An Interview with Barbara Jaffe, author of the new book: When will I be good enough? A Replacement Child’s Journey to Healing

B.JAFFE BOOK COVERReplacement children have so many things in common, it seems we are all related in a way. Like psychological sisters and brothers. Our issues with identity, feeling unworthy, and never measuring up recur in nearly every story I hear or read from people who have identified themselves as replacement children in some manner.

Usually it’s later in life that individuals turn introspective and begin to evaluate what may have had an impact on the trajectory of their lives thus far. They may seek to understand issues that have gotten in the way of their happiness or success, or led to miscalculations or bad choices. If they begin to see a pattern, they may want to protect their own children from passing on the undercurrent of sadness or anxiety that has plagued them. Sometimes they write about it to try to figure it out, as I did in Replacement Child, and now as Barbara Jaffe has done in her new book, When will I be good enough? A Replacement Child’s Journey to Healing. I remember speaking with Barbara while she was in the midst of this journey, and the feeling of sisterhood that inevitably surfaces when I connect with other replacement children.

Her book is available as of January 15, 2017 and I wanted to introduce it, and Barbara Jaffe, to you. It is an in-depth look at her unique yet universal journey as a replacement child that will inspire you with the resilience that comes with understanding.

Here is my interview with Barbara:

J: Why did you write the book?

B: I wrote When Will I Be Good Enough? A Replacement Child’s Journey to Healing because I was compelled to write my story. There was a force within me that could not rest until I wrote my truth. I wrote so that when the words flowed onto the pages, taken out of my soul, that I could put myself back together, which is what I was able to do through the process of writing my story. I also wrote the book with the understanding that other replacement children, and those who have felt ‘less than’ in any area of their lives could benefit from my own journey to wholeness.

J: How long did the book take you from start to finish?

B: The book took me about 4 ½ years, from start to finish. It took me about 2 years to write and about 2 ½ years to edit. As a professor of writing, myself, I teach the iterative process of writing and I have lived it for quite some time, but it was quite an experience!

J: What aspect of writing the book did you find particularly challenging?

B: The most challenging aspect of writing my book was reliving the specific experiences about which I wrote. As I wrote, I felt as if I were experiencing everything once again. Before my various memories were written down, I had them in my mind as fragments, but when they came together on the page, they become so powerful. Reliving such experiences was quite difficult. I also found the chapter on motherhood particularly challenging, for while I am not a daughter any more, I will always be a mother and my journey continues even though my early motherhood days have passed. The memories and the wonder of ‘what-ifs’ continue to leave a powerful imprint on my mind.

J: What surprised you the most about the book writing process?

B: As I mentioned in response to Question 2, the enormous editing process surprised me. I never realized that it could take me as long to edit the book as it did to write it, but I am happy with the outcome and the time spent on the changes and additions. I celebrated when I wrote my last word, and now, of course I smile and laugh at my naiveté of that time when I actually thought my book was completed.

J: What do you hope your readers will gain from reading your book?

B: I hope my readers will gain the understanding or the reminder that despite their challenges in their lives, and we all have them, that they can enjoy fulfilling and amazing lives. I think, at least for me, the key is to acknowledge our difficulties and work through them so that we can let them go—allow them to float up into the ether and replace them with strengths and joys.

J: Did you do any research for your books, or did you write from experience?

B: I did not do any research for my book. I wrote completely from my own experiences and was amazed at my recollection and memories that I did not often talk about but lay dormant and deep within, ready to emerge when I beckoned them.

J: How did you come up with your title?

B: It is interesting that you should ask this question! My working title had always been The Replacement Child and it wasn’t until I finished the last word of my book did I decide to Google the title. It was then that I found a 1964 article on the phenomena written by Cain and Cain, “On Replacing a Child” and then found research and a Psychology Today article by Dr. Abigail Brenner “The Replacement Child: In Search of Self”. I also found a link to your book Replacement Child and I realized that I needed to change my book’s original title. My first editor suggested part of my new title (When Will I Be Good Enough?) since the theme of my life has always been one where I have felt ‘less than.’ I believe that the title of my book addresses this issue and is also one to which many can relate.

