Unbearable: How Do You Explain Infertility To Children?

Having a child is usually a happy time in a woman’s life. Unfortunately, as we wait longer to have children, infertility and trouble conceiving can become a part of the family making process. Unbearable addresses these difficulties.

As I think I’ve mentioned, I have a lot of wonderful pregnant women in my life. Trying to explain pregnancy to my daughter is challenging and takes a little bit of imagination. There’s always the classic, “God put a baby in her tummy to protect it until its ready to come out.” Alright, the wording may be odd, but basically, you could fall back on religion. My niece chooses to believe that there are always babies in a mommy’s tummy and that the baby decides when to get big and come out. This works out just fine until she starts yelling at her one-day future siblings in her mom’s stomach to “Hurry Up!” And I vaquely remember a cool-sounding “seed” metaphor from the movie, The Switch. The only thing I remember about this approach was the word “seed” and that it sounded cute.

The point is, telling a child about pregnancy is hard. It’s uncomfortable and awkward and filled with lots of questions that parents are hesistant to answer.

Telling a child about infertility isn’t just hard, it’s downright excruciating.

With so many close friends and family members having children, my daughter often wonders, “Mommy, is there a baby in your tummy?” For some reason, telling my daughter that it won’t be so easy to have a brother or sister is just this huge emotional cliff that I’m terrified to jump off. Already, I have to clear my head and avert my eyes when I say, “No darlin. No baby in there.”

Heaven help me when she asks why. Honestly, I can do is pray for peace when she tells me that she wants a sibling. It’s not fair to tell her how much I want a sibling for her too. It’s not fair to admit that we might never have one.

Obviously, infertility isn’t something that needs to be explained to kids in detail. First of all, they probably won’t understand. Secondly, why would you burden them? But the questions surrounding infertility are still difficult to answer. When my daughter asks when she can expect a baby sister to play with, I’m not sure if I should be hopeful or dismissive. If I say, “Not yet,” it implies that there pregnancy will happen at a later time. It says that we’re going to have another baby, just not right now. “Not yet,” is how I respond when she asked for a popsicle an hour before dinner.

If I deny that we’re ever going to have another child, I should be ok. As long as we really don’t have another child. If we did, the poor second little one would have to deal with all the horror stories older siblings say. “Mom and dad didn’t want any more kids and they tried to flush down the toilet but your head was too big to squeeze through.” By the way, I’m sorry, Shanny. Mom and Dad never tried to flush you down the toilet or feed you to alligators.

So when it comes to kids, should you get their hopes up or try to be realistic, while still praying for a miracle? In reality, I don’t think there’s a right answer. I know that there isn’t an easy answer. For now, I’m just going to focus on not crying when I say, “No baby in there sweetie.”

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  • MagPie

    I’m not sure why you can’t just be honest with them. You write: “It’s not fair to tell her how much I want a sibling for her too. It’s not fair to admit that we might never have one.” Why is it not fair? Isn’t it more unfair to not be honest with her? Why cant you just say “we’re hoping and trying too, but its up to God not us.” I thnk a preschooler could handle that. Also, I believe you are really overthinking the “just tell her no we aren’t having more” solution. If you told her “no we aren’t having more children” and you did go on to become pregnant, all you have to tell her is “mommy and daddy changed their mind”. I’m not sure how you jump from not planning on more to horror stories about how mommy and daddy didnt want you.

  • rebecca

    When my daughter asks, I remind her of all the amazing things an only child has! And she agrees that it wouldn’t be fun to fight with a sibling, to not go on great vacations (costly!) and have my undivided attention, along with getting to do whatever activities she wants! There are so many benefits to being an only child (trust! I grew up with three siblings! I consider my daughter lucky to be an only child….)

  • Daria

    We’ve been pretty straight-forward with our three-year-old. We’ve said, “we would like to have another baby, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. And I said that it gets harder as people get older.” He’s asked “why” and I said that “there are only a certain number of eggs that a woman has and something there aren’t enough for another baby.” He’s got a book with picture of the egg and sperm, so he gets the idea.

    We also have lots of friends/aunts/uncles without kids (some by choice, some not by choice), so that gives us another chance to talk about the science of it, without it being quite so emotionally involved as his own possible sibling.

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