Pushing Limits

The Trauma of Infant Surgery – Pushing Limits – January 19, 2024

Wendy Patrice Williams

Wendy Patrice Williams is on a mission – a mission to save others from the severe symptoms of trauma from infant surgery without anesthetic.   Wendy underwent infant surgery for pyloric stenosis when she was 26 days old.  The surgery was called a success but its after-affects included decades of suicidal depression and extreme anxiety.


Wendy’s book, Autobiography of a Sea Creature: Healing the Trauma of Infant Surgery, chronicles the steps she took to learn why she was hurting and to find ways to reclaim joy.  And it’s being offered for free at the publisher’s website.

She discovered that, before 1986, infant surgeries were routinely done without anesthesia to prevent harm to a fragile infant from the powerful drugs.  It was thought that an infant’s nervous system was not developed enough to feel pain.  Also, it was common to give a paralytic so the baby would be completely still as the surgeon did their delicate cutting work.

Neither Wendy nor her parents were told anything about possible emotional consequences.

Many of us in the disability community have undergone infant surgery, often more than one.  Today, we introduce you to Wendy Patrice Williams’ research and healing work in the hope that, if it resonates with you, you can find a road to healing.

Since 2009, Ms Williams has written a blog, Healing Infant Trauma and, through it, met and supported others who have undergone surgeries without anesthetic.  One of them, Roey Shmool produced a film called, Cutdown: Infant Surgery without Anesthesia.

Wendy’s blog includes posts about coping with and healing from PTSD and reviews of articles and books about trauma.

Surviving Infant Surgery, a blog by Fred Vanderbom, also includes posts more specifically about infant surgery for pyloric stenosis or stomach blockage.

Dr. Liza Morton, a woman born with congenital heart disease, writes about the need to add Medical Trauma to the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) tool.  You can find her article at https://www.traumascience.org/newsletters.  Scroll down to: “Medical Trauma-The Forgotten Adverse Childhood Experience” by Dr. Liza Morton.

For general help for PTSD and Trauma response, Wendy recommends:  Help for Trauma, where you can watch videos about the Instinctual Trauma Response and find a therapist.

She also recommends body-based psychological therapies:
-EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (Look for a local therapist who works with this technique)
Somatic Experiencing  where you can find resources and learn about Dr. Peter Levine’s work.

Infant trauma is pre-verbal trauma and, as Wendy Patrice Williams discovered, often requires non-verbal, somatic treatments.  Through friendship, community resources, therapy, art and an important year in the California Synanon community, Wendy has greatly reduced her PTSD symptoms.  Now, she is helping others to find a path through theirs.

Autobiography of a Sea Creature – Healing the Trauma of Infant Surgery
University of California Health Humanities Press