Dear Replacement Child Forum,
My name is Johanna and I am a replacement child. I replaced Johann, obediently, doing as was expected of me.
Johann had died three years before my birth, in a tragic car accident. Mother decided, I had four children, and I will have four children again. I abided by the request to replace Johann, and I am still doing it, to this day! I am still hiding myself, my talents and most of all, my femininity. Deep down there are the early imprints of those expectations! And I cannot let go of them though I am now much more conscious, knowing a lot more about the replacement child condition.
Deep within myself, I still believe that there will be a catastrophe when I find my identity, when I find my mature self, when I might be seen for who I am. I still have great fear to be seen. But I do not give up and I am grateful that I found people who have accompanied me on my often, very, very lonely path and who have given me their support. I am so happy I found Ms. Schellinski and I am profoundly grateful for the existence of the Replacement Child Forum – a platform by and for replacement children and therapists.
Nevertheless, I still feel this unspeakable loneliness. Perhaps because until now, there are very few people who understand what it means to be a replacement child. It’s a dimension that seems to overwhelm many people. They can simply not imagine the consequences.
I find it challenging, even tiring, to walk this fine line. When do I show myself with all my pain? What do I say when I am asked: What is a replacement child? Even the question hurts because it makes me feel not understood, not seen, not recognized in my pain. And, what shall be the words, to what extent might I answer? In order not to overwhelm the other, nor to find myself belittled when people respond: ‘but that has always existed, children died and new ones were born…’. Because they do not know about this condition, they may react this way.
There is not much research and literature, though as Cain, the pioneering professor has noted in Schellinski’s book, the literature is “slowly but steadily evolving.”
How often have I looked into quizzical, skeptical faces when I told my doctors or previous therapists about the drama of the replacement child!
I would like to say to parents who lose a child: do mourn, have the courage to mourn fully, try to avoid burdening a new child with the grief and the responsibility to replace. But as I get older, I also realize that the replacement child condition cannot be seen in isolation, it is linked to the particularities in a family structure.
We replacement children need support, public knowledge and professional support. It is absolutely essential that families and professionals, and all those who can help, become aware of the consequences.
I am also asking myself, especially in these unsettling times, whether one or the other big politician was not a replacement child, and what role that might play in their decision- making and style of governing.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my story.
This letter was translated from German by Kristina Schellinski
Response to Johanna from Judy Mandel at Replacement Child Forum:
It is still so validating for me to hear other replacement children share their individual stories. We are all different, but so alike in many ways. Until I met Kristina and Rita (our Replacement Child Forum co-founders), I felt very alone in this. Like being a member of a club no one admits to joining!
What strikes me more and more is that we are all still the same children inside. Even as we grow intellectually and may move beyond feelings of confused identity and the impossibility of living up to the promise of a different child, the underlying feelings may linger. I can say this is still the case for me, even now in my 60’s.
I am so glad to hear, Johanna, that you found Kristina to help you work through understanding how being a replacement child impacts your life. We are hoping that through this forum more therapists will be aware of the condition. All three of us have had experience with therapy that never took our replacement child status into account.
For me, it was in the writing of my memoir that I stumbled on replacement child research and realized how I identified with the condition. It explained so much! As I have gained more empathy for my parents’ anguish in losing their first daughter in a plane crash, I know that forgiveness has eclipsed the anger I felt early on—especially at my father for his withholding. Since he had been dead for five years by the time I’d recognized his role, about a year into my writing of my book, I couldn’t resolve anything directly with him. But slowly I also remembered his dedication to his family. How he taught me to sing. How to appreciate a good book. And how he made me laugh. No one is just one thing, right? He was not able to reconcile his anger and sadness over the death of his first born with the appearance of this new daughter—me. Ultimately I have to forgive him.
Thank you so much for your letter Johanna. It helps any other replacement children who read it and feel less alone. May your work with Kristina give you the peace that you seek.
All my best,
Response from Rita Battat at Replacement Child Forum:
Thank you for sharing your story and your feelings with us. At one time, all of us felt we were alone experiencing this “thing“ with no name, no explanations and nowhere to turn to get answers to questions we did not even know to ask.
When I finally put pieces of my own life together and realized how many of us were struggling with the same issue, I along with my co-author, gathered firsthand stories, and whatever other information that was out there, for our book, Replacement Children: The Unconscious Script (The second edition of our book will be coming out in a few weeks). My motivation for writing the book was to connect to others and give a voice to a community of people who, like myself, may struggle with issues beyond the usual trials and tribulations of childhood.
Each personal story that was shared expressed similar struggles. Even with all our various circumstances, there are similarities of patterns of thoughts, feelings and emotional issues that run between all of us.
Unfortunately, even most good therapists are unfamiliar with this condition which is often the root of many emotional issues. You were very fortunate to find Kristina!
Living life in the shadow of someone else’s identity and being the “designated“ person to fill a hole and heal a family is a tall (and impossible ) order for any child. I think we have to embrace and accept our experiences so we can move forward. Don’t skip over even small successful moments. It is fine to have big dreams as an ultimate goal, but celebrating accomplishments along the way is equally as important! Some call it being in the moment. I call it “happy.”
Congratulations to you for holding on to your truth and going forward. It’s not your responsibility to try to be there for everyone else. Listen to your own intuition and don’t let those who cannot see convince you that you are hallucinating!!
We hope that you find a helpful support system here at the Replacement Child Forum.
Thank you again for your letter. It will be a big help to others.
With best wishes,