Totally Stressed

I’m pretty much freaking out right now — complete body stress reaction — I can feel the adrenalin pumping through my body — my nerves are on edge — my mind is racing — my heart is pounding. Why? Long story.

I’m writing this out because it will help calm my nerves and help me think through this and process all of my feelings.

I started having this reaction when I was writing the last comment (at the time of this writing, May 23, 12:47 a.m. — my blog is set to Greenwich Mean Time — it’s really not quite 8 p.m. right now in my time zone) on this post, the one about delayed cord clamping. Pinky and Reality Rounds and I have been having a nice conversation (in case you haven’t “met” them yet, they’re both L&D nurses, and both are skeptical about delayed cord clamping because of what the NICU docs they work with have said, and how they practice), and I started thinking about some of the bone-headed things doctors used to do, and used to train others to do, which were not supported by medical literature prior to them being done, and were eventually stopped when it was finally shown to be either not helpful, or possibly even harmful. Of course, it’s not too hard to find things — pubic shaving, enemas, 100% episiotomy-and-forceps birth, etc. But since we’re talking about babies and the harm or benefit to them from either delayed or immediate cord clamping, I thought about stuff that used to be done to babies that has changed. The big thing that came to my mind was that they used to perform surgeries on babies, particularly premature babies, without anesthesia, because doctors were trained and taught that babies didn’t feel pain, or at least did not feel pain like older children or even adults. You may say, “Oh, here she goes again — that was what they used to say about circumcision.” Yes, but more than circumcision — we’re talking major surgery — heart operations, drilling holes in a baby’s neck — that sort of thing.

So, I knew they had done this for years — I remember reading about research done in the 50s and 60s in which doctors poked babies with pins and noted — not their pain response — but their “primal reaction”. They  had made up their minds that babies didn’t feel pain, so when the babies were very obviously showing that they were in pain by crying, screaming, trying to move away from the painful stimuli, etc., they had such blinders on that they didn’t even register that the babies were in pain. IDIOTS!! So these stupid doctors taught the next generation of doctors these “facts” who taught the next generation, etc.

If you check out the link above, you’ll see that these surgeries were performed on babies up through the mid-80s (and perhaps beyond)!

[Ok, I was getting less stress as I was typing the above, and now it’s just come flooding back.]

The babies were given paralytic drugs, so that they couldn’t move — i.e. STRUGGLE BECAUSE OF THE PAIN — but were not given anything for pain. Many babies died because of the shock and trauma. Their little systems just couldn’t handle it. Most if not all parents did not even know that their babies had been sliced open without so much as a Tylenol, until one set of parents found out and went public. Then more parents asked questions, got their children’s hospital records, etc., and raised such a big stink about it that practices changed. But it was butchery that went on in the name of medicine. If animals had been treated in such a way, the perpetrators would have been put behind bars. But it was not questioned because doctors in white coats who all that medical training, so knew what is best. [HAH!]

I’ve known that preemies were operated on without anesthesia, but I did not know that it extended past that time — perhaps a few days or weeks, maybe a few months. Also, I thought that the reason they thought preemies couldn’t feel pain is that they assumed that babies weren’t developed enough prior to term; so I thought that they only operated on these helpless infants, without anesthesia, up until when the baby would have been “term” had s/he not been born prematurely. I was wrong.

Just a few minutes ago, when I was looking at when this barbaric practice ended, I saw this link, a letter to the editor, which had the following quote:

Your article on infant pain and its belated recognition by the medical community (Science Times, Nov. 24) suggests that unanesthetized surgery has been limited to newborns and that the practice had largely ended by the late 1970’s. However, surveys of medical professionals indicate that as recently as 1986 infants as old as 15 months were receiving no anesthesia during surgery at most American hospitals.

Now here’s where it gets personal. Intensely personal.

I was born in the late 70s. When I was about 3 months old, I underwent a heart operation due to holes in my heart. Frankly, I now believe that I was not given anesthesia. And that is what caused my stress reaction when writing the comment I did that I mentioned above.

