I love this question! How do you answer the question, “Where do babies come from?” when your child asks? I must confess that I am a “birth junkie,” as a childbirth educator and doula*, my career has evolved into all-things-baby.
As a parent, I believe in honest and accurate answers when our kids come to us with questions, any questions. The more consistently you do that for your children, starting when they are very little, the more you are building a foundation of trust and openness. Most parents encourage their children to come to them with problems, questions and fears as they grow up and most parents strive and hope for this relationship and culture of openness to continue into the teen years and beyond. Being truthful, answering questions you may be uncomfortable with and finding out answers to things you’re unsure of will all go a long way in nurturing parent-teen communication.
Where do babies come from? To answer this tough question from inquisitive kids, I would first consider the age of the child asking. If your child is pre-school age, a truthful but short answer will be best. For example, “Mommy has a teeny tiny egg in her body and Daddy has teeny tiny sperm in his body and when they meet, they make a baby in Mommy’s body.” Generally, a one-sentence answer is all they need to satisfy their curiosity at that moment. I love the book, “Where do Babies Come From?” by DK Publishing and Angela Royston. It addresses this question beginning by looking at other animals then asks, “Where do you come from?” This book can be used with young children and can grow with them to be used by parents as a spring board to answer the where-babies-come-from-question with school-aged children. (One note, this book does talk about needing a mother and a father to make a baby, so if that is not your family’s situation, you may want to adapt or use another teaching tool.)
In answering “where do babies come from?” for older children, isn’t the part of the question that makes us quake just the one little part about how does that sperm get to that egg? You can be factual and truthful while also expressing your own family values. It’s okay to tell them you want some time to think about the best way to answer the question, but be sure you get back to them within a day to give them their answers. Following through gives your kids confidence that you are a trustworthy source of information.
Start with anatomy, find an anatomy chart for a woman and one for a man that shows the reproductive organs internally and externally (http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Human_Physiology/The_female_reproductive_system). You can ease into the discussion with proper names of body parts and what their main job is (sperm is produced in the testicles, eggs are stored in a woman’s ovaries, the uterus is where the baby will grow...) look up anything you have a question about before starting your discussion. This is even something you can initiate a conversation about without waiting for your upper elementary kids to come to you.
Tailor the discussion to the child’s age. This isn’t something that will be answered once and never again, as with so much in parenting, addressing the topic in small pieces multiple times over the years is a great way to educate your children as opposed to having one “big talk.” As kids mature, repeat things you’ve talked about before and add more information, share your family’s viewpoints and ask if they have more questions for you.
As your children become teens, discussions about babies and pregnancy will be geared toward seeking healthy relationships, sexual health and decision making, contraception and the continuing insertion of your family values. Our teens need our guidance, our positive feedback and our ability to field their questions in a safe environment. They need to know what their parents think, feel and believe about teen sex and they need to know (with regular, kind reminders) that their behaviors and choices matter.
I would love to hear how you’ve handled the question, “Where do babies come from?” Have these discussions made you feel closer to your children?
* I am certified as a childbirth and postnatal educator and a birth and postpartum doula. The word doula comes from the ancient Greek word meaning “a woman who serves” and now has come to mean a woman supporting another woman and the dad, partner or family members through labor, birth and the postpartum time. I work with families who are expecting their first baby or their fifth baby and very often work with families expecting multiples. For parents who already have children, we talk about sibling adjustment and big brothers’ or sisters’ questions about Mommy’s big belly and the baby to come.