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.

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!

Getting to Know My Mother

MomFav     0069_1Some of us get to know our mothers better after they have passed from this life, through writing about them. It can be one of the benefits of writing a memoir, that we gain a unique insight from mining our life experience through a writerly lens.

Writing, by necessity, makes us take notice of the details surrounding an event or a meaningful moment in our lives. Sometimes the writing helps us see the significance in a conversation, or the scar left by a parent’s action or inaction. This was certainly the case as I wrote the chapters for my memoir Replacement Child. The writing especially let me understand how losing her eldest daughter affected my mother’s life.

By writing the scenes of my mother’s true-life nightmare in the aftermath of a plane crashing into her home, I gained an understanding of the depth of her grief and the struggle she had to go on with her life. And old friend of hers told me of a phone conversation shortly after the accident, in which my mother confided that she just wanted to walk into the ocean. As I wrote about her strength in caring for my surviving sister, through years of surgery and rehabilitation, and then her hopefulness in having another child, I knew more about her intrinsic character than I ever did during her lifetime. And, when I realized how my mother and I both suffered from my father’s indifference, I was relieved to learn the secret of my mother’s affair with a family friend. Glad that she had found someone to show her that kind of love for however long it lasted.

Researching my book, I found myself awed by the evidence of my mother’s strength. As a child, I had no insight into what it took for her to give herself over to loving another child (me), with her new knowledge that the child could be snatched from her without warning; that the world was an arbitrary and dangerous place. Writing about my mother, I gradually realized that the pain of losing a child never goes away. It became a new way of being for her. But, although her pain may have defined her, it never stopped her from giving her love fully, deeply, and completely.

If she were alive today, she would be a wonderful role model for parents who have lost children and go on to have others. Still, she is such a model, if I tell it right.

A Psychoanalyst’s View of the Replacement Child

butterfliesRecently, I had the good fortune of speaking at length with psychoanalyst Kristina Schellinski about her in-depth work with replacement children in her practice.

Kristina Schellinski has an M.A. in Political Science and Literature. She worked for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in New York and Geneva from 1983-1998 and received her Diploma as Jungian Psychoanalyst and Psychotherapist from the C.G. Jung Institute in Zürich in 2002. She practices as a Jungian Analyst in Geneva, Switzerland. She is a training analyst and supervisor at ISAP (International School of Analytical Psychology), Zürich and a member of IAAP, AGAP, ASP and EAP, the Swiss and European Association of Psychotherapists, and a founding member of the Rencontres Jungiennes at Lavigny, Switzerland.

Judy: Thanks so much for sharing some of your insights with my readers. I understand that you have done a great deal of research on replacement children; children who are born after the death of another child in the family. Can you explain what brought you to the subject, and why you feel it’s an important topic to research and write about now?

K.S.: Being born after the death of another child may be a very special experience; depending on the circumstances, this may mean being born in the shadow of death of another human being, whereby one’s own life may slowly over a lifetime reveal itself as being overshadowed by the “presence of the absence” of the other.

Whether the joy of the newborn – or the sorrow of the one who was lost before, will be in the foreground of the consciousness of the parent, in the unconscious of the child there is the other who was not – and who she or he is to replace. Yet if she or he replaces that other child who died before, he or she is not really himself or herself…  This is the existential dilemma of the replacement child.

I have found many persons suffering from the replacement child syndrome, sometimes even in the second or third generation, i.e. those born to replacement children, or even their grandchildren, still may carry this special type of suffering in their soul.

I discovered this in the late stages of my training as an Analytical Psychologist at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zürich.

Judy: Do you have any personal experience as a replacement child, or with replacement children?

K.S.:  I was born six months after my baby-brother died of an undiagnosed appendicitis at the age of two. I knew this fact, growing up, but I only started to understand it meant for my own life and my relationships during my analysis when  training to become a psychoanalyst.  Research in the 1960 with children rescued from the Holocaust had first identified the specific suffering of the replacement child.

Judy: How about in your own practice? I understand that you have treated replacement children. Have you found similarities among them as to the issues they face? What are some of them that you find most often?

K.S.:  I have worked with many adult replacement children in my practice, and with children of replacement children and even with grandchildren of replacement children.  When we try to imagine the terrible loss the parents suffer when loosing a child, we can but begin to imagine the effect this may have on their attachment to a child born thereafter.