Although the overwhelming feelings I listed above have faded, the only other time I remember feeling like this completely out of the blue, was when I wrote this post, last October, when I felt the same sort of near-panic attack kind of feelings, when I read what a typical C-section was like, and started flipping out thinking about being completely numb and unable to move. [Just to be honest, even though it is getting to be very stream-of-consciousness here, and I apologize for that — writing the last sentence made me almost cry. The rational part of my brain says that that is totally nutso; but the tightening in my chest is returning regardless of logic and reason.]

I don’t remember my surgeries, and have good memories of the hospital. But I have no choice but to say — logic be damned! — that my body remembers the surgeries (whether I had anesthesia or not — and I say probably, almost definitely NOT).

I hate this feeling. HATE IT! It’s the same way I felt when my brother (who is six years older than me) would tease and torment me, and I couldn’t stop him because he was so much bigger than me. It’s this feeling of utter helplessness. Like my arms are bound by my sides, unable to move. It’s horrible.

In all honesty, right now, my body just feels basically numb (except for my fingers) – -my arms literally feel very heavy, as if they have weights attached to them… or have been medically paralyzed.

Sorry that this isn’t an uplifting post. It also has nothing to do with cord clamping (feel free to read the comments on that post, though, because it has been a most interesting conversation). Nor does it really have anything to do with birth — although it doubles or triples my stance against circumcision, particularly without anesthesia. But don’t let anybody tell you that babies don’t feel pain. And if you or someone you know endured something painful as a baby, at least be open to the idea that s/he remembers it, even if s/he doesn’t “remember” it. I used to think that it was hogwash, myself, but not any more. Now, I’m a firm believer. There is just no other explanation I can offer as to why I have such a visceral reaction when these topics are brought up.


12 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for that very informative post! I had no idea! I’m going to ask my mother if I had any type of surgery as a baby – I have felt that way you described.

    Thank you for inviting us into your feelings and emotions – I hope that letting it all out helped some. I wonder how many other poor unsuspecting people have these same types of issues.

    So glad I found your blog!

  2. Kathy,
    Wow. I could write a book of a comment right now, but I will try not to. Just for the record, I am not an L&D nurse. I am a Masters’ prepared NICU nurse, who has done research on infant pain responses. I am currently conducting research on infant massage and weight gain in premature infants. I will send it to you if it ever gets published, fingers crossed :).
    OK, sorry I am digressing. Neonatal intensive care is a relatively new science. It is still very much experimental. Things like pain control were (and can still be), after thoughts. I can tell you thousands of horrible stories of procedures done to infants without any pain control (chest tubes, circs, PDA ligations, dressing changes, etc). Some of this was done out of ignorance, and some was done because the doctor could not be bothered. It took up too much precious time to wait for a pain med.
    I do believe that memory can have a powerful and visceral reaction when you least expect it. Your strong reactions to issues regarding pain in neonates may be due to your own surgery, or your experiences as a mother. (did you have these same feelings before you became a mom?).
    Let me end on a positive note. Pain control in neonates has come a loooooooooooong way. It still has a long way to go, but we are getting there. Developmental care for infants (another one of my passions) has also come a long way. This involves striving to make the NICU environment as close to the womb as possible. It is fascinating stuff (to me any way).
    Take care.

  3. Wow is right! I agree that our bodies remember things. I had serious skull surgeries as a very young infant and again at about 12 months (1974) for craniostenosis – when the skull fuses together prematurely… I wonder if I had anesthetic?? I’ll have to ask my mom & see if she knows. I know this isn’t totally related, but I read a part of Michel Odent’s book Birth Reborn, about babies crying & the detrimental effects of stress on newborns physical & emotional development, and that has had such an impact on how I cared for my children & how I talk to new moms about that stage of life. Babies need us to protect & care for them, which makes the no-anesthetic so deplorable & sickening.

  4. RR — Oh, I thought you were an L&D nurse. My bad. Most nurses who are birth junkies are L&D nurses, so I made a wrong assumption (not my first, surely not my last!). 🙂

    It’s hard to say whether it may be due to my becoming a mom, because I never really pondered what I wrote above before becoming a mother.

