be on the national board for EMDR but declined, for she is a parent of two teen agers:) In any case, I can appreciate that maybe you are fed up with EMDR for now. If talking might be helpful, do call. Maybe we could meet in Sac for coffee. My semester is almost over.

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