Judy: Do you find that parents are aware that they are having, or have had, a replacement child? And do they usually prefer the term ‘subsequent child?’

K.S.:  In my experience, it depends on the grieving process, whether the parents were able to have help and receive empathy and understanding and whether there was enough time between the loss of the child and a new child being born.  Sometimes, the grieving may have been so hard, that the awareness is not there, is dissociated or cut off together with the unbearable grief over the loss.  “Subsequent” child may be a term which recognizes that no human being can truly replace another one; each human being is unique. Yet, the term “subsequent” still evokes the presence of the other.

Judy: Can you talk about the spectrum of issues you see with replacement children? Some who may have more issues than others, and why there is that difference?

K.S.:  Each person, also each replacement child is unique, also in their suffering.  There may be some issues that are faced by many: such as the quest for their true identity, feelings of survivor’s guilt, difficulties in their own relationships, their attachment patterns… Their level of awareness, and the degree of consciousness of the parents may also play a role.

Judy: Are there measures that you believe parents can take to minimize any potential negative effects of having a child subsequent to another child’s death? What would you advise parents to look out for?

K.S.: First and foremost, the parents are advised to live through their grief as consciously and completely as humanely possible, hopefully assisted. Leave enough time between the loss of a child and a new conception.  Watch your fantasies and images, that they may not merge the two.  Do not name the new child with the same name, or any recall to the name of the lost child.  Be mindful of the unique new being that will be born and that is not to replace anyone – but just to develop to the fullest potential possible of his or her own new life.

Judy: Are there any surprises as yet with your research? Things about replacement children or their parents that you did not expect?

K.S.: What has surprised me in the beginning was the level of unconsciousness about this issue – of the replacement child or their parents; later on, what surprised me is that one can still find traces of this two, three generations later.

The most wonderful surprise – if I may call it that, is that the soul of a replacement child will try and find a way to resurrect, to come into being, to rediscover – from under the ashes of a replacement-like existence – the true originality which may once have been lost.  Seeing how an individual may rediscover the inalienable self that was once smothered by the others’ shadowy memory is like a miracle which never ceases to amaze me in practice.

Judy: What is your advice to those who discover that being a replacement child may have had a negative effect on their life?

K.S.: Do seek good counseling! Try to understand yourself, your life.  This is one promising way of discovering who you really are, of stepping into your own life.

The clarity to see inner beauty – my story of Purim

33 Mom & Dad at the Purim festival

I wanted to be Queen Esther. She was the real hero in the Purim play.

Purim is the Feast of Lots, commemorating the Jews being saved once again from extinction. There were never enough parts for girls, and I was cast as Esther’s uncle, Mordechai. I wore a black mustache and cape, which almost made up for not being the queen.

I instinctively loved Queen Esther, whose name is derived from the Hebrew saiter, meaning concealment. The story goes that she saw through to her hidden role to save her people. Her other name—Hadassah—references the clarity of her eyes to see beyond surface realities to inner beauty.

Esther belonged to no one. Her father died before her birth, her mother in childbirth. Loneliness nurtured her, preparing her for her purpose and making her a master at breaking through the illusory trappings of the physical world.

The Purim carnival featured homemade games. Knocking over milk bottles, bursting balloons with darts, throwing ping-pong balls into fishbowls to win a goldfish.

My mother and father were always the “Pic-a-Pocket Lady” and “Pic-a-Pocket Man” at the carnival. My mother sewed the costumes on her brown Singer sewing machine. Sliding material under the needle, she turned the fabric around and around while she worked the foot pedal, pulling out the straight pins as she sewed, holding them between her lips.

Her outfit had a swingy pink and blue flowered skirt covered with pockets. A poofy yellow silk flower in her blouse “just for fun.” Big gold hoop earrings to “fill my gypsy spirit.”

My father wore a straw hat from New Year’s Eve. His vest and pants had about fifty pockets sewn on them. He wore a tray over his shoulders “like a cigarette girl” with extra prizes to refill the pockets.

“Stay with your big sister,” my mother told me before the carnival started. “Come get me if you need me.”

I didn’t have to ask what she meant.

Later, she saw us both sitting in a corner and came to check on us. The toys in her pockets clacked as she sat down.

“The kids pushed me away from that bowling game. They said they are afraid they’ll catch whatever made me look like this,” Linda told her.