J: When did you first get the notion that you might have been a replacement child?

B: I think the first time was when my mother said to me, “If Jeffrey had lived, you wouldn’t have been born.” And when she would say throughout the years that she only wanted two children. I realized in the most basic definition, I was born after Jeffrey because he died. I truly was a replacement child. I did not think about it very much growing up, and it did not overtly define me, but my mother’s inability to deal with her horrific loss over her toddler’s sudden illness and death colored many of our interactions and the way in which I grew to maturity.

J: How have you personally dealt with the complex feelings that may have resulted from writing the book?

B: I was not prepared for the feelings that arose as I wrote and reread my words. Often, it was a very surreal experience, almost as if I was reading another’s words. I was transported, at times, into my long-ago experiences as if I were reacting to them for the first time. I gave myself time to process my sadness over what I grew to understand were my deficits, yet I also learned to give myself credit and rejoice over my inner growth and progress on which I have spent a lifetime.

ABOUT THE BOOK:
Have you ever wondered, “When will I be good enough?” Like millions of other women, educator/author Barbara Jaffe was faced with that question, but for her, as a “replacement child,” the barriers to acceptability were higher than for most of us. Barbara, like many others, was born to fill the vacancy left by her little brother, who died at the age of two. This book tells the multitude of readers who have been “replacement children” for many reasons, that they, too, can find hope and healing, as did Barbara.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dr. Barbara Jaffe

Barbara Jaffe completed her B.A. in Linguistics, her M.A. in Applied Linguistics, and her doctorate in Education, all from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Dr. Jaffe is a Tenured Professor of English at El Camino College, in Torrance, California, where she has taught literature as well as all levels of composition. Her focus is helping students find their own, unique writers’ voices and has helped other instructors in their teaching of writing through her national workshops. Barbara received awards for Outstanding Woman of the Year and Distinguished Teacher of the Year at her college. Her doctoral research focused on teacher training for basic writing instructors that combined writing pedagogy with personal success strategies. Her chapter “Changing Perceptions, and Ultimately Practices, of Basic Writing Instructors through the Familia Approach” was published in With Latino/A Students, Lessons Learned at Hispanic-Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2007). Reading and writing has always been Barbara’s passions, with a focus on non-fiction and meaningful reflections of life and all its beauty as well as its challenges. Barbara feels to live is to observe and to observe most deeply is to write. Only in the depth of our reflections can we truly learn and grow through any of our perceived limitations.

Besides writing, her passion is teaching about the Holocaust. Barbara received a scholarship to the Center of Advanced Holocaust Studies to study at Washington, D.C.’s Holocaust Museum. In addition, Dr. Jaffe completed a two-year Master Teacher Program with the USC Shoah Foundation, in which she researched and learned how to integrate survivor testimonies within her writing courses.  She is also a docent at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. A fourth generation San Franciscan native, she has spent her adult life living in Los Angeles with her husband, three sons, one grandson, and her very sweet poodle/bichon Emma.

So meaningful to me

butterfliesYou know, it’s hard to figure out what to share here, and I know self promotion is rampant and I am as tired of it as you are, but sometimes I get emails from people who have found my book, #Replacement Child, and I am so moved I want to tell you all about it. Just this morning, I got this email from a woman in Ireland who found my book referenced online. This kind of email is why I wrote the book, and why I am glad I did.

Hi judy,
I have just ordered your book and can’t wait to read it.
For some reason last night when I lay in bed, I started to get upset about childhood issues. I decided to look up a child that comes after death of a sibling. Wow! One click on google and I realise something at the age of 36! I was a replacement child. I always knew my position in the family in that I came after death of a brother. But now suddenly I have an actual position that is recognised! I felt huge relief is all I can say but also amazement at how I did not realise that’s what I was , a replacement child! Feel a bit stupid too. I ordered your book and I am looking forward to reading it. I don’t feel so alone now.   I am married with kids but have always felt alone and different. Why am I telling you this?! Why email you?! I don’t know. You are a stranger who knows what I am feeling somewhat and after last night revelation I had to tell someone 🙂! Thank you,
B. in Ireland

