It's amazing how smart kids are and how much they retain.
"Mommy, we learned about mammals today in class. They’re like us except they don’t need a doctor to have a baby!"
I laughed and I cried when my daughter told me this. I was so relived to find that they were still very naive and yet I worried that I may have only confused the future discussion on babies even more. I followed that with "Some people don’t need doctors to have babies. Everyone needs to visit the doctor if they’re pregnant but some people can have babies without the doctors help right away." Luckily there wasn't a follow up question. We started talking about what they wanted to have for snack.
One of the ongoing questions throughout this process has been what do I tell the girls?!There is never a clear cut answer to this, as with parenting in general. But for some reason this has been much more difficult to navigate. As parents we make mistakes every single day with our kids. We yell, we misunderstand, we give them too many sweets or not enough, we demand a certain way of communication from them but don’t deliver it ourselves, and of course we look at our phones WAY too much. I'm the first person to raise my hand and say that I'm guilty of all of those and more.
For some reason I can brush those off, though. I can learn from my mistakes and know that presumably I haven’t f%*^ed my kids up (at least not much). But IVF and IVF talk is different. Let's be honest – ANY baby talk is hard. I feel most parents dread the typical "where do babies come from?" question. Like most, I had already thought of ideas on how to handle this when the time came. But I never thought I would have to explain why babies cannot come (as easily) for some of us.
The first year of my IVF journey to bring my third child into the world, my twins were six. We told them "mommy has a doctor's appointment" again and again. That appointment was for different reasons every time, and every time I felt horrible for lying to them. Luckily they were in kindergarten that year and in our town, kindergarten was a full day 8:00a-2:00p so I had a lot of time to get to these appointments without them being aware.
Our school system also however has an October break for two weeks (because they need a break a month and a half into school right?), Thanksgiving holiday, and then a long winter holiday break. Unfortunately I had zero control over timing with IVF and I had to do what my body was ready to do each day. This meant occasionally taking them to the fertility center was unavoidable. Sometimes we took iPads, other times I had them color. I brought snacks and books to keep them occupied but each time the question still arose "why do you have to go to the doctor again, Mommy?"
My heart shattered every time. I felt so guilty dragging them along and on top of that lying to them. "Mommy is just getting a check up... Mommy's back hurts... Mommy's tummy hurts..."
We did this for a year and a half until finally we could tell them why we had been at the doctor so much.
They walked into the doctor’s office at fertility center #2 December of their 1st grade year. "Look at the screen – see that little dot? That's a baby! You're going to be big sisters!"
They were so excited. And then Eliana started to sob. I was so confused. "Are you happy? Are you sad?"
She was happy, but she was crying tears of relief because this whole time they had thought something was really wrong with me. I started sobbing. I felt like the worst mom in the world. But how else do you approach this?
From that day on, I told them I would never lie to them about the doctor again.
I miscarried two weeks later. We couldn't lie.
Nick and I sat there sobbing, trying to explain, in the least aggressive manner possible, that the baby died in mommy's tummy. "Sometimes the baby is not healthy and it wouldn't have been a healthy baby if it stayed in my tummy, but its sad, and its okay to cry,” I said. “I'm crying, Daddy's crying, so cry as much as you want to and we can talk about it any time you’re feeling sad, angry, or confused."
And we did. We talked (and still talk) about it all the time. I've cried a lot, and I've learned I don’t need to hide it from them. When they ask why I’m crying, I say that sometimes I get sad about the baby but that I know we will have one some day. I tell them that the best part is that I have the two of them and I'm SO lucky. I remind them that its okay to feel sad about anything; I make sure they know its okay to be emotional. (They made me these cards, shown below, after we told them about the miscarriage).
We now talk so openly about it that they've even been able to talk about it at school! A couple of their friends' moms are pregnant and when they found out (around the time of my miscarriage), they did not hold back.
"Mommy! Cindy’s mommy is having a baby!”
“Oh and Mommy? We told her that you had a baby in your tummy but the baby died in there".
*Hand slap to the face*
"You told them that???" I asked.
They simply replied, "Yes, Mommy. That’s what happened… what's the big deal?"
They're so right, I thought! Why couldn't I talk about it like that?
I know people always say to learn from your children and they can teach you so much. But it wasn't until these past two years that I have really come to understand this. While I feel like our kids have had to deal with a lot (life, death, emotions), I've learned that they can also handle a lot. That doesn't mean that I explain every detail or step I take and I DO hide all my shots from them because what 8-year-old likes the thought of an injection? I mask my "laying low" during transfers and pretend my back hurts because I don't want them to have to go through loss often.
But I do tell them that I have to go to the doctor because they have to make sure that my body is ready to have a baby. I tell them I have to take special vitamins (like their gummy vitamins but for mommies) and see my acupuncturist so that whenever the baby is ready, everything in my body will be working well. They seem to be content with that answer… except for when I had to explain that just because I take a lot of "vitamins" doesn't mean a baby will grow inside of me, they were wondering if they took the vitamins if a baby would grow inside of them!
Their imaginations are so incredible to witness. Its also so rewarding to see how caring and compassionate they've become! I'm not sure if its going through all of this together as a family and really including them (when its appropriate of course) that has made them more aware of their feelings and feelings for others, but whatever it is, I'm so ridiculously proud of them and I still can't believe they’re my little humans.
I guess in all of this I can't say that there is a best way to handle the involvement of your kids. Clearly I haven't figured it all out by any means. But I do know that whatever instinct told you to start your IVF journey, that same instinct will guide the conversations you may or may not have. This should NOT be a stress or a guilt you hold on to. Believe me there are plenty of other worries day in and day out, not only with IVF but every day life. Your kids, like mine, will understand one day and all they need during this time is love, consistency, and knowing that you're there for them no matter what.