Viola W. Bernard, Can an Adopted Child Replace a Dead Child? 1961

Thank you for sending me the write-up of the conference of January 11, 1961 with Dr. Heiman and the others with respect to policy for requests from families seeking an adoptive child after the loss of their own child. . . .

I agree most heartily with the continued policy of prompt appointments for such couples. I also agree with continuing our policy of postponing any decision to place a child with such a couple until after they have had a period for mourning. However, I do want to add a comment to the reasoning underlying these procedures and policies. In addition to the reasons outlined in the minutes of the conference with Dr. Heiman, with which of course I am in agreement, I do want to emphasize that in my experience there is an even more frequent and “normal” psychological contraindication to placement prior to the mourning process. This reason has to do with the fact that the urge to adopt immediately after the loss of one’s own child is of necessity a restitutive effort in which the adoptive child is inevitably experienced emotionally as a replacement of the lost child. In fact, this mechanism provides the intensity of the wish to adopt at such a time. From adoptive experience we know that this replacement effort of one child for another leads to inevitable unhappiness for both the adopted child and the adoptive parents and is therefore contraindicated. If the specific child who has been lost to these parents can be mourned and finally through the process of mourning relinquished, or to put it another way, if and when the parents through the mourning process can accept the fact of the reality of the loss of their child, then the restitutive nature of the adoption can work out psychologically constructively because what is being restituted then can be the experience of being parents and this can be a healthy restitution rather than having the specific child that is adopted perceived and experienced as if it were the dead child. . . .



Source: Memo from Viola W. Bernard to Mrs. Florence Brown, July 12, 1961, Viola W. Bernard Papers, Box 157, Folder 8, Archives and Special Collections, Augustus C. Long Library, Columbia University.

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