I wrote back and asked her if I could share this, and she wrote:

Thanks for your reply. Yes of course you may use my mail for your blog. I actually feel found judy. It’s actually the single most exciting thing I feel to have happened for me. Struggling all my life with guilt of being on this earth in place of my brother. I don’t blame anyone, I always said, it’s just life , no ones fault. But the pain and unworthy feeling all my life has been crushing. Grateful to you and others for being there on Google , thank you from the bottom of my heart. When others verbalise another’s secret pain it is so liberating. Happy beyond words. Excited for a new chapter in life . Bless you X 

Read my new story in 34th Parallel Magazine

Read my new story, Legacy, at 34th Parallel Magazine’s site. You can also order the print copy on the their website. It’s a pretty cool pub with some outstanding writers. This is my first published piece of fiction, so I am pretty pumped! Thanks 34th Parallel!

Thanks for reading!

 

OMG! #Replacement Child is NY Times Best Seller!

Just heard that Replacement Child is a NY Times Best Seller! Thank you Seal Press! Thank you anyone who has read Replacement Child. Of course, thank you Al, Florence, Linda and Donna.#NYTimesBestseller @SealPress

Surreal day – Replacement Child is #1 on Amazon in overall memoir category

Amazon Best Sellers- Best Memoirs_Page_1

When a child dies and another is born: response to Yahoo article

Recently, I was interviewed following the news that a family just welcomed a new child into their family after tragically losing their six-year-old in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting two years ago. You can see the article here:   https://www.yahoo.com/parenting/when-a-child-dies-and-another-is-born-103051055797.html.

The reporter asked me some relevant questions about my own experience, being born after a sibling has died, that was the topic of my memoir, Replacement Child. It was also in relation to a new book coming out in the Spring of 2015, Replacement Children: Personal Journeys, co-written by Dr. Abigail Brenner, a San Francisco Psychiatrist, and Rita Battat Silverman. In full disclosure, the three of us have formed a unique friendship over the past few years, bonded by this very topic.

I thought the article was a good one, well written and sourced, and I was unprepared for the backlash in many of the comments on the Yahoo Parenting website. Most of the negative comments were in reaction to the very term ‘replacement child.’ I’ve known for quite some time that this term is offensive to some; especially parents who have lost a child and had a subsequent child. And, frankly, my own mother would have hated it if she had ever had a chance to weigh in on the title of my book. Sadly, she had passed away by that time. I also would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I have had misgivings about that title. Perhaps Healing Child may have been better? And, in my case, accurate to a degree. But not entirely.

The response on the website, over 450 comments at this writing, also highlights the reason why this psychological categorization has been so ignored for so long. Who wants to think they treat their child as a replacement, or that we may be one?

As the article points out, the term ‘replacement child’ was coined in the 60’s by husband and wife psychiatrist team Albert and Barbara Cain—not by me or Dr. Brenner or Rita Battat Silverman. The truth is that people like Rita and myself find great comfort in understanding the reasons behind our complicated issues of identity and self-worth; to be able to recognize our value as unique individuals. Our goal in writing our stories is to bring awareness to a sometimes-ignored psychological syndrome, for those who may find they identify with its characteristics, and for psychiatrists to be able to identify in their patients.

Following the death of their daughter when a plane crashed into their home, my parents didn’t have access to the kind of in-depth grief counseling that is available today, which would have prepared them more fully to welcome a new family member. It would have made the transition easier for them, and for me growing up.

No subsequent child need be a replacement of any kind. When a child is honored as a new, special individual, and parents have been able to adequately grieve for their previous loss, the new child can be the healing, joyful addition to the family that the parents intended.

Reaction to the 3-year-old girl in Miss., asked to leave restaurant because of scars

Lin Garden Drive010The story this morning about the three-year-old girl who was asked to leave a KFC restaurant in Jackson, Miss. by an employee there who said her scars were disturbing customers, gave me a chill and brought back sharp memories of my sister.

