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 –
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/