Yesterday, I told my three-year-old where babies come from. Like where they really come from.
We sat there on the floor of the playroom piecing together the bricks for a smashing game of Don’t Break the Ice – one of her favorites. She always needs help squeezing in those last few tight-fitting blocks so we can flip the whole thing over and begin tapping away with our little plastic hammers. “Mom, you be the green team and I’ll be the yellow team,” she decides for us, handing me my thin, green hammer.
As we began tapping away, I can’t help but notice my protruding, eight-months-pregnant belly preventing me from having the full range of motion I need to really give this game a go. A growing baby makes it hard to bend in the middle and twist around and sit on the floor for long periods of time. Lucy is very aware of this little baby growing in my belly. She knows she’s soon going to be a big sister again, regularly talking to and hugging her baby sister (my belly) telling her she loves her and placing her ear to my belly exclaiming, “She said she loves me, too!”
Lucy also knows that in a few weeks she and her little brother will need to stay the night at a friends’ house or a friend will be coming to stay at our house (we still haven’t finalized those plans yet) when it’s time for the baby to come – but what happens while mommy and daddy are away at the hospital is a little lost on her other than the fact that she knows a doctor is going to help push the baby out of my belly. The first time I told her a doctor was going to push the baby out of my belly she said with great concern, “But Mommy, that will hurt the baby and the baby will cry!”
Her little three year old mind doesn’t need to understand all the details of childbirth just yet, but there’s something strange to me about her settling on a bit of a half-truth regarding the doctor pushing a baby out of my belly. I mean, if you think about it, where would a baby come out of if it comes straight out of my belly? Does it bust through the side somewhere and make some sort of large, gaping wound that needs to be stitched up? I guess maybe that’s one way to explain a c-section… but pretty disturbing to think about. Personally, I used to think babies came out of the mommy’s belly button and that’s why it had to be all tied up.
So, I sat there for a few moments wondering what to do and decided I should just tell her. “Hey Lucy, you know when the baby gets here, she’s not really going to come out of my tummy – she’s going to come out of my vagina. That’s why there’s a hole there.” To which she replied, “Oh! Like where my pee-pee comes from!” and I explained to her that there’s a place for her pee-pee to come from and another place for babies to come out of. “Okay, Mom.” And back to tapping away at the plastic blocks of ice.
Reading the actual words about this interaction makes me feel a bit queasy. Did I really just tell my three-year-old daughter where babies come from? Did I really use the word “vagina” and correct her when she thought that’s where her “pee-pee” comes from? (Side note: we decided early on to use anatomically correct terminology with our children regarding their “private parts” so this wasn’t the first time she’d heard the word vagina. She’s well aware of the fact that girls have vaginas and boys have penises.)
This is new territory for me though.
Sex and body parts were not openly spoken of in my house growing up. Any idea of physical affection, even seeing a couple of grown-ups kissing on a TV show like ‘Home Improvement’ was met with awkward kissy sounds from my dad as a way to cover up his own discomfort regarding the subject. My vagina was commonly referred to as my “boom-boom” (be sure you wipe your “boom-boom”) making it extremely awkward when I was the only one giggling uncontrollably the time my first grade teacher read the book ‘Chicka Chicka Boom Boom’ to the entire class.
Not having an open dialogue about sex as a young person with my parents meant that I learned everything I knew about human anatomy and intercourse from conversations on the school bus and giggling at pictures in an Encyclopedia Britannica with one of the boys in my third grade class. My first introduction to sexual intercourse came from a VHS tape we watched in the fifth grade that in a broad stroke explained the mechanics of intercourse while also talking about our changing bodies and how us girls would need to start shaving our legs and wearing deodorant soon. The reality of learning that babies came out of a woman’s vagina was brought to my attention a year later through another VHS tape we watched at school, which showed the entire process of a woman giving birth. It was all pretty disgusting and disturbing to me at a time where I was mostly concerned with whether we were having chicken nuggets or rectangle pizza for lunch that day.
This introduction to the human body and sexuality led me down a pretty clumsy path of having to discover, on my own, how things actually worked and having to undo a lot of other misconceptions I grew up believing. (Another blog post for another day…)
Becoming a parent has made me think long and hard about how we ought to approach these topics with our own children. My husband and I both agree that it’s good to have an open, running dialogue with our kids about their bodies and sex so they first hear about these things from us – a safe place – and not the weird, convoluted misconceptions they’ll eventually learn from their peers and the world around them. We think that these age-appropriate, ongoing conversations will allow us to help shape a positive view of sex and their own bodies instead of seeing sex as confusing, shameful, or something that shouldn’t be discussed at all.
I don’t know if we’re doing it “right” but I do know we are doing it “different” in hopes that we will be raising children who feel the freedom to talk to us about anything and ask questions when they hear messages that are contradictory to what we’ve taught them to be true.