Pain in Infancy Alters Response to Anxiety

Boston Red Sox's Koji Uehara throws during baseball practice Monday, Oct. 21, 2013, in Boston. The Red Sox are preparing to play the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Kalvin has experienced separation anxiety for as long as I can remember.  Not the kind of separation anxiety that makes one cry when they are left with a different caretaker, but the kind of anxiety that causes physical reactions day after day.  This anxiety has prevented Kal from doing things he wants to do.  Over the years, we have read more and more about the effects that early life trauma and pain has on the neural circuits in the brain that regulate stress.  These studies suggest that pain experienced by infants while undergoing tests and treatment in neonatal intensive care may permanently alter future responses to anxiety, stress and pain.  We couldn't ignore the studies any longer.

Taking it all in as the Sox are presented with the World Series Trophy.
This summer, while the Red Sox began their own Stay Strong campaign, we were around the corner from Fenway Park enrolling in Boston University's CARD Program to participate in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).  Kal was ready to learn some strategies to help him move through his fears and finally be able to do some things that he has really wanted to do, but just wasn't able to.  Have you ever watched some one try to do something that scares them so much they shake, turn white and eventually throw up?  Have you watched someone time and time again no matter what bribes are offered or consequences threatened, not be able to move forward?  This was Kal when he would try many things.  Things that we knew he wanted to do.  We tried different strategies, but nothing made things better for him.  We had to find a way to teach him to gain control over his own fears.  This is what CBT is all about.  Practicing what scares you most in small steps over and over again. I talked about Growing Up Brave back in July.  We are so proud to report that along with the Red Sox celebrating becoming the World Series Champs, we too are celebrating our own victory.  After many, many weeks (about twenty) and countless hours of exposure practice,  Kal has learned to work through many of his anxieties and in the process has developed skills that will last a lifetime.

Big Papi won Kal's heart early on.  He did not disappoint.

At the World Series Parade waiting for the Duck Boats

After years of trying to ease Kal's anxieties, we finally realized that this was something that we could not do for him.  This was something he had to do for himself.  We have watched him struggle for years.  We have tried various methods in attempt to help him become happier; including doing things for him to make his life easier and, the opposite, tough love approach.  None of our methods were working. Ultimately, we really didn't have all that much control.  Only Kal could learn how to gain control.  CBT helped him.
He did it.  Kalvin Strong! 
Years ago, my mom gave me this anonymous piece entitled,

"To My Children:  Things I can and Cannot Do."

I can share your life, but I cannot live it for you.
I can teach you things, but I cannot make you learn.
I can give you directions, but I cannot always lead you.
I can allow you freedom, but I cannot account for it.
I can take you to church, but I cannot make you believe.
I can teach you right from wrong, but I can not decide for you.
I can give you love, but I cannot force it upon you.
I can teach you to be a friend, but I cannot make you one.
I can teach you to share, but I cannot make you unselfish.
I can teach you respect, but I cannot force you to show honor.
I can teach you to obey, but I cannot answer to your actions.
I can warn you about your sins, but I cannot make you moral.
I can teach you about prayer, but I cannot make you pray.
I can tell you how to live in this world, but I cannot give you eternal life.

We are all works in progress, but the child especially so.  How do we help them to see that each of them is a miracle, a wonderful work in progress?

We are in some ways like little pieces of confetti floating through the sky learning as we fall.


  1. A heartfelt congratulations to your whole family on Kalvin's progress! It is fascinating (not to mention tragic) that pain in infancy can translate to anxiety as children grow. I'm happy you found some tools to help Kalvin confront his.

    1. Thank you Erica. We are so happy to see Kalvin so much more at ease and doing things he wants to do and be fully engaged instead of frozen in fear. Thanks for leaving a note! XOXO Kristen