I nodded yes when my mother looked over at me. She got up and walked away, coming back in a few minutes and telling us to go back to the game. Linda and I looked at each other, agreeing silently to trust our mother and try again. Sure enough, all those kids had changed their attitude. I learned later that my mother had gone over and explained that Linda was not contagious, it was only scars from burns that they saw, and she elicited the support of the woman running the game.

Queen Esther could see beyond the facade of reality and make others see it, too.

 

Excerpted from Replacement Child – a memoir.

Grieving, Subsequent Children, and the Replacement Child, After the Death of a Child

Abigail Brenner, M.D.Guest interview with Abigail Brenner, M.D.

I conducted this interview with Abigail Brenner, M.D., several weeks ago. It now seems to have a new relevance in light of the Newtown tragedy as I asked her the questions I so often hear concerning replacement children.

Dr. Brenner is a psychiatrist in private practice. A board certified psychiatrist in practice for more than 30 years, Dr. Brenner is a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. Her work has focused on understanding change and the challenges and opportunities afforded by change in relationship to major life transitions. She is the author of Transitions: How Women Embrace Change and Celebrate Life, SHIFT: How to Deal When Life Changes, and co-author of The Essential Guide to Baby’s First Year (Alpha Books, a member of the Penguin Group).

Judy: Dr. Brenner, thanks so much for sharing some of your insights with my readers. I understand that you are doing research right now, along with your co-author, for a new book about replacement children; children who are born after the death of another child in the family. Can you explain what brought you to the subject, and why you feel it’s an important topic to research and write about now?

Dr. Brenner:  A very dear friend is a replacement child and through many conversations with her I’ve become aware of the many issues replacement children face. Since I’ve written several other books she thought it would be good to work together writing about replacement children. When I began to do research on the topic I realized how little exists on the topic.

My co-author has since been in touch with other replacement children, many as adults, and it became apparent that there are so many issues the replacement child has to face, often moving forward through their lives.

Judy: Do you have any personal experience as a replacement child, or with replacement children?

Dr. Brenner: I am not a replacement child and most of my initial understanding has come from the friend I just mentioned, plus the replacement children I’ve been in touch with since.

Judy: How about in your practice? Have you treated replacement children, or parents of replacement children? And, if so, have you found similarities among them as to the issues they face? What are some of them that you find most often?

Dr. Brenner: It’s interesting, but I don’t believe I’ve treated replacement children during my years of practice. I say, believe, because although I’ve known many people who have had “subsequent” children, I was not aware of the phenomenon of a child born to specifically replace a child who had passed away.

I use the term “subsequent” to describe a child born after another child in the family has died, but in this scenario, the parents want that child and have carefully thought out what having another child would mean for the family. That child is a unique individual unto themselves and is not meant to serve as a replacement for another child.

In interviews with several replacement children there appears to be a spectrum of issues and symptoms—which I talk about a little later on.

Judy: Do you find that parents are aware that they are having, or have had, a replacement child? And do they usually prefer the term ‘subsequent child?’

Dr. Brenner: Many people are totally unaware that they are having another child to make up for the loss of a child who has passed away. Many parents have been urged by their doctors and family to have another child to make up for the loss. When you search the literature about the profound grief that surrounds the death of a child, especially an infant who is stillborn or a child who dies shortly after birth, you find little understanding about the absolute necessity for the grieving process. Many people have another child and have not grieved for the lost child. Sometimes there is incomplete grief that lasts a lifetime.

Judy: Can you talk about the spectrum of issues you see with replacement children? Some who may have more issues than others, and why there is that difference?

Dr. Brenner: There appears to be a constellation of issues and symptoms. The experience of a replacement child seems to exist along a continuum—from the most extreme, to individuals barely aware that they are replacement children, to a larger population of individuals who recognize themselves in a middle-of-the-road position. We want to talk about all of these in our book.

Classically, parents often don’t complete the grieving process and continue to mourn the death of their child. The replacement child often feels inadequate to compete with the deceased child since they are often compared to an idealized version of the child who has died. To the parents, these children would have been perfect and brilliant in every way and the replacement child often feels the need to be perfect to be able to compete with their idealized sibling. Parents are often overprotective, controlling, and intrusive in the lives of children (especially replacement children) after they have suffered the loss of another child.

