“”The talk” on when and how to tell your children about their conception. By Hollie Shirley.

Welcome back my loves! I hope you are all enjoying your week. This week’s topic is all about “the talk”.

You know the one, the one you had with your parents when you hit puberty, either the way my mum did (Cried, produced a box of sanitary pads and chocolate and announced I was now “Becoming a woman”)  or however your parents discuss it. It’s embarrassing, however a rite of passage.

But what about when your kid has been born via IVF?

With 180,000 babies born via IVF methods in a year, the question of when and how to discuss where babies come from is one I have thought about a lot, as have many parents whose families were made via more unconventional methods. There seem to be a number of factors involved when having this discussion, when to tell them, how much information do you divulge, what if they were born via an egg or sperm donor, how to discuss adoption, and most prominently, what to do you do if they react badly to this news?

I’ve had a practice run of this with kids in our family, and tried to explain the best I can that the reason myself and my partner don’t have children yet is because we need some help getting the egg into my womb first. Not entirely true and not giving away too much, this seemed to placate the 8-11 year old nieces, nephews and cousins who have asked the question. But what if they asked more questions? How do you explain IVF to an 8-year-old?


This is going to be the subject of my next book, explaining in easy but not totally sugar-coated language how families are made, and that some need some extra help, and some choose to adopt, and that some families are complete without children, and all of them are special and normal.

From speaking to some friends who have already started thinking about this conversation or already had “the talk”, it seems that the younger you open the conversation to the table,  the easier it is for everyone involved. School sex ed doesn’t seem to go into any detail about IVF, so it’s a great way to ensure your kids are prepared for this talk and then some. Knowledge is power as they say.

So what sort of information should you tell them and how?

For young children, (under 6) leaving the science out of the equation is great way to start. There are some amazing books aimed at the younger age range to help explain in an easy way how they were made, my personal favourite being “The Pea that was Me” by Kimberley Kulger-Bell. It introduces the way babies are conceived in a really easy manner and even better, the author has adapted the story for Egg and Sperm donors as well as IVF, and also has a book for Surrogacy called “The very kind koala”. Books like these are a great introduction to discussing IVF with children from a young age.

As children get older, sex education is brought up at schools and this makes for a conversation starter on IVF and where babies come from. This is an age where you can go into a bit more detail and information about how IVF works. It can be bought into the topic of puberty and body changes, however its important to have the discussion away from this so they understand that families are made in many methods, not just the way nature intended.

Someone I know had the discussion with their 11-year-old daughter who was conceived via IVF and a sperm donor.

They explained that although the teacher had told them how babies are made one way, thanks to science and doctors there are other ways to help mums and dads have a family if they need the help.

“When she was in Year 6 at school, we had a chat about how babies are made. She reacted to most of it in the same manner you would expect of a Year 6 child, “Eeugh! That’s disgusting mum!”

After getting over her initial disgust, we talked about how some families need extra help.
Her dad  told her “Mum has told you about how a mum and a dad make a baby naturally. Even though we wanted you so very, very much and tried really, really hard, we just couldn’t make you naturally like that so we had to have some help from some very clever doctors and nurses at a special hospital.”
She sat there with a look of interest, inquisitiveness and focus as we continued,

“We had to do something called IVF which stands for In Vitro Fertilisation.”

She naturally looked blank. “You were made in a hospital. A doctor took my sperm and some of mummy’s eggs and fertilised the eggs in a dish in a laboratory. After a couple of days you were taken from the dish and put inside mummy’s womb, which eventually made mummy pregnant. But the magical thing for us was that we got to see you under a microscope first before you were put inside mummy.” (We were both so excited telling her this bit, faces alight, voices enthusiastic.)

I expected her to question what was wrong with us, why we couldn’t have a baby the natural way, she never asked.

She just accepted that it was pretty cool she was made in a lab, and from then on she hasn’t really asked much more about it. Hopefully in years to come when she is older we can discuss it more.

Telling other people then entered the equation. Telling her friends was important to her, so we discussed it with their parents first. We had no idea if they knew yet how babies were made. Most friends told their offspring at home and then let us know so the children could freely discuss it if they wished.”

What about donors and surrogacy?

As with IVF, having the discussion around Egg and Sperm donors and where babies come from appears to have the least impact on children when they are told about it from a young age. What matters most to young children is that they have a loving and secure relationship with their parents, jumping, and custard. (You get my drift)  What I mean is, the things that matter the most, are the things that help them feel good about themselves.

They do not care about genetic connections so when you talk with them about ‘Mummy not having enough eggs so she needed some help from a kind lady’ or ‘Daddy’s sperm not being able to swim fast enough to reach Mummy’s egg’,  or that they had to stay in a very kind ladies’ tummy until they were born, your child’s response will more than likely be indifference, to ask if they can have sausages for tea or to ask what a sperm looks like (most will think they know an egg when they see one).  Kids will be kids, and you will probably have this discussion many times as they grow up.

If you are having the discussion for the first time when your child is over seven, then it is likely to start with a ‘sitting down and telling event’ rather than  over the course of a few years, although you can prepare the ground by talking about how all families are different and sometimes parents need some extra help to make a baby.

How they receive the news depends as much on how you feel about it and go about telling them as on their own personality and general way of dealing with things.

If they understand immediately – and not all children do make this link at first – that the information means that they do not have a ‘blood’ connection to one or other parent (or both) then there may be an element of shock.  The older they are the more likely it is that they will be angry at not having been told this information earlier. Some children are sad for a while that they are not connected by genes and blood to a much-loved parent. The important message to drive home is that they are so very loved and important and both parents care for them a great deal.

Explaining to children how this all works and how they came into the world can be difficult, but to me, it seems like it will be no less difficult than explaining how babies are made, just with added extra information.

Obviously, it is completely up to parents when they tell their children how they were made, indeed if they wish to do so at all, but I don’t think it is anything to shy away from. I know that when we have children,  we will make sure that they are told about how they were made early so that they never grow up with a time they didn’t know.

I hope this has been useful, and keep your eyes peeled for more updates on book two!

Until next time.

We are thrilled to say that Hollie will be talking at our get together on the 20th in London! You can follow her on www.holliewritesblog.wordpress.com, Instagram/twitter: @ohheyitshollie, facebook:@holliewritesblog

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