As 2014 draws to an end, it’s human nature to become reflective. We analyze where we are…where we thought we would be.
Where we thought we should be.
I’d dare say many of us feel like there are light years between how our lives are and how we thought our lives would be. Should be.
I’ve done much reflection lately. I’m sure I’m not alone.
My son would have been five last month. Five seems like a surreal number in the world of loss. That many years couldn’t possibly have gone by because it feels like it was yesterday.
Yesterday, they said, “I’m sorry. He’s gone.”
And still, in four days, we will celebrate my second son’s birthday. He will be four. He was born one year, one month and six days after his brother passed away.
Today, I read an article that called him a ‘Replacement Child,’ and my stomach turned. One doesn’t need to do much in-depth analysis of that term to gather its meaning–a child born to replace a dead sibling.
To be fair to the article, and those quoted in the article, I did a bit more research into the term ‘Replacement Child’ and found it is typically credited to work published in the American Academy of Child Psychiatry in 1964.
Wow. While I’d like to think we’ve come a long way in breaking the silence associated with pregnancy/child loss, clearly, we have a long way to go.
Digging more into this term, and those who use it and in what context it is used, I found more words that made my stomach sick.
According to Dr. Abigail Brenner (who is co-author of the upcoming book The Replacement Child), “…the classic definition of a replacement child is a child who is conceived to replace a deceased child.”
My children were conceived, after many, many years of heartache and infertility, via IVF. Three months after Matthew died, we attempted a frozen embryo transfer but were not successful. We then went straight into another fresh IVF cycle and Luke was conceived.
On purpose. And no, we would not have done that had Matthew lived.
But make no mistake. He was not conceived to replace Matthew.
People are not replaceable. Ever.
Let me repeat.
People are not EVER replaceable.
I think the thing that most upsets me about the various additional articles I read today (and again, to be fair, you can find them here, here and here and form your own judgements; it is certainly not my intention to be ugly to the authors of any of the articles or books to which I am referencing.) is the notion that there is a ‘right’ time to have children after you’ve lost one (or more).
This time is when parents “complete the grieving process” and “work through their unfinished business [of grief]”, and apparently, when this is done, the ‘new’ child is not a ‘replacement’ but ‘subsequent’ child. A subsequent child is “…loved and accepted for who he/she is in their own right and their emerging identity is nurtured and respected.”
Again, in fairness, Dr. Brenner does note that, “Clearly, the world of the classic RC [replacement child] represents a very unique situation and the factors surrounding it are very specific to the clinical presentation.” She is referring to situations where there is clinical psychological pathology and ensuing repercussions thereof.
But that specification–that in very specific and unique situations are children born to parents who suffer loss considered ‘replacements’ for their dead siblings–seems to be hidden and hard-found in the midst of the generality of the notion that children who are born after siblings pass are conceived/born to replace the deceased child.
Quick glances at articles such as the Yahoo one originally referenced in this post would simply lead you to believe that those of us who have lost children have more children to replace the one we lost. (And, I loosely say, “We have more children,” because I am far too familiar with dear friends who are never able to have any more children.)
I won’t lie. When Matthew died, people worried that I would not attempt to try any more IVF cycles because of what happened. My husband feared that his last chance at parenthood died when Matthew died because I’d be too afraid of losing another child.
I was. I was terrified.
But the joy I knew carrying Matthew…the joy of his life and the plans we made for him…that joy was more powerful than the fear.
I did NOT want another Matthew. I wanted Matthew. There was NO other Matthew.
But I did want a sibling for Matthew. Just like I would have wanted if Matthew had lived. I have wanted a big family since I was a little girl.
Matthew’s death did not kill that dream.
And Luke’s life? In no way, shape or form is he a replacement for his brother. True, he is loved and cherished for the joy and light he brought to us in our darkest days. But the purpose of his life and his beating heart is solely his own, and in my belief, has always been even before he was given to us.
What about you? What do you think of the concept of “Replacement Children”?
I’m small, but scrappy! I have a fierce passion for my family, friends and life in general…I’m a military spouse who has battled infertility for over 13 years, as well as the loss of two babies gone too soon. I love to laugh, and am grateful for every second I celebrate with the ones I love. You can find me at my blog Lori Does Maryland or on Facebook Lori Mullins Ennis or on The Twitter here Lori M. Ennis