What Makes a Baby?

Over the 21 years that DC Network has been in existence I have had the opportunity to review many books intended to help parents share information about donor conception with their young children.  They range from the bluntly factual (mostly written by doctors) to the sickly sentimental (mostly written by American mothers of egg donation children) with DCN’s Our Story books winning out almost every time with their simple but straightforward phrasing and non-anthropomorphic illustrations.  But I recently came across a book that is completely different.  So different that it doesn’t actually identify men and women (or male and female anything) but refers to bodies that do or do not contain eggs, sperm or a uterus.  This felt very strange at first and that, alongside my distaste for the lurid colours used in the Keith Herring-like illustrations, made me think that this was another book for the bin.  But then I read it through properly, thought again, and came to a surprising conclusion.  This book is actually a wonderful vehicle for parents to have conversations with children of all ages about how babies are made, using the building-block model recommended to parents by DCN.  Eggs and sperm are described as containing many stories about the body that they came from.  A nice way of putting it. The gametes are said to ‘perform a dance together when they meet’ but there is no description of how they might get together, via sex or assisted reproduction.  It is up to parents to supply the missing information as and when they judge their child is ready to hear it or when they ask appropriate questions.  And as there are no references to family structure or gender roles, children in ALL families, including those with trans-gender parents, can learn about both their and other peoples families in a gentle way over time.

But almost best of all, Cory Silverberg (a fascinatingly gender ambiguous name) has written a wonderful Readers Guide to help parents make the best use of this book with their children.  And although this isn’t a book about donor conception, he (the picture on the website seems to indicate a man) does use some donor conception examples to illustrate points.  This is just one example from the Communications Strategy that is particularly worthwhile.  There are many others –

Be Direct

Very young children don’t yet know that talking about reproduction or sexuality can be difficult for grown-ups. How you talk with kids about their birth teaches them just as much (if not more) than what you tell them.

Being direct isn’t the same thing as being explicit or even detailed (remember: general information can be just what’s needed). Being direct communicates honesty and a willingness to discuss complex or difficult issues. It creates an environment where a child feels safe to ask questions and feels confident that they will receive accurate and helpful answers.

Most young children need things to be explained simply and clearly, especially the first time they learn something. Actually, that’s something that is true for most of us!

Remember that sexuality is about more than sex, and you can help a child understand that by using examples from other parts of life to explain topics related to reproduction. For example, if you want to explain the idea of a sperm donor, you might point out that there are people in your life who give you gifts. Some gifts are small (like when someone gives a child a balloon) some gifts are big (like spending a day at a carnival or going away on vacation). You might use these examples to introduce the idea of a gift and then say that someone gave you a gift of donating sperm so that you could make a baby.  

I think this book is quite challenging for parents.  It will probably feel odd (for straights) that men and women are not identified; you may or may not like the colours; it does not spoon-feed, you do have to think for yourself and it is absolutely (thank-goodness) not sentimental.  What it does allow for is natural and free-flowing conversations between parent and child that can be tailored to a child’s readiness for information and to the beliefs and values of that particular family.  That, and the fact that it is totally inclusive of all family types, has to be worthwhile.

What Makes a Baby: a book for every kind of family and every kind of kid written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth http://corysilverberg.com

Readers Guide: http://www.what-makes-a-baby.com/readers-guide/

 

 

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About oliviasview

Co-founder and now Practice Consultant at Donor Conception Network. Mother to two donor conceived adults and a son conceived without help in my first marriage.
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One Response to What Makes a Baby?

  1. marilynn says:

    You know I bet you all are much more ready for talks about sex and baby making than the average Joe or Joanne. I am now myself on the precipices of this terrifying conversation; my child wants to know what having sex means and I told her about a month ago that I’d think about it, do some research and get back to her. She’s asked a few times since then if I’d prepared my report yet and I told her I was still working out the final details. Truth is I don’t have any idea what to say.

    That said I have hit on the baby making thing to the extent that she knows women have eggs, men have sperm and that they both carry the coded information about the bodies that they came from. When the sperm meets the egg they create an embryo where the cells contain the code from both the male and the female. The embryo’s cells split and reproduce in the belly of the pregnant woman and it takes 9 months and then the baby is born and that new person is the offspring of the male and female who reproduced their cells. It’s the intercourse part that I find difficult. It might be easier for you guys since you can kind of skip that part if you want. I guess you can’t skip it forever though.

    The one thing of course I gotta say is be wary of saying that anyone gave their sperm or egg as a gift because they will come to realize that the person would have understood that giving their egg or sperm up for this reproductive process would result in them being born and that they would also have had to agree to give them up as well. It’s going to be clear that people can either do this with their eggs and sperm and keep the resulting kid or do it and not keep the resulting kid. Ultimately it is them that is given up and at some point they might be curious enough to read a standard donor agreement where it explains that they are not just giving up the egg or sperm but their resulting children when born as well. For pure logic sake just be prepared that saying they gave eggs and sperm as a gift will ultimately be know to be part of a larger gift giving picture. If your comfortable with saying someone gave their offspring away as a gift then cool, if not meditate on other ways your more comfortable presenting what their bio parents did.

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