    I never really considered stuff about c-sections and general anesthesia and all that before becoming a birth junkie. And even when I first read (probably about 4-5 years ago — after the birth of my first son) about them performing surgery on preemies w/o anes., I didn’t have that reaction. I was disgusted and horrified, but it wasn’t personal. Not until it hit me, right before I started writing the above post, that it may have been me. Then pieces started to fall into place.

    Maybe we can explore the “experiences as a mother” a bit — I’m inclined to think not, right off the bat, because there was nothing like this in regards to my children. Both kids got a heel prick for the blood test; my older son had a vita K shot; neither was circumcised — they had no trauma, and didn’t even cry when they had the neonatal heel prick or the shot.

    Additionally, the first time I had this stress reaction was not in relation to babies, but to the story of a mom who felt violated because everybody in the room could see her privates after her C-section. This was one of the links I had in the post (I think it was this past October). The first time I read the comment on Rebirth Nurse’s blog, it didn’t really bother me, until I pictured myself having a C-section and being so numb that I couldn’t feel or move my legs — then the adrenalin started pumping. And the thought of lying there unable to move, while other people were moving my body, made me have that sort of freak-out experience. The thought of people seeing me naked on the OR table didn’t bother me, but the thought of being immobilized did.

    I’ve not had any of those experiences in the past, but then, I haven’t thought about being immobilized during surgery either. Maybe I am stressing out because of sympathy for other people, but I don’t really think so. Unfortunately, the hospital is unlikely to have records that are 30+ years old, and the doctor who performed the surgery is dead, so I suppose I’ll never know for sure. I know some people will completely dismiss the idea — and to be honest, I was fairly dismissive of the idea myself, until this happened. But I have no other explanation of the stress reaction I had these two times (plus other times, like now, in thinking and processing it again — but nowhere near as bad, right now, because I am not allowing myself to dwell on the particular triggers), except to say that imagining myself immobilized during surgery just plain freaked me out.

    I am going to try to turn this into a positive though. Not sure how yet — the post was a first step, to tell others that this is at least possible, so they need to love and protect their children as much as possible; and if their babies or children have to go through something like this, then they need to do something to explain and work through their feelings, even if the kids are “too young to understand” or “don’t remember.” How this will take form, I don’t know — I haven’t thought that far ahead. We’ll see what happens in the future. I look forward to seeing your work published. 🙂

  5. Wow, it’s interesting because I just read an article in Parents Magazine TODAY about this. It made me sick thinking about an infant immobilized with not pain relief enduring open heart surgery.

    My son was circumcised at 2 weeks old. It is something that causes me much sadness and regret. My husband was in there with him while the procedure was done. He did get a block but he screamed like he never screamed before the whole time. I was down the hall sobbing because I could hear him. It was awful. I do believe being strapped down was traumatic for him. I was hesitant in the first place to circumcise but my husband and family all talked me into it saying he should be like his dad and that it is gross if they aren’t. I agree that I like the look of a circumcised penis better than an uncircumcised, but when I was down the hall hearing my own son scream it all felt so wrong. I too was traumatized from that experience and realized that just because it looks “better” doesn’t mean it’s right.

    I know I will get a lot of crap from family members, but I will not do it again to my other sons. I have wondered about how I will explain to my first son why he is different than his brothers. I feel regret and like I failed in protecting him. What I tell my husband now about it is that if they want to get circumcised they can do it when they have the choice. I don’t want to take that choice away from all my sons.

  6. Christina,

    Some of the childbirth educators who are also doulas have talked a bit about stress in babies, etc., and how that babies need their own “doula” in certain circumstances after birth — particularly when either the babies are having a difficult transition, or their moms can’t hold them for whatever reason. Several people chimed in with similar stories — basically that the baby was either crying alone in the warmer while the mom was getting stitched up, or just that it was hospital policy to take the baby across the room for the newborn procedures. Anyway, several people said that they would go over to the babies and talk to them, tell them what was going on, and let them know that everything was all right. Some of the staff looked at them like they were crazy, but the babies all calmed down. Even if they didn’t understand the words, they understood the tone, and understood that there was someone caring there. Not saying that nurses are “uncaring” but that they were just doing their job, rather than handling the baby like the mom would have — probably mechanically and with efficiency, rather than with true TLC.

