Our Bodies, Ourselves was first published in 1971. If you haven't read it, it covers women's sexuality and health, and by educating women about their bodies, empowered them during a time when the women's movement was just beginning to take form. So my mom was doing me a favor when she gave it to me at the age of twelve. I admit I giggled at many of the illustrations and personal stories, and I showed the book to my friends during sleepovers. But it also gave me the language I needed to understand the changes that were happening with my body, in a straightforward way.
Seven years earlier, when I was five and my mom was pregnant with my brother, my mom and I made a "book" together about how babies grew inside a mother's uterus. I loved making books at that age, so she chose just the right thing to help me prepare for the new addition to our family.
So fast forward thirty-one years, and my oldest daughter has asked me how babies "come out." It's not quite the "Where do babies come from?" question, but it makes me panic just the same. I am totally unprepared, having only thought about this question in an abstract, passing way, as though I wouldn't be faced with it until much, much later. Given my background with sex education and my own experience giving birth, I answer honestly: "Well, babies can be cut out," adding quickly, "but it doesn't hurt. Doctors give you medicine to make sure that it doesn't hurt."
At this, Violet's eyes go wide and her lips pale. She is clearly horrified. Without thinking, I try again: "Babies can also come out of your vagina."
"No! It's too small!" She goes quiet for a second, and then says, "I am never having a baby! Never!"
I wasn't bothered by her saying that she didn't want to have a baby. After all, why should she want to have a baby?
But I felt bad about scaring her. Over the next couple of months, she kept saying—vehemently
—at unexpected (for me) times, like when we were just driving home from school or going for a bike ride, that she was never, ever going to have a baby. Obviously what I had said had made an impact, and it was clearly on her mind.
I wish I hadn't answered that question the way I did. Maybe I could've said birth canal instead? I didn't think I needed to make up some fanciful story or mention the stork, but maybe I'd given her just a little too much honesty too soon.
Because Harper will give me a chance for a do-over, I decided to try to find a better way to answer that question when the time comes. When she asks, I will be prepared. Next time around, I will answer the question with a question: "What do you think happens? How do you think babies are born/come out?"
I think by letting Harper use her imagination, I will let her find meaning that is age-appropriate. This way, she will tell me what she can handle. When I do that with Violet with other complicated questions, I am always surprised at how detailed and beautiful her answers are. I am also sometimes surprised at how much she already knows. By taking myself out of the equation, Harper will have an opportunity to express herself and will likely arrive at a conclusion that feels satisfying.
Obviously, as my girls grow older they will require more frank discussions, and I hope that I will be able help guide them through all of that confusion and curiosity, as much as they need me to. But for the preschool age, I think I've arrived at a way of answering that tough question in a manner that is more stress-relieving for all involved. At least, I hope so.