Replacement children sometimes don’t acknowledge their own need for help, have difficulty with guilt, are frequently aware of their parents’ vulnerability and attempt to take care of their parents’ fragile emotional state.

Judy: I have to say that I relate to all of what you’ve just said, as a replacement child, which I never thought of myself as until writing my memoir and facing many of those issues. Are there measures that you believe parents can take to minimize any negative effects of having a child subsequent to another child’s death? What would you advise parents to look out for?

Dr. Brenner: I would advise parents to take the time necessary to understand what has happened to them and to get professional help, if necessary, BEFORE they have a subsequent child. I would tell parents that grief is absolutely expected but that working through this process is essential for being able to move on—to never forget, but to be able to move on in life in a healthy way.

Judy: Are there any surprises as yet with your research? Things about replacement children or their parents that you did not expect?

Dr. Brenner: I am surprised that the therapeutic community, until relatively recently, has not understood the grieving process for parents who have lost a child.  I’m also surprised at the lack of research necessary to help parents work through their “unfinished business”— before they decide to become parents once again, for any subsequent child.

Judy: What is your advice to those who discover that being a replacement child may have had a negative effect on their life?

Dr. Brenner: Hopefully, with the publication of your memoir, Replacement Child, Judy, and our book, people will find explanations and resources for many issues they had not been aware of for much of their lives. Perhaps, you and I can put together some resources such as therapists that are familiar with and/or have treated replacement children and/or support groups for those who are searching for answers.

Approaching therapy (especially for those who have been in therapy previously when they were not aware) with the recognition that many factors may have influenced how they’ve lived their life up to now may help focus on those specific issues that may shed new light and allow for a new and broader perspective.

Judy: Thanks so much Abigail.

You may also be interested in Dr. Brenner’s latest blog addressing issues of siblings who have lost a brother or sister to the Newtown tragedy:

The Forgotten Mourners: Strategies to Help Bereaved Surviving Siblings

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-flux/201212/the-forgotten-mourners

Her website is: www.abigailbrenner.com

 

A Message of Hope for Newtown Parents

birdMy mother always told me that life was never the same for her after she lost her first-born child. Like the tragedy in Newtown that took 20 precious children, at the hands of a gunman surely struggling with his own demons, there was no sense to be made of my sister’s death. We can rail at gun control laws that are failing us, at a mother who thought she had a need for assault weapons in her home, at a system that may have failed a troubled young man.

But, I want to offer a measure of hope for the families of the lost children.

My parents lost their 7-year-old daughter in a tragic accident many years ago. Though it was a different circumstance, a plane crashing into their home, it was also the loss of a child through sudden tragedy. A loss that brought an abrupt and cruel end to the hopes and dreams any parent has for their child. At six and seven, children are seeing the joy in their everyday life and re-teaching their parents to see it too. We take that journey back with them, and they show us what we forget to treasure. Images of my own son at that age have come back to me over the last few days in hearing about the Newtown massacre, and seeing the photos of the children. I remember how excited he was to be learning about the world, making new friends, finding his own voice. Losing him would have been the end of my world, as it seemed for my parents, and as it seems for the parents in Newtown right now.

But, I learned an invaluable lesson from my parents’ journey through their grief. Even though they had no professional guidance, and floundered with how to go on, they did find their way. They also had another child at the time, a two-year-old who was injured in the plane crash and fire, and they rallied to nurse her back to health. It may have been a mixed blessing that they had no time to dwell on their loss of their older daughter, though I know she never left their hearts for the rest of their lives. And, in many ways, she was with them always. Later, they had another child—me.

I’m not suggesting platitudes for the grief stricken parents that life goes on. I will say that I learned from my parents’ story that we sometimes expect too much of ourselves when tragedy strikes. That ‘normal’ may have a new definition. That grieving has it’s own timetable for every individual, and we each need to give each other permission to grieve in our own way.

My mother struggled with her new reality, I know, for a very long time. But, eventually she smiled. She laughed with her husband and her children again. And, though my parents grieved in very different ways, they found each other again and were able to build new family memories.

Prayers that parents in Newtown find their way home.

Lincoln’s Replacement Children

There is so much to talk about after seeing Lincoln this weekend, but since I have my Replacement Child lenses adjusted, I can’t help but focus on one scene in the film that touched on Lincoln as a husband and father.

