How do you explain surrogacy to small children? Due to cancer, my cousin can no longer carry a baby. I would love to be able to do this for her, but I donít know how to explain it to my children. My daughter is 3.5 and the last time I was pregnant, she got a baby brother (who is now 8 mths). How do I explain that this time we are not keeping the baby? Thanks!
From: Mom of Two, Rexhame. MA
Dear Mom of Two,
Explain it as simply and truthfully as possible, given your child's level of cognition. Even the baby counts. In fact: tell the baby first, not because he will understand but because it will give you practice for what you want to say to your preschooler. It seems like you already realize how important truthfulness is, but just to spell it out, a major concern for any child whose mother is a surrogate is why mommy is not keeping the baby. Magical thinking can fuel the fear that if she could give this baby away, could she also give me away? Which is why it's important to establish from the start that you are helping to make this baby for someone else who can't make a baby.
If you've never talked about where babies come from, that's your starting point. Have that conversation first and then, some time later, ask: "Do you remember how we talked about where babies come from?" Get her to tell the story back to you, so you know for sure what she's retained. Then you can add the new facts in layers:
"Babies grow inside a special place in a woman called a uterus but, sometimes, a woman's uterus can't grow a baby."
"Cousin Z's body doesn't have a healthy uterus (or whatever the specifics are). A baby can't grow in her uterus. But a baby can grow in my uterus. You did! Your brother did! So I've decided to help Z. Do you want to know how? A special doctor is going to take an egg from Z and sperm from X and plant it in my uterus and grow a baby for them. When that baby gets born, it won't be your brother or sister. It will be X and Z's baby. Because it came from their seeds. That baby will be your cousin!"
Let her attention span and interest level be your guide for how much (or how little) to embellish. Give her room to ask questions. Most of all, don't expect this to be a one-time conversation. As she goes through new developmental stages, she will have new questions, and come to more sophisticated understandings based on each new level of cognition.
The over-riding idea is to leave your child with the message that you are doing something loving and wonderful. Once you're showing, you will want to talk naturally and openly in front of your child about how happy you are to be able to have your sister's baby growing inside you. Don't over-do it, but don't feel you need to under-do it.
There may be some people who are surprised at your level of openness. Don't let them dissuade you. Children fare much better emotionally when they have access to the truth.