It’s one of those questions that we all dread isn’t it? “Mummy where do babies come from?” Up there with “Is Santa Claus real?” and “What are you eating, Mummy? Is that chocolate?” As you shovel leftover Easter eggs into your mouth from deep inside the fridge.
Toddlers are wonderful creatures, full of a joyful, sometimes face-reddeningly embarrassing, mix of honesty and creative thinking. If your child stops at “where do babies come from?” you’ve been let of lightly by toddler standards. You may even be able to get away with “inside mummy’s tummy,” and then move on to more pressing matters of why some people (yes, like that man over there, thank you son) have big noses or why jelly beans don’t grow on trees.
But for most of us, once our toddler has begun to understand that there is an actual baby causing Mummy’s tummy to swell and not a giant watermelon, that is where the fun really begins. And when I say fun, I obviously mean the kind of fun that makes you want to cringe behind the covers of Mother and Baby magazine and turn up the volume on Dora, pretending you haven’t heard.
For me, this moment happened about 5 months into my third pregnancy. With my second pregnancy my oldest was way too young to understand what was happening, it was all a massive shock to him going down for breakfast with Daddy one morning, to come back up 45 minutes later and find an imposter in the family bed, so third time round I had two very inquisitive little minds. At three and four and using their combined crazy they were not about to be fobbed off. So here we are, out of the mouths of babes;
“How did the baby get in?” The classic question that we should all be ready with an answer for. I would suggest simple, straight-forward honesty. Creative truth with toddlers can only lead to more and more questions until you end up tangled in your own web of cabbage seeds, magic drinks and cannibalism.
“Did it hurt?” This seems to come up a lot. Did it hurt getting the baby in? Does it hurt growing the baby inside? Will it hurt getting the baby out? For a toddler hurting is about scraping your knee or trapping your finger, in which case, no none of these things will hurt in the same way.
“If I look in your mouth can I see the baby?” There is one way to answer this question and it involves an afternoon lying on the sofa with your mouth wide open whilst a small person stands next to you shining a torch in your face. As afternoons with toddlers go it’s not a particularly taxing one.
“Why are you tired all the time?” I have to admit I was probably more tired than others due to a blood disorder, but there are indeed some days which may bAe less than exciting for expectant siblings-to-be. On these days I tried to call in help from grandparents or a local teenager or I simply let them paint all over one another in the bath whilst I sat in a chair watching the contained mess and browsing baby names.
Oh yes, baby names. “What shall we call the baby?” This is one of my favourite questions, as the resulting conversation generally turns out to be either hilarious or really quite sweet. My boys came out with some absolute gems for their baby sister including Kayak, Cloud, Tin Can, as well as tearfully insisting that the baby should be named after them and that no other names would do. I conjured up a ridiculous scenario for them highlighting the confusion of two people in the same house having the same name, but this only served to entertain and thus make the idea all the more alluring to them.
“Is the baby coming today?” No, in another 25 weeks. “Tomorrow?” No darling, not tomorrow either. This. Every single day without fail for 25 weeks.
“Will the baby come out of your belly button?” I don’t know how or why this question seems to appear in children’s minds, we have never suggested anything like this and yet my children asked this question just as many others I have heard about. We looked at our belly buttons with magnifying glasses and decided that this was not going to be the best route for a baby to come out. Likewise our noses or bottoms, although no magnifying glasses were needed to rule out bottoms, they decided that babies probably didn’t want to come out with poo.
“What was it like when I was born?” Children love to hear their birth stories and I love telling mine about theirs, I also love asking them if they remember anything about being inside Mummy’s tummy or being born. One of mine says that he remembers it being red and warm, the other made up some bonkers story about eating apples with the lights on and having toys in there. Your children’s birth stories are a big part of their own personal narrative and I have made each of mine a special book telling the story of their birth. Be careful to handle it sensitively, my eldest surprised me by being particularly emotional over the fact that I used gas and air with him and not with his brother. He took this to mean that he had hurt me more and this upset him in a way I had not expected. Add this to the fact that he was born in hospital and his brother at home and he really found it quite difficult to get his head round. Making sure that every birth story is told in reverence and is special is so important.
“Will it make a mess when the baby comes?” There’s no denying that birth is a visceral experience and there will be body fluids involved. Particularly if you intend to have your children present at the birth you will probably want to explain to them that there will be some blood but that is not a sign that Mummy is hurt or in danger. Oh and talk to them about poo, toddlers love a good poo story and although it is many mothers’ worst fears, it is absolutely fascinating for under-fives.
“So, how will the baby get out?” This one is a dead-cert. There is no way that even the most blasé toddler is going to let you get away without asking this one. Mine were obsessed with how their sister was going to make her way into the world and how hard I would have to push, what she would look like when she came out, would she be talking, would she cry, would Mummy cry…When the day finally came my boys had two pieces of advice; “Don’t forget to push really, really hard.” And “Go somewhere else and make that noise Mummy, I can’t hear the TV.” I managed to follow both of these instructions.