Hello! My wife and I have a one-year-old child. We used an anonymous sperm donor to create her. My five-year-old niece has recently learned that part of the genetic material from a man and a woman go together to create a baby. She told my sister “That’s not true. Aunt A and Aunt K were able to make a baby.” My sister didn’t know what to say and told her to ask us about it next time she sees us. What should we tell her?
Hi, Mama A and Mama K!
Congratulations, first of all, on making it through the first year. Truly, it is a feat and I feel like straight parents and moms especially have really not been honest with the world about how dang hard it is to keep it together for the first year. It’s a wild, cute, rewarding, also terrible-at-times ride!
I hope you’re finally starting to catch up on sleep.
When you meet with your niece, please suggest your sister is in the room, too, because she may need to reinforce what you share and, also, it’ll be good for her to realize it’s not that complex to explain! Bonus for you two is that this will be great practice for when you have to explain this all to your own kiddo.
If your niece already knows enough about babymaking to know that “genetic material” goes together to create a baby, this should be fairly simple. Most child psychologists recommend talking about your sperm donor to your child at an early age, so your niece is definitely old enough. A cool thing about little kids is that they’re naturally inquisitive and able to process new information quickly. Unlike grown-ups who’ve already decided the sky is blue and the grass is green, kids are very open to new ideas that challenge their assumptions.
This is going to go great, I swear. Here are six tips to get you started in preparing for the convo:
Don’t romanticize your donor’s role in your baby-making story.
Don’t make up a fairy tale. Kids do best when we make things simple for them. Decide what you want to call the donor, which could just be “donor.” “Helper” is another kid-friendly option. Make a distinction between parent and helper/donor in your story and emphasize that you are the parents while expressing gratitude to your donor.
Keep the medical explanation simple and accurate.
As long as your sister is OK with it, it may be helpful to explain to kids in simple medical terms that you need an egg and a sperm to create a baby. You don’t need to go into the nitty-gritty details, but kids at age five can understand the idea that you need to mix two things together to get something else. You can explain that you both have eggs and wanted to have a baby, so you needed a helper to give you the sperm. If you can’t say, “sperm,” you might call the donor’s contribution a “seed” or talk about it in baking terms (“eggs” and “sugar,” etc). I personally think “sperm” and “egg” is less gross than “seed” or “sugar,” but whatever works for you and your sister.
Normalize the idea that families are created out of love.
This is a great time to talk about how families aren’t always related biologically, in general. Again, use simple terms, but reinforce that families come from love, not from “genetic material.” I assume your niece will one day play with your kid and it’s important that your niece comes away with a sense that your family is not less than her family. Also, this is just the truth. Families are bound by love and broken by the lack of it. This also helps normalize the idea of adoption, foster parents, step-relatives, and chosen families.
Be ready to answer personal questions.
Both your niece and your sister may have questions. Do your best, especially with your niece, to be open to more questions immediately when you talk or later after she’s thought more about it. Let her know that she can reach out to you (or to her mom). Kids don’t mean to ask rude questions. They’re truly curious about everything. So go in emotionally prepared for her to potentially say or ask something unintentionally hurtful. For example: commentary on “dads” or who the “real parents” are may come up. Correct gently and be as clear and direct as possible to help her understand.
Bring some picture books!
Kids often learn better through visual processing, so bring some colorful children’s books. I like What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth to explain fertility and the classic Mommy Mama and Me by Leslea Newman to expose kids to affirming stories of two-mom families.
Don’t overthink it.
Act like it’s very chill and simple and hopefully, your sister will internalize this as well as your niece. Truly, I predict your niece will be totally fine with this info! She’ll just roll with it once she has the answer she seeks. It may take adult family members a little longer to become comfortable with how to talk about the lovely way you grew your family.
You’re such cool aunts! You’re going to do great!