Conjuring up moments of my own childhood and adolescence so you can understand the formation of a trauma healer seems fair: a reciprocation for the intimate sharing of our childhoods, both mine and my patients. However, I don’t prefer talking about myself. The privacy necessary since hearing these stories and developing PTSD is complete and creates safety. I’d rather tell you about my patients than myself—the suffering and triumphs of the children, teenagers, and adults I’ve treated for the past thirty years. But maybe you have ideas of how a child psychiatrist develops. Perhaps you’re interested in glimpses into my childhood. So I’m opening the window for you, reluctantly but fully.
After seven days of bedrest in the hospital, Momma climbed into the cab of Daddy’s pickup truck with me in her arms, and we traveled the short distance to our home in Sims, North Carolina. Penny, my almost two-year-old sister, sat in the middle, patting my head.
“It’s okay, girl. You’re going to be fine,” she crooned, as I fretted.
Our home was situated on a crossroads—a farming town where Daddy sold insurance, and Momma ran the office of a seed farm company nearby. Momma loved to tell the story about how we couldn’t nurse and how I couldn’t hold down formula, either.
“We must have tried six or seven kinds of milk, and nothing agreed with you, Julia. Dr. Grant ordered soy milk to keep you from wasting completely away.
That first summer, Momma laid me out in the yard, on a bedspread, without a diaper because my skin was so “red and angry. You were so scrawny. Lord, how we prayed.”
Momma believed infants should be baptized at six weeks of age, so around March 1957, we stood by the baptismal font of the Buckhorn United Methodist Church in Kenly, North Carolina, dedicating ourselves to Christ and renouncing evil. I must have been listening mightily when the minister asked if I accepted the freedom and power God gave me to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they presented themselves, because that vow created a backdrop for the life to come. Jesus, shepherding his flock, loomed over us from a stained glass window as I was marked as Christ’s own and sealed as his forever. The congregation promised to uphold me. And together, with my family and godparents, we pronounced in unison that life should be lived in forgiveness and love. Lived out in a community of believers.
Penny was probably dressed in a yellow cotton dress that my Dad’s sister, Aunt Deek, made, hair curled and white anklets turned down. I may have worn the lovely white christening gown that she and Hope, my oldest sister, had worn years prior.
Hope, born with a neural tube defect which caused hydrocephalus, died when she was one year old, never coming home.
Daddy held me, quieting any fussiness that may have rung out as the water ran from my forehead, into my eyes. I don’t believe I cried, though. I imagine I was stricken by the Holy Spirit right there at the baptismal font, silenced and in awe—the first, but not the last time that would happen.