Last year, during the drive home from piano practice, my 7-year-old daughter blurted, “Mommy, I understand that the sperm fertilizes the egg, and that makes a baby, but how does the sperm get to the egg in the mom’s belly?”
No preamble. No warmup. No “Where do babies come from?” Just BAM!!! How does the sperm get to the egg?
I turned down the Hamilton soundtrack as I tried not to choke on my own spit. WTF? My son was 10 when we had this talk, and I was prepared with a stack of age-appropriate books. I was not prepared to delve into the mechanics of sex with my 7-year-old on a casual drive home from piano practice.
Just tell it like it is, use the right terms, be chill.
Samuel L. Jackson voice: But this mother did not feel chill. She felt absolutely zero fucking chill.
I began to giggle. Silently, because oh my god I was trying not to scar my daughter or make things weird, but I couldn’t help myself. I consider myself pretty progressive, but she ambushed me. I was not prepared. Thank goodness she was sitting behind me and couldn’t see me losing my shit trying to contain my giggles. I took a few deep breaths to dilute my hysteria and answered with what I hoped would be enough info to hold her over till a later date when I would presumably have my shit together: “Well, honey, the sperm… typically… the man puts it there.”
“Yeah, duh, I know, but how? How does he put it there? What exactly does he have to do to get the sperm inside her?”
Just do it. Just fucking be honest like you always promised yourself you would.
I gripped the steering wheel so hard my knuckles turned white and went for it: “The man and woman have sexual intercourse. The man puts his penis inside the woman’s vagina, and the sperm comes out of his penis, travels up the vaginal canal and into her uterus and then her fallopian tube, finds the egg, and fertilizes it. And that turns into a baby.”
I was absurdly embarrassed, but the words came out smooth, just as I had always envisioned and hoped they would. It was a miracle.
“Oh,” my daughter said. “Okay. Can you turn the music back up?”
What? That’s it?? All that panic for nothing? This is why moms binge-eat Nutty Bars while locked in closets.
We own age-appropriate books on reproduction that would have told my daughter everything except for that particular piece, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised she would ask such a question. But isn’t describing *actual penetration* the scariest part of this talk? Explaining that one human puts their body part—a body part that is generally always hidden under clothes—inside another human is just… well, does any parent not struggle with this?? Please tell me you struggle with this too. I need validation. Also, some tiny piece of me fears that my daughter having this information means she will go and try it. That’s terrifying.
And yet a much larger part of me knows that if my daughter asks a question, and I’m not honest or I withhold information, she will gather the rest of the information from wherever else she can get it. Last year while shopping for underwear, she told me an older cousin had informed her that panties are like underwear except they have holes in the crotch for the man to put his penis. Sigh. I’m not sure my daughter understood the context, but I’m glad she told me. It was a reminder of why I am determined to be honest with her.
My daughter is eight now, and we have since expanded our conversation with considerably less squeamishness on my part. We’ve discussed other ways families are made, covering topics like infertility, adoption, and the variety of ways same-sex couples can have children. I’ve shown her beautiful images and videos of mothers breast feeding, mothers in labor, mothers giving birth. We also watch videos of animals mating and giving birth and compare that to what we know about humans. We talk about the amazing ways science can help us. We talk about bodies, attachment, love, and procreation as though they are fascinating and beautiful and miraculous, because they are.
And what I’ve learned through these continued conversations is that making babies does not have to be an uncomfortable topic to discuss with our kids. In fact, the more I talk with my children about it, and the more complete and accurate the information I give them, the less impressed they are by all of it.
Some might say 7 years old is too young for the reproduction talk, but I have found that taking away the mystery of the mechanics of sex and baby making early means it’s just another piece of knowledge my kids carry around with them. It’s neutral territory, unpolluted by shame, fear, or secrecy. And it’s reassuring to know exactly what my kids know—because I’m the one who gave them the information. Even better, I believe I’ve set my kids up to trust me not to freak out (not in front of them anyway) when they come to me with big questions, and to feel confident that I will give them honest answers.