The Next Chapter

Gail Gallant grew up believing she was reborn — and wrote a memoir about it

Gallant talks to Shelagh Rogers about The Changeling, a memoir that recounts her personal experience as a changeling, a child born to replace another.
Gail Gallant is an author and television writer. (Penguin, gailgallant.com)
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Gail Gallant is a Canadian author who has written novels and for television. Growing up in a devout Catholic family, Gail believed that she was reborn — and this sense of being brought back to life haunted her into her adulthood. 

Her memoir The Changeling recounts her personal experience as a changeling, a child born to replace another. It's a book around life, death, faith and the nature of identity.

Gallant spoke with Shelagh Rogers about The Changeling.

The other Gail

"My parents had moved up to Toronto from Prince Edward Island a few years before. Every summer vacation meant packing the car and driving back down to P.E.I., to see friends and family for a couple of weeks. The year was 1955 and they had three little girls in tow, including a newborn named Gail. Late at night on the first day of that drive, they got into a horrible car accident and were badly injured. This was pre-car seat days and the baby hit the dashboard. She had a severe skull fracture and did not survive.

"My mother got pregnant again soon after that and immediately upon becoming pregnant was convinced that the baby in her stomach was the baby she had just lost. My birth seemed to reinforce that this was a miracle, that somehow the loss of this baby was a horrible mistake. Things had been corrected and she'd been given her baby back.

"I knew my sisters looked at me oddly, especially one sister who resented me. I felt she hated me in adulthood and she admitted that had been true. There's no question that they lost a lot of my mother's attention. There was that horrible negative pain she suffered when that baby — also named Gail — died, and there was the joy and the focus that I was a miracle."

Haunted by the past

"This was an act of God, granted to my mother because of her piety and her prayer. But somewhere between the ages of 10 and 12, something ruptured. I started thinking of the other Gail as a kind of doppelganger, a ghost living under my bed. I stopped thinking of the other Gail as a baby. Instead, that baby was growing up in parallel with me.

"There was a point where all my diary entries were addressed to her. She was my standard, the true object of my mother's love. There was a point where all of my sadness and sense of disappointment about myself, thinking that I hadn't done a very good job of being special and being a miracle increased.

"I couldn't tell whether I had stolen her life or she had stolen mine."

Gail Gallant's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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