Replacement Children & rainbow babies
Living in the shadow of a deceased child can feel lonely. This isolation is a mosaic dilemma of an individual caught in a fascinating identity complex. There are certain characteristics that these individuals uniquely experience, including anxiety, lack of self-confidence, worthlessness, survivor's guilt, hyper-idealization (unable to live up to the ideal of the deceased) and in some cases, the obligation to assume the identity of the previous sibling.
Dr. Abigail Brenner, a colleague in this field, writes, "The classic definition of a replacement child is a child is conceived to replace a deceased child." Click here for more detailed information about the phenomenon of replacement children. In previous generations, medical personnel would often instruct young parents who had lost a child to conceive again as a way of processing grief. This complicated term has evolved over time and now includes another category referred to as a "rainbow baby". A rainbow baby is a baby born shortly after the loss of a previous baby due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or death in infancy. This term is given to these special rainbow babies because a rainbow typically follows a storm, giving us hope of what’s to come.
Many parents suffer the loss of a child but this alone does not imply that a subsequent child is a replacement child. The prevailing distinction of a replacement child is parental unresolved grief and the unconscious burden assumed by a child in the family. Many individuals who have identified with the indicators of replacement children have similar traits in common: feeling invisible, overlooked, disregarded, compared to the deceased child and not accepted as unique individuals.
Having a baby soon after losing one brings a slew of emotions, including both positive and negative feelings. There is healing following the loss of a child, under any circumstance. If you choose to conceive again, you can have a triumphant anecdote of renewal and healing; the underlying emotions ranging from bittersweet happiness to overwhelming joy.
Specialized Support After Child loss
Losing a child at any age is devastating. This loss impacts a family all the way to it's systemic core, impacting every member in a profoundly unique way. Since there is no "right way" to grieve, familial balance is upended and hinges on chaos in the aftermath of loss. All of the family's hopes and dreams of a future together are smashed in an instant. Picking up those shattered pieces takes time and repurposing those shards of pain into unconditional love and support while grieving together takes practice. Lots of painful practice.
Grief is messy, but there is hope of a future together as a family. I have intimate experience of growing up in a family impacted by infant loss. I am well acquainted with the unfinished business of grief. My own family lost a 9-day old baby boy, and I came along after to replace the hole that his death ripped through their lives. Although I wasn't even a thought in their minds yet, this tragedy, and the subsequent repression (denial) of family grief, has colored my entire life. There is a way through the pain and although it isn't comfortable, becoming aware of the impact of grief in our life stories can make living with the unimaginable loss of a child more manageable.