Two posts ago, I was in the second installment of my series on the story/journey of my personal relationship and experiences with shame. It is, again, my intention to have this series be not only healing for me, but of great use to you readers who have your own relationship and experiences with shame. How we interact with this greatly determines the directions our lives take, in my experience.
In that last posting related to this topic, I wrote about my birth. It's been interesting to notice how much I have resisted writing today's post for the last hour. I have hoped that doing this particular series would open up new levels of feeling for me, and the kind of resistance I've experienced this morning, and the last three days, tells me this one must be a juicy one in the making!
The Day After
I can only imagine what my first night was like. Born at 9:20 pm, separated from my Mom in my first hours and night, no nose to speak of, no easy way to be fed (especially by my mother), insufficient bonding time (which we now know is crucial to an infant's sense of safety), and being in some plasticene box that nurseries used in those days. What a great way to start. To add one other wrinkle, at that time, my parents did not have much money. I can only imagine the level of distress that they both must have been going through. A child they weren't really planning on in the first place, necessitating a reconciliation that neither of them really wanted, and the kid comes along with this major birth defect. I can only imagine.
In what was to be the first instance of a lifetime of trauma and challenge, often if not always offset by great blessings, it was clear that this enormous bi-lateral cleft had to be repaired…fast. While I don't know how this came about, and all the parties involved – including my parents – are gone and can't give me the scoop, a miracle occurred. A prominent plastic surgeon at Stanford, named Dr. Robert Berner, heard about my case. i suspect that an outfit like Easter Seals or some other local non-profit dealing with helping children with birth defects in the San Mateo, CA area where I was born had heard about my situation and contacted him. He came the morning after my birth, examined me and, even though my family had no money to pay for such surgery, agreed to do the first of what would be three repairs that would ultimately be done on me within the first five years of my life.
Consequently, after being on the planet for less than 24 hours, I was anesthetized and operated on. In what must have been a 2-3 hour procedure, I imagine, with the best of whatever medical procedures and technology was available in 1958, my tattered and incomplete face was put back together again. Even as I sit here writing this, the terror, confusion, and grief are filling my body and bringing tears. The feeling of being isolated at the very beginning of my life, and then being knocked out, cut on, and getting to wake up afterwards in what must have been an extraordinary amount of pain (judging from surgical experiences I do have conscious recall of), simply breaks my heart…for me and for my parents. It was not an auspicious beginning to this life, and it set in place a terror and anesthetized part of me that I have grappled with all my life.
While the face that got re-constructed turned out beautifully (according to the phalanx of doctors, dentists, speech therapists, and others that would treat me over the years), it would end up being the face that, for 36 years, felt like the ugliest visage anyone could ever look at. It would feel like, and be experienced as, the greatest tragedy and millstone in my life. In addition, for me, it never left my body or my psyche that one of my first waking experiences (and, now, cellular memories) was that life was pain, terror, isolation, separation, and a massive amount of confusion. Of course, this is not all in my conscious remembering, but the amount of pain and sadness I'm feeling, that my keyboard can't even distract me from at this point, tells me all I need to know about how difficult and traumatic this was for me. It was a beginning that scarred both my face and my heart for decades.
This would prove to be the one of the most instrumental traumas in my journey towards my own Divinity.
Next time, the beginning of the Wonder Years (Not)….