In the scene we discover that Abe and Mary lost a child to illness as Abe rails at Mary for her extended grieving, and she in turn admonishes him for putting their oldest son, Robert, in harm’s way by allowing him to join the ranks of the Union soldiers.  When her grieving over the death of their son became too prolonged, in Lincoln’s view, he had apparently threatened Mary with having her committed to an asylum, (using the vernacular of the film). She tells him that if Robert dies in the war, he had better plan to really put her away, not just threaten it.

Two things about this scene, so beautifully rendered by Steven Spielberg and brought to life by Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field, struck me as I watched this relatively small scene in the epic film. First, Lincoln’s admission that he couldn’t allow his wife’s grieving to go on, because he couldn’t allow it in himself. And, that he feared he could be swallowed by that grief every day. But he went on with his daily routine, we are to assume, including his legendary presidential duties. His wife’s continued grieving, then, was an affront to his daily struggle to contain his own grief and fed his anger at her.

I saw that kind of difference in grieving, between men and women, and between individuals, in my own parents. As I wrote Replacement Child, I had to dig back into the evidence of my parents’ behaviors soon after the death of their eldest daughter, and then throughout the rest of their lives. As Mary Lincoln in the film showed, the grieving for a child really never ends. My own father went back to his work as soon as he could, never speaking of his lost daughter and going on with life by tucking his grief away. One of the few times I heard him utter her name was as he told me of his wishes for his own eventual remains, “to be cremated like my girl.” It was the only time I ever saw him cry. For my mother, she nearly disappeared into depression until she did have another child—who might be called a replacement child.

The other part of this relatively small detail brought out in the film was the realization that Mary’s other two children became somewhat replacement children after the loss of the other. She pinned her hopes on the other two, and knew she might not survive another child’s death. That, I reasoned, was why her response to Robert’s going to war was so intense. It’s a version of replacement children that I have not explored before this, that seems so obvious now—that it’s not just the subsequent child born after the death of a child that is a replacement child, but the remaining children that take on that role as well.

 

The Search for Self for the Replacement Child; Captured in a Poem by Victor Hugo

In the literature and research I have read, there is agreement on at least one of the characteristics of the replacement child; the search for an individual identity apart from the child they have replaced, or have been born after. I can attest to this personally, in that the search for my own identity and for my role in my family was the strongest drive for me to write Replacement Child.

Looking at more academic studies of replacement children, I was struck by these selected lines from the poem “The One Who Returned” by Victor Hugo (1802 – 85) that are included in the article, “Life After Death: The Replacement Child’s Search for Self,” by Kristina Schellinski as part of her thesis for the Association of Graduate Analytical Psychologists in Geneva, Switzerland (2009).

The One Who Returned

Mourning mothers, your cries are heard up above.

God, who holds all lost birds in the palm of His hand,

sometimes returns the same dove to the same nest.

oh mothers, the cradle is linked to the grave …

death entered like a thief and took him

a mother, a father, the grief,

the black coffin, the head struck against a wall

the dismal sobs from the pit of the stomach …

the mother, with her wounded heart,

remained three months immobile in the shadows …

quietly pleading: “give him back to me!”

The physician advised the father, “She needs a distraction

for her unhappy heart, the dead child needs a

brother” …

time passed … she felt the stirrings of motherhood

for the second time …

when suddenly, one day she turned pale

“No, no I do not want this! You would be jealous!”

Oh, my gentle slumbering child, who are frozen in the

ground,

you would say: “they are forgetting me; another has

taken my place,” no, no! …

The day came, she gave birth to another child,

and the father joyfully exclaimed: “It’s a boy!”

But the father alone was joyful …

whilst she was bitterly, despondently

dwelling more on the departed soul than on this new

son …

saying: “My angel lies alone in this grave!”

she heard, in an oh, so familiar voice,

the newborn speak, from the crook of her arm,

and very quietly whisper: “It is I. No one must know.”

 

The full text is in: “Les Contemplations”, Librairie Générale Francaise, 1972, translated into English by Julia Roessler)

The poem touches on some pivotal issues that have I have thought a great deal about in my own life, especially during the four years of writing my memoir. Whether in beginning life after the death of my sister, I somehow straddled both death and life. Whether I carried my sister within me in some sense, her imprint on my soul, as both Schellinski and Hugo hint? And whether my search has been for my own identity, or hers?