Although I've had several surgical procedures in 60+ years, the only sizeable scar I have is almost as old as me. Medical science has made enormous progress in that time.
My first-time parents were understandably traumatised when the stomach of their eagerly awaited baby boy started to misbehave in a weird and scary way. I was a projectile vomiter – a pyloric stenosis baby. Handing their pride-and-joy over for emergency surgery just 10 days after his arrival was their only way of not losing me to hunger and dehydration. The whole thing traumatised them so much they never wanted to talk about it with me.
My scar is the souvenir of my life being saved very early, and I'm now grateful to medical science and God for this gift.
But it wasn't always like that.
During my early years the scar over my stomach wasn't a big issue. The fact that I looked a bit different in bath and at the beach really only affected me from about age 6. Then for many years I was fascinated by it.
I also came to feel very uncomfortable about having it seen and being asked questions by others, to the ridiculous point of always crossing my arms and pulling my swimmers up far too high at the beach, and denying to the observant and curious that I obviously wore a little story on my stomach.
My mother sewed all our clothes in the 1950s and she made my swimmers different so I would not have to be troubled by my scar.
Why all this?
From various sources I have learnt that infant surgery in the 1940s and 50s was so traumatic that it could easily bring later problems. In our earliest years the mind cannot remember anything that isn't constantly reinforced, but a baby's body has another sort of memory which remembers emotions like pain, separation and affection. So growing kids are secure or not, and anything traumatic can be indelible throughout our lives.
My character was also part of my trauma feelings. I am shy, introspective and tend to be a conformer. I hate being different from others and still feel a tad uncomfortable when the conversation turns to me. Being a church pastor who is almost expected to ask, "And how are you today?" suits me well!
But my parents could have done much more to help me – muchly so as I reflect.
Family friends who helped my busy parents to bath their 4 kidlets naturally asked me about the scar north of my navel, and I could never answer their questions. Their obvious conclusion was always, "Alright, I'll ask your parents then."
But when I asked my parents, I always got an evasive response: "Oh, you were a bit sick once," "The doctor did that," or, "I'll explain some other time."
So mums and dads, if your child had early trauma or has a self image issue or asks you questions about themselves, please set aside any traumatic memories of your own. Focus on helping them to understand their story as best you can, answer their queries, help them understand and embrace their story, and coach them to deal with curious questions. Especially if your child is not one who enjoys being the centre of attention or flaunts their ancient battle scars.
I respect and love my parents deeply, but their neglect of what was my Big Issue at this formative stage has caused me long term pain.
Although my fascination with my pyloric stenosis story continues to this day, the pain has largely gone.
Two things: life experience grows confidence.
And the internet: the web has given me contact with people who share my story in a whole variety of ways. Some struggle and others triumph with similar or much greater deformities than my 9 cm scar and more emotional discomfort than I've ever felt. Others strut their differences! Good for them! I've come to embrace and feel proud of my little badge. Apart from being a vital part of my life story it's also a reminder of God's word to me: "Hey, nobody's perfect, but you're more than ok." I've included a picture of my "liberation" in my EP photo album.
And because I know now that there are others like me in the struggle to overcome the effects of infant surgery, I'm blogging about what I'm learning at "SurvivingInfantSurgery".
In recent years I've benefitted greatly from a few episodes of much more modern surgery. For me these have taken way the mystique of what happened long before the dawn of my self-awareness, and they've extended and vastly improved my life - God's goodness is amazing.