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Kelly Preston: New Baby, New Beginnings?

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Ronda Kaysen: When John Travolta and Kelly Preston announced that they're expecting a new baby, many hailed the news as a blessing for a family that has endured such an unspeakable loss. After all, isn't a baby a wonderful thing? A child who will fill the void left behind after the sudden death of their 16-year-old son, Jett, last year? Some psychologists, however, aren't so sure that a new baby is always the right thing for a family reeling from grief.

John Travolta and Kelly Preston

It's not uncommon for a family that has lost a child to have another child. The practice is so common, in fact, that psychologists have coined a term for it -- "replacement child" -- and some warn that having a baby after losing a child isn't always a good idea.

"The idea of replacement -- that people are replaceable like lightbulbs -- it's a devastating myth," Russell Friedman, executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute (which provides recovery training), told CNN. "Is it OK to have other children? Yes. Is it always the smartest to do right away? No. The truth is, you have to grieve the children who died."

CNN profiled Judy Mandel, author of the memoir, "Replacement Child." She described a childhood spent living in the shadow of a sister who died before she was born. Her parents often dressed Judy in her sister's clothes and compared her to a sister she could never replace.

"It was almost like a legend," she said. "There's the aspect of being in the shadow of that. You can't live up to that promise the child had. I was always told what a special child she was, how promising she was in school, how perfect she was -- it's tough. I was thinking, 'I can't be as good as that.'"

Dr. Cara Gardenswartz, a clinical psychologist and momlogic advisor, says that there are things parents like Travolta and Preston can do to thwart these risks. First and foremost is to face the grief head-on.

"There's going to be all kinds of mixed feelings, and that's what happens when there's grief," she says. "It's all about how it's dealt with, how it's talked about. It's all about the open, honest communication."

Parents who've lost a child have another baby for many reasons, Gardenswartz says: They have more love to give; they want to bring a new child into the world and they want to expand their family. A new baby can bring real joy to a family rocked by grief. If the parents are mindful to frame the new birth in that context -- and not hide from the loss -- then the new child can truly be a blessing.

The person who will likely have the hardest time with the new addition is the couple's 10-year-old daughter, Ella. As a child, she's likely to feel guilty and worry that her parents' decision to have another child means that she's not good enough.

Gardenswartz says that, again, the best way to combat these feelings is through open communication. "The key is keeping that kid from the media," she says. "That's what makes their situation more complicated than anything else."

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109 comments so far | Post a comment now
Lissa May 30, 2010, 11:57 PM

I doubt they are looking to replace Jett. I’m sure they have enough love to give this child to respect him/ her as an individual. Seems to be extraordinary that she can even conceive let alone carry the baby at her age. She looks great & must be exceptionally healthy. Don’t think however, that they have the time to wait because of their age until everyone else thinks they are ready to add onto their family. They have been grieving the loss of their son.

Also just because in some instances there are people seeking a “replacement child” & one woman’s personal account of her experience she wrote about in a book should mean we should automatically assume this couple is at risk. Too much speculation branching out even in Ella’s direction. Who is to say that this young lady isn’t comfortable with her place in the family & is well adjusted enough embrace the new child? This whole article is just people talking to talk, looking for attention.. I am very happy for the Travolta family.

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