Home >Magazine >Can a “Replacement Baby” Heal the Loss of a Child?

Can a “Replacement Baby” Heal the Loss of a Child?

In a writing class, Allison Langer searches for healing from the devastating loss of a daughter.

I was 42 when I had my replacement baby. This is not a term I used at the time, because I wasn’t sane enough to realize I was completely delusional. I thought having a new baby would heal me. I also wanted something positive to come from losing my daughter, Maclain. In my grieving mind, I was sure having another baby was that something positive. The new baby would fill the abyss and bring joy back into the family. Back into me.

Sloan was five months old when I heard the ad for a writing class. I was speeding home to feed him, pressing my boobs as I gripped the steering wheel, attempting to avoid a milk explosion. The ad felt like a sharp prod to the part of me that was suffering and afraid to admit it, let alone show it.

Since Maclain’s death, I’d woken up crying. I missed her and the life I’d been promised by nobody. I hated seeing other mothers with identical twins. Why does she get to keep hers? In addition to feeling angry and empty, I felt guilty and ashamed. I should have been able to keep her alive.

Read More: Instead of an Empty Nest, She Chose to Have 2 More Babies

No Magic Kid

Sloan was supposed to be the magic that healed my heart, but anyone who has tried to replace a lost child knows, there is no magic formula. And no magic kid. Sloan was like most new babies: cranky, hungry, and up most of the night. He smelled delicious, we all adored him, but I still missed my little girl. When I heard the ad for the writing class, I knew I needed something. Maybe a writing class was that something.

I was struggling with more than just the loss of my daughter.

I’d always wanted to write. Ten years earlier, I wrote a rant about my failed two-year marriage. I shared my writing with friends who weren’t all that supportive. One friend, the only honest friend, said, “You need a writing class.”

When I got home, Sloan drained both breasts and fell into a trance. My other two kids were in summer camp. I grabbed my computer and registered.

My daughter Maclain was 16-months old when she died. A week prior, a cardiologist diagnosed her congenital heart defect and scheduled her for surgery. Five days before surgery, she choked on a French fry and was rushed to Miami Children’s Hospital. Maclain’s identical twin sister, Blake, and three-year-old brother, Jackson, were too young to know what was going on. I was not so lucky.

Getting Vulnerable

For the first 10 writing classes, I wrote about my yellow lab, Molly. The prompt was, “Write about love.” I loved Molly. Next, “Write about an obsession.” I was obsessed with Molly. It went like this until my instructor said, “You need to get vulnerable.” And she was right. But how could I let all these strangers know I was struggling? How could I admit it to myself?

I’d failed at parenting, and now I was a pariah.

The truth was, I was struggling with more than just the loss of my daughter. I was single and dying to be loved. I’d had children via anonymous sperm donation because I was 36 and didn’t want to miss out on being a mother, but I was still in love with my last boyfriend who wasn’t in love with me. I wanted a partner to connect with, love on, share the funny things my kids did like put food on their heads and pee on the Playdoh. I wanted someone to complain to about parenting three young children who needed more attention and more food than I could have ever imagined. I didn’t want to do it alone.

I had friends and a dad who helped but nobody who put me first. I was trying to build my photography business so I could pretend I was more successful than I actually was. I was volunteering all over town so I could prove I was compassionate and loving and not a baby killer. At home, I was losing my temper with the kids then crying after I put them to bed. Every day felt like a slog, packed with lots of have-tos and of-course-I-can-dos where I could prove I was doing much better than I was. My baby had died on my watch; I’d failed at parenting, and now I was a pariah. At least, that’s how I saw it. I showed no one that, or so I thought. But, the façade I was presenting to the world was cracking and I was running out of glue.

My Turn to Read

On the last night of class, it was my turn to read. I’d been preparing for weeks, writing and deleting, and rustling up the courage to get vulnerable. I was dreading the moment I had to stand in front of the class and read my story.

I knew they were just as damaged as I was, and yet, I still didn’t want anyone to know me.

I looked at my fellow students. I’d heard every one of them tell their own sad story. And each person had one. One guy was a recovering alcoholic who’d lost his family when he landed face down in muck and false promises. One woman was a sex addict. There were dead parents, identity confusions, missed opportunities, regrets. I knew they were just as damaged as I was, and yet, I still didn’t want anyone to know me. And then I read.

Every Sunday morning when my dad comes over to get the kids, I send him off knowing someone is missing.

I swallowed to let the emotion press into my throat then pass.

I was talking to a friend of my dad’s when Maclain began to choke. This had been going on since she started eating solids –around 6 months. She would gag a little on her food. I’d pat her on the back, and the chunk of ground beef, or tangerine or watermelon would pop out. This time, nothing came out.

Mackey turned blue and my dad yelled for a doctor. I grabbed my phone and stared at it confused. Very slowly, my brain struggled to find the numbers: 9-1-1

The essay was over 3,000 words. At one point I looked up and since nobody looked bored, I continued. When I finished reading, I wasn’t the only one in the room crying, but I wasn’t concerned with anyone else’s emotions. After shedding the façade completely, I no longer cared if they thought I was strong or not. The weight was gone, and the healing could begin.

This piece, originally published in summer 2022, was a winner in our Reinvention Essay Contest. 

Read More: She’s 51 and Carrying Her Own Grandchild. Is She the Best Mom Ever or What?

By NextTribe Editors


Related Articles

Find your tribe

Connect and join a community of women over 45 who are dedicated to traveling and exploring the world.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This