The unconscious suffering of the replacement child | Books

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Re Mary Adams’ letter (Louise Glück and the trauma of being a replacement child, 2 December), children born into grief or even conceived in order to replace a missing sibling deserve recognition and compassionate help to heal their trauma. They deserve a chance to understand the special circumstances of how they came to live their life as replacements and how to start over, to rediscover their own, their original and unique life.

Louise Glück, the 2020 Nobel prize in literature winner and Annie Ernaux, the 2022 Nobel prize in literature winner, are both replacement children. Glück’s poems and Ernaux’s novel The Other Girl give comforting insight into this trauma. I would love to see these two poets discuss their creative ways of working through it, getting back their self-esteem, their own identity, working through survivor’s guilt and grief, and maybe discovering in this process a deeper meaning to their life: an existential discovery as reward for their soul-searching.

The recognition of the work of Louise Glück and Annie Ernaux gives hope that the unconscious suffering of the replacement child will be more recognised. In Glück’s novel Marigold and Rose, which portrays the first year of life of twins, shows a process of individuation, as one of the identical twins is noticing all that is different between her and her twin. We might speculate that Glück felt her identity had been subsumed into that of her dead sister (as she so poignantly wrote in her poem The Wild Iris); here in Marigold and Rose, Glück has found a way to point out she is her own self – with a mind of her own, different talents and interests. A most promising process of self-discovery.
Kristina Schellinski
Co-founder and director of programmes, Replacement Child Forum

Mary Adams defends her psychoanalytical stance on the personality life-effect of a prior sibling’s death on a following child. But her references to Vladimir Putin, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin as supposed exemplars of “traumatised” replacement children cheapen her global assertions on the whole notion of replacement child syndrome. This may indeed sometimes have a modest influence on a person’s development, but can hardly be construed as a key defining factor in one’s eventual persona.

Ms Adams has apparently convinced herself that James Joyce’s variegated writing style/lifestyle qualifies him for a “replacement child” diagnosis. But his creative unconventionality probably owes more to his early life experience of his father’s financial vagaries and the overarching domineering effect of contemporary Ireland’s oppressive social mores, replete with church-state collusive entwinement.

I am particularly exercised by Adams’ assertions because we have a daughter born within two years of our first daughter’s death, and to date she (now 20 years old) has shown no untoward excesses, or distorted tendencies toward brutalist expansionism or anarchic writing styles. She has excelled in her academic journey to date, along with apposite social adjustment in the round. We also know several other families who would certainly concur thus, in relation to their post-bereavement second child. Overegging the labelling of such children as “replacements” is offensive to all concerned.
Jim Cosgrove
Lismore, County Waterford, Ireland

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