Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What is in a name- especially my name? The second generation replacement child...

Last week I had the pleasure of spending time with some of my friends who are Children of Hoarders.  While we are together, we laugh, we play, we come together like family.  We also share experiences from time to time.

We were at a wonderful barbecue place in NOLA, and there were 7 or 8 of us sharing dinners, appetizers, drinks, laughing and telling stories.  I mentioned something and did not think all that much about it...

I was speaking to my respect for my mother.  I know from the past 60-something posts here it would seem that I have little to none for her.  That is not entirely true.  My mother survived a horrendous childhood of incest, domestic violence, and running away to have her baby in an unwed mother's home in the early 1950's.  She was not going to give her pedophile father another child to abuse.  

I get chills when I think of her hiding her pregnancy, planning her escape, and after the birth of her child, giving that baby to the nuns, and being summarily returned to her parents where her hell on earth escalated until she turned 21 and escaped.  

I did not know that I had a 1/2 sibling until I was in my late 20's, in the mid-1990's.  And, in a story for another time, the news was delivered in the most convoluted, screwed up, controlled way ever.  But my mother asserted that my dead father knew, and was okay with everything.  I doubted it at that time, because my dad had made some comments about pregnancy that would be insensitive at best, cruel at worst, if that were the situation.  Dad may have shared my sick and dark sense of humor, but intentionally cruel he was not.  

About 10 years ago, my 1/2 sister shared a secret with me, a secret that she and my aunt had been hinting at that they would tell me 'after my mother was gone.'  I finally got tired of the dramatic foreshadowing and stated that they either needed to tell me or to keep it to themselves, because I was done with the bullsh*t.  

So my sister told me.  Apparently my name is recycled.  I am also a replacement child.  She secured her original birth certificate, and the name given to her by my mother was my first and middle name.  I guess when the hoarders are in the narcissism of hoarding, others do not exist except as a support to the person who hoards.

I flashed to a conversation with my father at one of our family graveyards in a rural town about 2 hours east of my hometown.  I might have been 9 or 10 at the oldest.  We were visiting his father's grave with his mother, and I spotted a small stone that stood to the side, and it simply was inscribed 'Infant Grey'.  I asked my father about it...
Dad- who is that?
"It is my older brother.  He died during birth, many years before I was born."
Why did he not have a name?
"He would have, Lisabeth.  [Looking away and speaking in a strained voice]... He would have had my name."
He would have been _____?
"Yes.  The first born males in our family alternate the two family names.  My father was named ______ _____ and my brother would have been named my name.  I was not born until many, many years later"
If he would have lived, what would your name have been?
"...I ... do not know Lisabeth.  Here comes Mom, please let's not discuss this in front of her.  She still gets very upset about it."
Okay.  Promise.

I was a bit too young to understand entirely, but I understood a sad and profound moment had passed between my father and I.  In later years, he made small references to that, and shared more about his parents.  Apparently my grandmother had quickened early in the marriage, but the birth was difficult and the baby died within minutes of delivery.  She was devastated, and struggled with the grief.  She did not conceive again for many years, and when she did, Dad was the focus of her life.  But, he always felt the shadow of his infant yet deceased brother.

I knew at the moment my sister shared that information that he DID NOT KNOW.  Another piece of my mother's revisionist history.  A couple of days later, the copy of the original birth certificate arrived. It was true.  I was a replacement child.  My years of feeling I was being compared to someone that I could not see or ever measure up to made sense.  I was very upset in the beginning.  As the years passed, the pain has turned into something a bit darker, a bit harder, and masquerades as humor.

I made a sarcastic and self-depricating comment to finish up the story, and looked up from my entree that I was busily picking around on, and every pair of eyes was looking at me, shocked.  All joking and side conversations had stopped.  Faces were a bit pale and eyes were wide, some mouths were open.  For a heartbeat I cringed internally, cursing myself for sharing something so personal, that made me look like the self centered ass my mother has always proclaimed me to be, and something so petty compared to the issues these folks have survived.  What the hell was I thinking?

The a cacophony of responses erupted.  Shock, dismay, regret and multiple expressions of how incredibly SCREWED UP that was (in very blunt vernacular), and I had every right to be disappointed.  Questions about whether I had considered changing my name, questions about how I felt about it now, questions about how on earth I even spoke to her.

I again had a small epiphany of how much I negate and minimize my own experiences, and that I had a right to be angry about this, regardless of the tragic circumstances of my mother giving up this child.  I was not born until nearly twenty years later, when the  high school senior that she was when my sister was born was in her mid/later thirties when I was born.  

There is much more to this story, but the hour grows late.  It simply is, and I move on with my life.  But, I keep being reminded that although I have faced a bit of adversity in my life... I have come out the other side for the most part.  The thing I must learn is to seek support, to allow assistance, and to allow myself to feel without 'gaslighting' or invalidating my own experiences.

Hopefully some day soon... I will succeed.  Thank you for reading!  I will have more 'from the mouth of a hoarder' very soon.



  1. I am appalled and infuriated.

    You are awesome.

  2. Thank you Lisa:-). It never ceases to amaze me the how normalized the 'off the charts' craziness has been for me, and that I still have these 'aha' moments, at this age.

    Onward and upward eh?