Healing the Trauma of Infant Surgery
Operated on as an infant, without anesthesia, Wendy P. Williams began life at war with her body. There were tubes everywhere, in and out of every opening, her mother reminded her on every anniversary of her surgery. Autobiography of a Sea Creature takes readers on Williams’ difficult sensory journey toward healing, as she communes along the way with horseshoe crabs, dolphins, and other marine life that taught her the restorative power of beauty, resilience, and interdependence. At times luscious and lyrical, at other times analytical and reflective, this literary memoir portrays the dissociative experience of trauma and the roots of self-destructive cycles, as well as the tragic results of medical beliefs at the time that infants could not feel pain. Autobiography of a Sea Creature is both a love letter to the earth and a hopeful testament of humans' capacity to heal our deepest wounds.
Printed books available from Amazon.
Free download also available from UCSF Health Humanities.
My blog Healing Infant Trauma - A Hidden Cause of Depression and PTSD chronicles my struggles and triumphs with preverbal trauma and reviews relevant articles and books. Read it here.
An interview with Adrienne Lauby on the KPFA radio show Pushing Limits "providing critical coverage of disability issues." Listen here.
Autobiography of a Sea Creature
In this absorbing book, we are privileged to join Wendy in her journey of 50 years to recover from surgery as an infant when anesthesia was not routinely administered. Ironically, this life-saving operation resulted in the question she could not address with certainty until she was 52 – was she dead or alive? You will be riveted by the chronicling of her experiences and the way she weaves together her inside and outside life as she uses creative processes—breath work, drawings, journaling, and the exploration of her powerful dreams—to search for the answer. Like her role model the biologist Rachel Carson, Wendy crafts exquisite observations of the natural world and her beloved sea creatures, sprinkled like tiny jewels throughout her writing. Reading this book will send you on a most memorable odyssey into a child’s world that few people have been able to make.
Dr. Linda Gantt, PhD, ATR-BC, is the owner and Executive Director of Intensive Trauma Recovery and ITR Training Institute LLC. In late 2020, she co-founded Help For Trauma Inc., a non-profit established to fund trauma research and offer trauma-effective training to mental health workers.
Praise & Reviews
In Autobiography of a Sea Creature, Wendy gives a voice to infants unable to articulate, who, due to necessary medical procedures, experience trauma. We journey with Wendy as she discovers the profound physical and emotional effects of this initial surgery and its consequences throughout her life. She shows us that the tentacles of the trauma extend and blend beyond her to her family and relationships. With the sea and its creatures interwoven in her life, the reader can also ride the fluid waves into healing and well being. With the growing awareness of trauma and PTSD in the world, this autobiography is one of support for both our precious little ones and all adults who were infants at one time.
Jean Anne Zollars, PT, DPT, MA, BI-D, Instructor in Visceral and Neural Manipulation for the Barral Institute, specializing in Pediatrics. Upcoming book: Visceral Manipulation for Pediatrics. www.jazollarspt.com
Autobiography of a Sea Creature is not just a story of one woman's emotional and psychological rebirth from the trauma of infant surgery. It is the poetic, haunting, life-affirming journey of healing an ecosystem, whether that is our human body or our planet. Wendy Williams has written an evocative memoir of awakening that will inspire anyone who cares about resilience, self-exploration, and our capacity for compassion.
Fire & Water: Stories from the Anthropocene
Available now: https://www.fireandwaterstories.com/
My Latest Blog
The Killer Lamp
I finally figured out the source of one of my triggers. I feel so proud of myself and relieved.
I was reading in my bedroom and glanced up at the tensor desk lamp across the room. The shade was tilted back and the unlit bulb pointed at me. Immediately, I felt unable to take my eyes from the lamp as if I were transfixed. I tried turning away but kept returning to the lamp. I was stuck in a trauma trigger, so I asked myself, what is so scary about this lamp? Why am I frozen, unable to move? This freezing has often happened to me in my life when I see a lamp tilted toward me at a certain angle where I can see the bulb whether the lamp is on or off. But pausing to ask these questions was a big step for me.
Usually the way I disengage from this type of trauma trigger is by simply realizing, okay, this is a remnant from my early surgery, perhaps from overhead equipment in the hospital, and am able to turn away, thus pulling the plug on the anxiety. Then I turn the lamp around if I am able and the anxiety lifts.
But this time, I asked and answered the questions. The lamp will kill me is the answer I heard. I was afraid of being killed. Before, I just felt the terror. This time, I put words to the terror.
As a baby without the benefit of anesthesia or pain control while the surgeon was cutting open my abdomen, was I staring into the operating room lamps and feeling terrified I was being killed? I think though that infants’ eyes are taped over or covered over for surgeries. Puzzling. Somehow, I must have transferred my terror of dying as a baby onto a very bright light in the hospital or somewhere. I cannot think of any other explanation for this trauma trigger that so deeply impacts me.
Realizing the reason I go into these frozen states was such a relief. I’ve been trying to figure it out for a very long time. A few months ago, I had a similar dissociation while staying at a friend’s home. How frightening when it happens, much like a panic attack with shallow breathing or held breath, increased heart rate, and an inability to move. Now that I see the actual connection between the lamp and the threat of death, I’ll be able to disengage from my panic much more easily. Maybe I’ll simply be able to say, That lamp can’t kill me. Perhaps this will be the end of an era for me—the plague of the killer lamps.
Be sure to subscribe to the blog of Wendy Williams author. There is a form on the blog page.
See Upcoming Appearances
I will be reading passage and signing books at these venues. I hope to see you!
Reading and Discussion of Autobiography of a Sea Creature
Paulina Springs Books, 252 W. Hood Avenue, Sisters, Oregon, USA
Thursday, April 11, 6:15 - 7:30 pm
About Wendy Williams
Wendy Patrice Williams is a writer intent on getting the message out about the fact that before 1987 in America and in many parts of the world, anesthesia and pain control were largely withheld from use on infants needing invasive medical procedures. As a result, their suffering is lifelong due to PTSD and other mental and physical disturbances.