|The ever-inquisitive Ferris with his sister Emilia|
It all started a few months ago when my 4-year-old stepson Ferris went with my husband and I to our 18-week ultrasound. In the event that he was going to soon have a little brother, we wanted him to be present for the exciting news. What happened instead was that he was told he was going to have a sister (again) and the thrill of the visit was lost. He recovered quickly, resorting to solving problems on the car ride home that involved “girl math.”
“So if we have three girls at daddy’s house now — Katie, Emme, London — then with the baby there will be four. There are three girls at my mommy’s house now — Mommy, Madi and London — but that won’t change.” He started to add in the amount of estrogen present in our home when Grandma and her “girl dogs” visit and it was nearly time for him to take off his shoes and start relying on his toes for the counting process.
I was happy that he had found a coping mechanism. My husband, on the other hand, was gradually turning more and more green as the “girl tally” rose. He has since mentioned the vitality of needing a “man cave” in our next residence.
We hung one of the grainy ultrasound snapshots on our refrigerator and Ferris told his sisters the news when they got up from their naps. They were thrilled. Ferris seemed unscathed. I breathed easy. The ultrasound frame became a regular part of our conversations at the breakfast table and I found that the questions flowed most rapidly on the days that my husband was at work.
Then it got real.
“Katie, how will the baby get out of your body?” Ferris asked, pointing at my then-conservative bump. His sisters put down their OJ cups and waited intently for my answer.
“The doctor will get it out,” I replied simply. The girls resumed drinking. Ferris shook his head violently, dissatisfied with my answer.
“No… HOW will the doctor get the baby out of your body?”
I paused. The honest answer was perfectly natural, of course. Still, I was caught off-guard and mumbled something about the baby coming out where I go potty, and did he want more oatmeal, and wow, look at the time, let’s get ready for school buddy. He was unhappy with me but dropped the issue.
I’ve been embarrassed about that moment since it happened. Pregnancy, birth, breast-feeding and the miracle of life are all things that kids should know about in no uncertain terms and I had really mucked it all up. I considered revisiting the question on several occasions, but it never felt like the right time.
Then last night, Ferris cornered me. I was sitting at my desk working on an assignment. Without totally digressing, I had a horrible afternoon and my cheeks were still tomato red and my eyes were half-swollen shut from crying. Maybe he could smell my weakness. He had just turned five the day before. He stood tall and looked me in the half-crusted-over eyes.
“Katie, I want you to tell me how the baby is going to get out of there,” he said, pointing at my now-rather-large midsection. I stopped typing. This was my chance for redemption.
I held my hands in front of me and formed a small “O” shape.
“Right now, the place where I go potty has a hole that is only this big,” I indicated a likely inaccurate size, but needed it for my point of reference. He nodded, understanding me. He has sisters already, after all. I gradually increased the size of the circle between my hands as I continued.
“When it is time for the baby to come out, she will start to push down on the place where I go potty and the hole will start to get bigger,” I paused. He was still with me.
“Once it is about this wide (also inaccurate), the baby will have room to come out and the doctor will catch her.”
“Will her feet come out first, or her butt?”
“Her head will come out first.”
“Because that is the biggest part. Once the head is out, the rest is easy (liar!),” I said rationally. He got quiet and let everything that I had said sink in. Then very sweetly he asked how the hole will be “fixed” once the baby is out so I can go potty again. I appreciated his concern so I answered honestly.
“My body will know once the baby is out,” the circle in my hands shrinking as I spoke, “and it will slowly let the hole get back to the right size.” Once my hands reached the size of the original “O” shape, he smiled with delight.
“Yay! We are going to have a baby sister soon!”
With that he wandered out of the room to find something else to do. I realized immediately that my explanation could have been too “dumbed down” or too graphic, depending on how you looked at it. But Ferris “got it” and I felt like I had helped him wrap his mind around how his baby sister will make the safe journey from my womb to the hospital table — and then to our home.
If you Google “how to explain the birth process to children” you will get a lot of advice from experts. I’m no expert but here is my advice to you: know your audience. You know your own children and what they are capable of comprehending and what may be just a little too much information, depending on age and personality. Come up with the answer that works best for you and always be honest — even if it’s a washed out version of the truth.
What have other parents told their children when this question has come up? How about the even-more dreaded question of where babies come from?
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