The Birds and The Bees Revisited
As the mall disappeared
from my rearview mirror, and I made my way past Der Wienerschnitzel Angela
called out from the back seat "Mommy, your tummy was a little-bit broken,
right?" My grip on the steering wheel tightened, I licked my lips and replied
"Yes." "So you couldn't grow a baby, right?" she asked. "Yes", licking my lips
again. 'So another lady helped you by letting me grow in her tummy, right?"
That's right Sweetpea, " now my mouth felt like cotton.
"Oh", said Angela, "Can I have some more juice?'' I hesitated for a moment,
waiting for the next question but when it didn't come I pulled over to the curb,
opened another box of apple juice, handed it over the seat to Angela and drove
home. The shaky feeling in my stomach didn't quiet for several hours.
This conversation took place nearly a year ago, when my daughter was 2 1/2, Now
when I think about that day, I can smile comfortably. I had dreaded the day when
Angela could take the initiative and engage me in a discussion about her birth
circumstances, but I thought I had lots of time. I thought I would be prepared,
have all the right answers. I never expected it would occur when she was 2 1/2!
I wasn't prepared. I didn't know all the answers, right or otherwise.
From the beginning. Bob and I had decided to be very open and direct with our
daughter about the fact that she came into our lives via a Surrogate Mother.
When she was about 1 1/2, 1 had begun telling Angela my "broken tummy" story and
how she came to us in a special way.
I knew she didn't understand, but I wanted her earliest memories to include the
feeling that she had always known. At night, when I read "Goodnight Moon' and
"The Bererstain Bears Learn About Strangers". I also read Sesame Street's "Susan
and Gordon Adopt a Baby", and other children's books about adoption. I searched
children's reading lists for more titles (and found that there were very few
geared toward toddlers). So, I made-up little bedtime stories about the
different ways children come into families. I thought these would be a good
lead-in to the concept ot surrogacy.
I thought they would help my five-six year old understand her special beginning.
I didn't know how little time I had.
Now, at 3 1/2. Angela understands quite a bit about her birth. She knows that
she didn't grow in my tummy and that another, a very special lady helped us by
letting Angela grow in her tummy for us. She knows this special lady's name is
Marie (the same as Angela's middle name), and has seen pictures of Marie many
times. In fact, after Angela turned three, and started asking the typical
three-year-old's questions about where babies come from, we developed a ritual.
I found a book that gently describes the birth process appropriately for
children. I put together a group of pictures, Some we took of Marie during the
pregnancy, some taken at the hospital the day Angela was born, and some of
Angela as a new-born. About once a week we would sit down with her, and go
through the book (it's a "pop-up" book so Angela can lift the flaps to see how
the baby grows inside the Mommy's tummy), talking about the birth process, and
relating the information to Angela's own birth using our family photographs.
Angela enjoys this ritual so much she went through a period of asking for it
several times a week instead of a bedtime story. She talks about her birth very
comfortably and naturally now, and seems to understand the birth process quite
well. Recently we had lunch with Grandma at El Pollo Loco and Angela asked,
between bites of her drumstick, "Mommy, how does the sperm get into the lady's
tummy?" Flashing on the fact that I didn't even know what sperm was till I was
fourteen, and, trying not to look at the young men sitting at the next table, I
asked Angela, "Do you mean in your case, or for other children?" Luckily, she
said in her case so I could answer (easily) that a Doctor put it there. I know
it won't be as easy to answer the next question, when it's asked. Angela knows
that families are formed in many ways. She has a few playmates (children of our
OPTS friends) who share similar beginnings, a close cousin who is adopted, and
many friends and relatives from conventional families. All are precious.
In summary, I guess I'd like to say that you shouldn't wait until you think all
the circumstances are perfect, and you have a speech all prepared to describe
the special process through which your child came into your life. It can happen
in a much more natural way, in stages throughout your child's development.
Adoption experts tell us to create an environment for dialog, and allow your
child to explore the issues that are important to him/her at the time. Let your
children know you are comfortable with this time, and encourage them to come to
you with their questions. Children should never learn about their adoption (or
birth via surrogacy) from someone other than a parent, and this information
should not be withheld until they are adults. I have learned that children can
understand delicate information at a surprisingly early age and, when given the
opportunity, can integrate the information into their normal development. Using
this method certainly takes the pressure off of us as parents, and I feel it
opens the door to more effective communication at all levels with my daughter. I
no longer dread surprise questions from Angela, and with each encounter, I feel
even more at ease discussing her special beginning with her.
Some books that I have found very helpful are:
SEE HOW YOU GROW, by Dr. Patricia Pearse & Edwina Riddell, Barron's Educational
Series, 1988. (Pop-up book for kids. Their whole series is great! )
MAKING SENSE OF ADOPTION, by Lois Ruskai Melina, Harper & Row, 1989. (Includes
information specific to surrogacy.)
THE ADOPTION TRIANGLE, by Arthur D. OroSky M.D., et al., Anchor Press/Doubleday,
1978. (Specifically about adoption issues, but you can adapt this information to