Her grandmother had stopped there, on the way home from the hospital, to get her mashed potatoes because she had trouble swallowing after surviving an attack by three pit bulls. Even though that incident is horrendous, and my heart goes out to this little girl for her physical suffering, it is the action of the restaurant employee that is most disturbing to me.

We could file it under “what is wrong with people?” And, maybe we should feel equally sorry for the employee who was insensitive enough to inflict unnecessary harm, undoubtedly adding psychological scars to the visible ones.

I can’t help thinking back to my sister, Linda, who was badly scarred from a fire that resulted from a plane crash when she was just two. Like this little girl today, Linda was often stared at, avoided, and ostracized for the way she looked. As her sister, I was witness through the years to how cruel people can be when presented with someone different than themselves. I wrote about many of those instances in my book, Replacement Child, when I would stare down other children who stared at her. But, it wasn’t only children. They can be forgiven for their curiosity, until an adult explains that the object of their curiosity is a child just like themselves, and instills understanding and empathy.

My mother was the one who took on the role of educating teachers and parents at the first school my sister attended. She knew what Linda would face, because she had seen it on bus rides, department stores and walks through town. The PTA allowed her to make presentations at meetings, so that by the time my sister entered kindergarten, the teachers were poised to prepare her class.

My parents assured her that inside beauty counted most of all, and that she was indeed beautiful.

I’m hoping that parents who read about this most recent incident in Miss., use it as a teachable moment for their children. Kindness is not inherent, it needs to be taught and modeled time after time by sensitive, caring parents.

You can read the story I am referring to here.

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Writers! I am leading a workshop at the Write Your Memoir Now workshop retreat, sponsored by the National Association of Memoir Writers, in October. Sign up now for discounts and special bonus!

Dad: Re-Visited on #Father’s Day

Dad beach 1953012I can see my dad bent over his watchmaker’s bench, jeweler’s monocle in his right eye, squinting the left shut while he scrutinized a diamond. Dad didn’t have much hair from the time I could remember, but in this crouch there was always one wayward black-gray strand dangling in front of the monocle.

He proudly displayed his framed Gemologist certificate behind the diamond showcase in his small shop in Elizabeth, New Jersey. As a kid, I could never figure out why that piece of paper, earned after a short course in identifying the quality of diamonds and other gems, meant so much to him. It wasn’t until much later that I realized it was the only graduation certificate he ever received. Another reason he insisted I get a college education.

My dad and I operated like far-flung planets in the same solar system; my mom and my sister our shared moons, but never sharing the same orbit. I worshipped him as a child. At first because he could pick me up over the waves at Bradley Beach, protecting me from their washing machine swirl, the sand-caked bathing suit, gulps of ocean and salt-stung eyes, if I stayed close enough for him to grab me and lift me at just the right moment when the wave peaked its highest.

Staying close was not always easy. He would wade ahead of me in the surf until I got up the courage to run after him and cling to an arm or leg. Off the beach, he was home for only a couple of hours each night before bedtime, just one full day each week on Sunday. He never left his shop in someone else’s hands. “That was just asking for trouble,” he said.

Sunday was his bowling league, and I would beg to be taken along to watch or play pinball in the arcade area. I remember him being reluctant, giving me a fist full of quarters to keep me occupied while he competed with his team. He was pretty good too, and taught me how to hit a split for a spare.

He was always reading a couple of books at a time. Usually the newest popular fiction by his favorite authors: James Michener, Herman Wouk or Leon Uris. When he was propped up in bed, book leaning on his tummy and his black reading glasses balanced on his nose, I knew not to interrupt. Sometimes his bedside radio played softly.

Dad was the one who went out into the unknown world, encountering strangers daily, slaying the dragon of commerce with a very small sword. I was right to think him brave, even if I didn’t know why.

He was fifty when his shop went under, I suspect because of his generosity in extending credit and cutting prices when someone “needed” an engagement ring or a gift for Mother’s Day. Just 10 then, I remember he and Mom telling us the news, assuring us that everything would be fine. And, it was fine. Dad got a job with a jewelry chain and probably had the most productive years of his life. He won prizes for his incredible salesmanship, beating his own goals year after year. After his death, I found a letter from one of those bosses, folded into a tiny square of yellowed stationary and tucked into a strong box under his bed, praising his skill and expertise. It made me think of that Gemologist certificate, lost long ago.

