How to Explain Infertility to a Five Year Old

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The other night while I was lying in bed with my five year old daughter, reading her a bed time story, she started prodding my belly with her hand.

The combination of a filling dinner, my lack of exercise over the past few months and pants that were just a little too tight had caused me to have some extra baggage around my mid-section that hadn’t been there in a while. Her curiosity got the best of her. Noticing my bigger-than-normal belly, she then asked me the question “Mommy, are you EVER going to have a baby in your belly?”

Let me just say that 85% of the women I know right now are pregnant or had a newborn in the last six months. There must be something about the 33-34 age range that inherently lends itself to pregnancy. So my daughter and I have been wrapping gifts and writing cards and sending them out to all of the new moms and their little ones, not to mention a congratulation gift to any big sibling already in the house. 

Combine this fact with the reality that all of my daughters’ friends and most of her cousins now all have siblings, she has been asking a lot if she is EVER going to be a big sister. Because in my daughter’s opinion, she would be the most awesome big sister to grace Planet Earth and I don’t happen to disagree.

If I could put a Facebook status on our family expansion, I would say “It’s complicated.” Since my daughter has been born, my husband and I have exhausted all attempts to have more biological children, which resulted in many miscarriages and failed medical procedures. We also survived one failed attempt to adopt embryos. We have been doing a lot of research on domestic and international adoption, but after battling infertility and pregnancy loss our spiritual, financial and emotional resources are running on empty and at this point we could not endure another long, potentially heart breaking journey to expand our family.

But how do you explain this to a five year old? How do you explain this to a five year old who has a 50% chance of inheriting not only my genetic defect which led to all my miscarriages, but also endometriosis, a disease which not only causes infertility but also terrible chronic pain? My daughter is very smart and wise beyond her years. She was not buying with the vague answer I usually give her when she inquires about having siblings. The other night she looked me in the eye and wanted to know what was up.

I had to tell her the truth. I took a deep breath and told my five year old, “I will never have another baby growing in my belly.” She asked, “Never?” I told her, “Never. I am so grateful and lucky that you were able to grow in my belly.” My daughter looked sad and confused and said, “How come Stella’s mom was able to have four babies grow in her belly and you could just have one? It isn’t fair.” Ugh. Is there really a good answer to this? Doesn’t every adult infertile woman struggle with this question at some point in her journey?

I tried to explain to my daughter that everyone has a journey in this life and some parts of that journey are really hard to understand because they don’t make sense and make us sad. Sometimes life isn’t fair and there is no good reason. But I brought it back to how grateful I am that she is my little one and how much I love her and her dad.

It would have been awesome if this conversation ended at this point. But as I mentioned, my daughter is wise beyond her years. “So if you can’t have another baby in your tummy, why can’t we just adopt a baby like our cousin was adopted and like Bloom on “The Winx” cartoon was?” Double ugh.

I couldn’t answer this question because there is simply no good answer. I can’t explain to her how sad the miscarriages have left us. I can’t explain to her how frightened the failed embryo adoption has left us. I can’t explain to her the pain we would feel if we were set to adopt a baby but the birth mother changed her mind and took her back, like some laws allow her to do.

How could we all cope with that? How would my daughter deal with that when all she wants is a sibling? International adoption has many challenges and uncertainties as well. We are still healing and the thought of having any failed adoptions before we are able to have our “forever family” seems like too much to endure. I wanted to run and cry into my pillow. But my beautiful miracle was waiting for an answer.

I told her that adoption is a wonderful gift and works out for so many families. I also said it is a long journey and is not easy. After a relentless string of more questions, I finally told her it can take a long time to adopt a baby and can be very expensive. I also told her that sometimes it can be a little scary because the person you are adopting the baby from or the country where you are adopting the baby can change their mind.

Then my daughter asked, “Wait, if you pay the money and the person or country changes their mind, do you get your money back?” Seriously– she is five!! I told her that sometimes you do not get your money back. She said, “Well that isn’t fair! I am so sad Mommy. I really wanted to be a big sister. I would be a great big sister.” I gave her a big hug and told her it is okay to be sad, I am sad too. I then asked my daughter if she had any more questions and she said no and wanted to go back to reading her book.

I don’t know if what I said was the right thing. In many ways the questions she asked have no right or wrong answers and in reality some of the questions she asked have no answers at all. I know this is one of many conversations she and I are going to be having about my infertility issues throughout her life and possibly her own.

I just hope and pray she can always feel she can come and talk to me and that I can give her honest, age appropriate answers that satisfy her needs at the time without terrifying her. In so many ways she is so mature beyond her years and yet when she announced to a room full of my in-laws the other day, “My mom is NEVER going to have another baby in her belly and we are not going to adopt!” I am reminded that she is just five years young and still my little girl.

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