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!

Discovering Your Mother Through Writing #Memoir

Recently, I had a discussion with my friend Linda Joy Myers, President of the National Association of Memoir Writers, about how writing our memoirs had given us both new perspectives on our relationships with our mothers. Ours were very different journeys, but what resonated in our discussion was how the writing brought clarity, understanding and forgiveness. We thought we would try to capture that conversation here in honor of Mother’s Day.

 

OR LINK to the video

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.

An Interview That Made Me Think

Last week I had a conversation with Dr. Abigail Brenner, who blogs for Psychology Today, about her experiences with replacement children, and mine being one. Although I’ve written a great deal about the topic, our conversation brought up some new insights for me. You can read it on the Psychology Today site here.

 

Carl Gustav Jung on the replacement child

carl_jung-glassesJung was a replacement child

Carl Gustav Jung was born on July 26, 1875 after his mother Emilie mourned the deaths of three children: a daughter stillborn on July 19,1870, a second daughter stillborn on April 3, 1872 and a son named Paul named after his father, born on August 18, 1873 who died five days later.(Deirdre Bair, Jung, A Biography, 2004, p. 18)

“I know only that I am without knowing what I am” (p. 304, Red Book)

“I feel very strongly that I am under the influence of things or questions which were left incomplete and unanswered by my parents and grandparents and more distant ancestors. It often seems as if there were an impersonal karma within a family which is passed on from parents to children.” C.G. Jung (Memoires, Dreams and Reflections, p. 233)

On healing the replacement child: Finding identity

“The psyche is transformed or developed by the relationship of the ego to the contents of the unconscious“ which is “the central concept of my psychology: the process of individuation,” says Carl Gustav Jung. (MDR, p.209)

Jung on the legacy of the dead: trans-generational impact

“These… are the dead, not just your dead, that is all the images of the shapes you took in the past, which your ongoing life has left behind, but also the thronging dead of human history, the ghostly procession of the past, …I see behind you, behind the mirror of your eyes, the crush of dangerous shadows, the dead, who look greedily through empty sockets of your eyes, who moan and hope to gather up through you all the loose ends of the ages, which sigh in them. Your cluelessness does not prove anything. Put your ear to that wall and you will hear the rustling of their procession.” Carl Gustav Jung, The Red Book, Liber Secundus, p. 296

“the dead will besiege you terribly to live your unlived life”. (C.G. Jung, RB, page 308)