I tried to stay close over the years, hoping he would always lift me over dangerous waves. It wasn’t until I wrote my memoir, Replacement Child, that I understood the illusive chasm between us. That the memory of my sister, killed in a plane crash when she was seven, was never far from his mind. What could be more of a reminder than a daughter who looked, and for all I know sounded, similar to his lost girl?

I learned a great deal about Dad from writing through his ordeal following that horrendous accident, pieced together from often-told stories, news articles and family notes. The hurt at being his “replaced” daughter faded and I came to understand just how brave a man he really was.

Off to the #IPPY!

It is actually surreal. Last year at this time I was recovering from major surgery and reading the news of books being awarded the IPPY in New York City just prior to the Book Expo. My book had just come out, and I had missed some opportunities to promote it because of illness. Winning an award was the farthest thing from my mind. But, how cool would it be to be with all those writers in a room celebrating an accomplishment like that?

I can’t help thinking back to when I was deep in the quagmire of finding my way through writing Replacement Child. Struggling with the voice for the story, the structure that would tell it best, the paralyzing responsibility to tell it right. A memoir does that to you. It’s deeper than a story. It’s your story. Often, your family’s story.

I know that all of the writers that I will be meeting tonight at the IPPY celebration have gone through the same angst with their own books, and it will be a little like meeting long lost relatives. I can’t wait!

 

What is Your Memoir “Voice” — and How Do You Find It?


When I began photowriting my memoir, Replacement Child, I struggled to find the right voice for the story. I experimented with a child’s voice; then explored it through my mother’s eyes, my sister’s and most revealing to me, my father’s viewpoint. At the time, I felt like I was spinning my wheels and wasting precious time. But, looking back, none of that writing was wasted, even though most never found its way into the final version of the book. All of it was necessary to help me discover the style that I felt best relayed my story.

If you think of voice as it pertains to other art forms, it’s what sets the artist apart from others. So that, for example, you can identify a Monet from a Picasso, even if the subject matter may be the same. Likewise, you can read the first page of The Glass Castle and hear that Jeannette Wall’s voice is completely different than Mary Karr’s in The Liar’s Club. Both books are about tragic childhoods, but each has a completely different personality of its own. It may take you some experiments with your writing to find the voice that works best to unify the structural elements of your story.

Voice is difficult to describe, and I remember being befuddled by references to “finding my voice” as a new writer. An author’s voice is her style of writing that is made up of the patterns and cadences of sentences, her habits in punctuation and the kind of language used. It should make the book unique and interesting, and be integral to the story without distracting the reader. Especially in memoir, voice should be a tool to convey the emotion around the events.

I firmly believe that everyone has their own unique writing voice that can be unearthed through practice and dogged re-writing. Laraine Herring says in her book, Writing Begins with the Breath, that we are all schooled not to write authentically, but to mimic others, to hide our authentic voice because we are afraid of being vulnerable. To the question, how do you know “when you are, well, you?” she says:

“You practice your writing. You allow yourself to move deeper      and deeper into the heart of your pieces. You stand beside yourself, detached yet present, as you journey deep inside. You test yourself, as you bring forth poem after poem and story after story from within you. You honestly assess your work. Ask yourself these questions:

    • Is this the truth? (Not the literal truth, but the truth of that work).
    • What have I left out?
    • Why have I left that out?
    • What would happen if I added that which I left out back in?
    • Where have I written around the story?
    • Have I addressed the question of the story, or have I avoided it?”

If you are working on a memoir, I hope you will join me for my online course in June, Finding Your Voice in Memoir, sponsored by the National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW). NAMW is also offering the Write Your Memoir Now workshop retreat weekend in October at The Water’s Edge Resort & Spa in Westbrook, Connecticut with workshop intensives led by myself, Linda Joy Myers and Jerry Waxler. Space is limited, so sign up soon!

 

Finding Your Voice in Memoir

Write Your Memoir Now retreat