  7. Bri,

    I’m glad you’ve made the decision to have it stop here. My sister had her first son circumcised because her husband was circ’d and his son from a previous marriage was, and he wanted it to be “like father, like son” and also, that brothers should “look the same.” She went with him to get circ’d, and had to run out of the room crying because she couldn’t bear to be in there. But she still chose to have her younger son circ’d because his brothers were all circ’d — she just refused to go with him.

    There are many people who change their minds about circumcision, after one or more of their sons have been circumcised. One woman I talked to said that she just explained it to her sons that when the oldest boy was born, they thought circumcision was the best idea, but by the time the younger sons were born, they had changed their minds, so did not circumcise the others.

    One of my friends has a brother who is circumcised and one who is not, because the family changed their mind between births. I don’t know that the boys ever really noticed, but there was some 7 years age difference, so that may account for things. My brother did not circumcise his two sons, but my two sisters did have their three boys circumcised. The boys are all stair-step ages, so have taken baths together and stuff as young children (from infancy up through at least pre-K if not beyond), and none of them has ever seemed to notice any difference. Brothers may notice, especially if they’re close in age, but I’ll tell you this — my sons have never asked about any difference between themselves and my husband (whether in this area or in hairy chest or whatever). Besides, I have a scar running the length of my sternum, which I acquired when I was three months old — if I have a girl, should I require her to go through surgery, just so she’ll look like me? My kids definitely have had opportunity to see my scar — obviously as nursing babies, but it comes up high enough to be seen when I’m wearing many types of shirts, as well as bathing suits, etc., and they have never once questioned me about it. I think kids take stuff like that for granted, but it is adults who see and notice a difference and then think their kids will. I’m also reminded of a story one of my email friends related — the husband of one of her childbirth education clients insisted on having their son circ’d because he himself was circ’d and wanted “like father, like son,” and didn’t want the son to grow up realizing he was different, or whatever. Anyway, the father found out later that his own father was intact, and he had never known or noticed. Shows how important it is to a son that he be the same as his dad, huh?

  8. Hey I am not a birth Junkie! I can quit anytime! lol. I am so sorry to hear you are distressed.

    Pain relief for infants has come a long way. We do use pain relief measures when we circ babies now. It is very distressing to think about babies not being anestitised during surgery. How could people be so stupid?

  9. Oh and for the record I am an L&D nurse. Currently applying to Grad School for Midwifery.

  10. Thank you so much for your post. I have never thought about infant care in this way before. Your story is so real and such an important topic.
    It makes so much sense to me! Whenever I think about abortions (and I can’t help thinking about the reality of them-exactly what happens during an abortion) I get this same feeling. My heart starts to pound, my arms and fingers get numb and tingly and my chest feels like it is closing in on me. I know that you know my story, but my mother was told to have an abortion many times during her pregnancy. And her family tried to convince her to have one. After I was born and throughout my life my family admitted that they had wanted her to have an abortion. They would say it like this, “who would have thought, look at you now and to think we tried to convince your mother to abort you”.
    So naturally I have felt my life threatened. Knowing that doctors and close family members wanted to end my life. But the way you explain this makes me wonder if I felt threatened in the womb and as an infant. My mother also had brain surgery (without anesthesia while pregnant) along with lots of invasive treatment which probably effected me too.
    Thank you so much for starting this discussion.

  11. Wow, Kathy! That’s really intense stuff. I do believe that the body and the mind do remember everything that happens to a person, regardless of whether the conscious mind can remember it. It doesn’t make sense that such a complex organ as the human brain would forget life events.

    Frankly, it reminds me of the current mode with aborted infants – “they don’t feel pain, it’s just a reflex.” With that thinking, doctors can do absolutely despicable things despite obvious in-your-face evidence.

  12. Kathy,
    I am so sorry. It is amazing how our bodies hold their memories. Good and bad.

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