This is a slightly reworked repost of a piece I wrote for Parents for Choice in the run up to the referendum on abortion rights in Ireland.
I have two daughters, who are 6 and 3. My six year old has been really interested in pregnancy, and pregnant women and bumps specifically, since she was three or four, and my three year old’s interest in pregnancy has started following suit in the last year. I think it’s really important when talking to children to try and reflect your own view of the world as honestly as possible in the words you use to them. My own view of pregnancy, particularly in the early stages, is that the developing pregnancy is something with the potential to grow into a baby, but not the ethical and moral equivalent of one. Because of this I’ve always made a deliberate effort to talk about a pregnancy as a “baby seed” rather than a baby. I don’t tell her people have “a baby in their tummy”, we talk about people having baby seeds that are growing into babies. When they’ve finished growing into a baby they’re ready to be born.
I use these terms because I don’t want to have to explain to a child who’s asking questions about abortion that actually a 7 week embryo or whatever isn’t actually “a baby in someone’s tummy” as I’ve been telling her all along, and so that it won’t strike her as something as immediately shocking as I think it otherwise might. We’ve looked together at diagrams and drawings of embryo and foetal development and talked about how they’re not ready to be babies just yet, that they are growing into babies.
I also talk to my six year old about how growing a baby seed into a baby is a really hard and difficult and sometimes dangerous thing for a body to do, so I think everyone should get to decide for themselves whether they do or not. And I tell her some people think everyone should have to grow baby seeds into babies whether they want to or are able to or not. It helps that she remembers my pregnancy on her younger sister, in which I nearly died and had to inject myself with heparin for the remainder of the pregnancy, so we talk about that too.
She pointed out one of the “baby” posters during the referendum campaign when we were in the car and passed one. I said “Actually that’s a baby seed but the people who paid a lot of money for those posters made it look like a baby on purpose, because they think everyone who has a baby seed should have to grow it into a baby whether they wanted to or not.” And that I think that’s telling lies and shouldn’t be allowed.
I was pregnant with her when Savita died, in 2012, and in 2017 I took her to one of the vigils in memory of her for the first time since she was old enough to ask questions. I actually found hers engagement with the vigil and its cause really poignant; I explained to her in the car on the way in that we were going to a vigil to remember a woman who died called Savita Halappanavar (she said her name very carefully) who died before it was her time to die, because she was growing a baby seed and sometimes growing a baby seed can make us very sick because it’s an awful lot of work for our bodies. So sometimes people don’t want to grow baby seeds and sometimes people are too sick to grow baby seeds. And that I think doctors should be allowed to help people who don’t want to, to stop baby seeds from growing, but here they aren’t allowed to. And because they weren’t allowed to stop Savita’s baby seed from growing, even though her body wasn’t able to grow it, she died.
It’s hard work being a parent 🙂
A moving post.
I don’t know how I would broach the subject with little ones, but I suppose, knowing what’s in the world and information is all out there, I would do my best to protect their innocence and time when I would have that talk, if needed. I remember this subject coming up with a teacher friend of mine. When he attempted a simple explanation, the child was horrified and cried terribly, reminding me of when I first heard the concept. If anything demonstrated why protecting children, giving our best efforts, that did.
Why would you imagine that discussing this with children would turn out any other way? 🙄
You may be right. And it might be a matter of timing or how it’s explained. Perhaps, if this question came to me by a little family member, I would consider what is needed, whether to forestall, address in part, or otherwise. It might be as simple as saying in life, parents sometimes have to make difficult decisions. Then share at their level what other situations in life are difficult.
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