The foundation of systemic phenomenological work



Maaike van der Heiden

Trainer and compiler with in-company training and coaching and in training

15 January 2021| Personal

Together we are

“My little brother died when I was eight. After the funeral it was almost never discussed again.”

“When I was four my mom gave birth to a girl, but after a few months she died. My parents think I don’t know anything, but I’ve known it my whole life.”

“Actually there is a little brother between me and my youngest brother. I don’t know much about it anymore. Asking a question was fine, but my parents didn’t talk about him. I have felt an emptiness all my life. ”

Much is already known about order in families. In a family, the first, or firstborn, is the one who comes first. The second has the second place, etc. Now that fact is quite simple, but acting or living by it is not a matter of course. (Un) consciously, for example, a shift of place can take place, which disrupts the order. A child can end up in a parent’s place, or perhaps become a “parent of the parent” and thereby (partly) leave the child row. Both for possible good reasons and with the necessary dynamics as a result. Another reason for a disrupted order is a “hole” in the row of children. This could be a miscarriage, a stillborn child or the death of a brother or sister.

A traumatic event for a family, in which each family member processes this loss in his or her own way and within their own capacity. And then after that. How to proceed with the pain? How to proceed with the family? We have to go on, life goes on. Are we now with the four of us or actually with the five of us?

And then another complicated matter; when does a miscarriage count? From how many weeks could you say that there is a child? There is no unequivocal answer to this last question. Bert Hellinger said about this that initially miscarriages under three months do not count, but later he became less convinced about this.

I myself had a miscarriage at six weeks. In between our two daughters. Do I feel like I have three kids? No. I am a mother of three pregnancies and two children. Both the occurrence and the physical pregnancy have a place together. It seems that it is not just about the child or the embryo, but more about the whole.

A question that might seem logic: should you inform your children of a miscarriage or deceased brothers or sisters? From a systemic perspective: yes. As incredibly complicated, painful or uncomfortable as it can be.

Recently I had such a small conversation about it. Our seven-year-old needed a little more explanation about fetuses, babies and stages in the uterus, but after that she thought it was mainly a strange and hilarious idea that a baby was now swimming around in the sewer.

The oldest of ten thought for a moment and asked: “So, there are actually three of us? And if that child had lived, would Maila have been there? ”

I answered honestly. I do not know.

What I do know is that it is incredibly important for siblings to know how the order is on the same line. Time and again, as a coach and counselor, I experience that it is healing and acknowledging:

To know who belongs.

To feel that you can live your own life.

That you don’t have to live two lives. Or three. Or four.

Or to speak out loud: “I live because of you passing away. ”

To feel that you can let go of the childish illusion. The illusion that you must do everything you can to make your parents happy again.

That it was not and is not your fault.

That you no longer have to make yourself invisible because you felt as a child that your presence also brought pain.

That you survived the event.

To feel that you can live your potential.

Time and again I witness how much love is released when a missed brother or sister is being looked at. And I am deeply impressed when I see what relaxation (eventually) occurs in the body.

The woman whose little brother had died at the age of eight closed with the words:

“We are finally complete.

Now I can and I may.”


Maaike van der Heiden

January 14, 2021


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