The Reality of the Replacement Child
We do exist!
Posted Mar 02, 2013
First, I think it’s important to acknowledge that we exist. That may seem simplistic, but in more therapy sessions than I care to count, the topic never came up. Don’t misunderstand me, my therapists were not negligent, and helped me in many ways. My point is that the idea of the ramifications of being a replacement child have not been in the mainstream, as my colleague on PT, Dr. Abigail Brenner, has noted in her writing as well. In my case, having been born to replace my sister who died was never explored as an indication of any underlying issues I may have had with relationships, identity, or indecision in my working life. Certainly it played a role in many of my life choices.
Other replacement children I have talked with relate similar experiences. Whether they were conceived after a sibling died of SIDS, or a tragic accident as in my case, these circumstances were not brought up in therapy. Adopted children, I’ve learned, may also be considered replacement children in circumstances where they have replaced a child that the parents may have wanted to conceive naturally. There is also a school of thought that proposes that children who survived the holocaust, and their children –possibly through several generations – continue to carry the responsibilities of living up to the promise of those who were killed.
Getting back to the lack of recognition of replacement children, I can only surmise that our ranks are virtually invisible.
Recently I spoke with Swedish psychoanalyst, Kristina Schellinski, who is herself a replacement child, and who has studied many replacement children in her practice. Schellinski noted:
“What has surprised me 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 way, 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.”
She also acknowledges that each replacement child may have different resulting issues:
“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.”
Of the replacement children, psychologists and psychiatrists I’ve spoken with, there is consensus that acknowledgement of being a replacement usually takes place later in adulthood. In my case, it took writing my memoir for me to recognize the fact. Others sometimes begin to look at causes for some life crisis, whether it’s divorce or a vague sense of floundering in one’s life goals.
I would love to have a conversation here with others who believe they are replacement children, or parents who have struggled with this issue. Perhaps you could share any support you have found through groups or an individual therapist. If you are a replacement child, how do you think it has had an impact on your life?
If you would like to read a more in-depth paper on the replacement child by Kristina Schellinski, it is available at:
More on the clinical nature of the replacement child from Dr. Abigail Brenner:
My memoir, Replacement Child, is also now available: