By Sarah Simon
I’m not a parent, but I can imagine that the day your four-year-old straight up asks where babies come from is terrifying. But I’m willing to double-or-nothing bet my student loans that any “birds and bees” talk would go better than mine did: in which my mother put on the beginning of Look Who’s Talking where the sperm make small talk with each other while they swim around in Kirstie Alley’s uterus and I run screaming from the room. (Can we take a moment to appreciate the fact that nine-year-old me was so queer that the thought of engaging in heterosexual sex literally made me flee the premises?) But in all seriousness, while every parent/child relationship is different, it seems that the earlier you give your kid the facts of life in the most inclusive, non-biased way possible, the better.
A great tool to accomplish this is Cory Silverberg’s What Makes A Baby. This children’s picture book lives up to its tagline: “A book for every kind of family and every kind of kid.” Early on, the author’s note makes the distinction between a child asking where babies come from generally versus where they, themselves, came from. This nuance between the personal and the general is consistently reiterated throughout the book, which helps parents personalize the message while also making sure their kid understands the information.
The first great thing about this book is how it completely separates the concept of reproduction with the concept of sex, or any kind of intimacy. This leaves room for validation of single parenthood, people who use sperm banks, or any other kind of diverse family structure. It also eradicates the idea that the people who biologically made a child are inherently the parents of that child. The opening line of the book reads: “This is a story about how babies are made.” It is as simple and straightforward as that.
In addition, the book separates sex from gender. In the first few pages, Silverberg emphasizes the fact that to make a baby, you need sperm and an egg. “Not all bodies have sperm in them. Some do, and some do not.” Then, when mentioning where the fetus grows, Silverberg writes that they grow in the uterus and that the uterus is found near the belly button “in the squishy middle part.” Silverberg is careful to assert that not all bodies have a uterus, despite its inclusive spelling which consists of “u” and “us.” Silverberg makes no mention of the fact that sperm and uteri are conventionally attached to specific sexes, which allows children to apply their own diverse experiences to this book, and come away from “the talk” with an unbiased view.
With regard to race, ability, gender, and sex, this book is top-notch. All of the bodies drawn in this book are completely neutral in terms of their gender presentations, as they are sort of glorified stick figures. They also vary in size and body type. Further, their skin tones range from canary yellow and hot pink to purple, coral, green, and blue, which decentralizes particular racial groups from being more featured—and thus, valued—in terms of reproduction. Throughout the pages of the book, readers are treated with many diverse family structures, as well as people with various gender expressions, ages, abilities, and bodies.
Silverberg ties in the personal component by asking children, “Who was happy that it was YOU who grew?” This is a great way to engage kids in this conversation, as reproduction is something that often is labeled as “gross” or “weird.” Silverberg highlights instead that this process is where your child personally came from, and that it is something to be celebrated, not shamed.
One potential complication with this book is the fact that it seems to refer to all stages of life—including a two-week joining of cells—as a “baby,” rather than specifying that an embryo eventually grows into a fetus. This is, of course, a personal decision parents have to make when educating their children, and the right answer varies from family to family.
All in all, this book is very effective. It helps to promote a progressive and de-sexualized understanding of reproduction, which is important for all children, particularly kids of diverse and unique families, or kids whose queerness might impact the way they see their bodies or how they came into this world.
Silverberg’s work shares this de-gendered, de-raced, de-abled, etc. view of the creation of human life in its most stark and pure sense, which is so important for young children growing up during a time of political and social change. It is a teaching tool that helps children learn while also helping adults to reevaluate the methods with which they talk about sex, reproduction, and bodies as a whole. So when you hear your child’s pipsqueak-y voice ask, “Where do babies come from?” don’t sweat it. You’re covered.
Sarah Simon has been writing for My Kid Is Gay for two years. She is an ENFJ/ Sagittarius who usually can be found with body glitter on her face and English Bulldogs on her mind. Sarah is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied Queer Theory and Psychology. She is currently a candidate for her MA in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence. In between pots of very strong coffee, Sarah makes rad mix tapes for her friends, cooks fun vegetarian food, and cackles at the thought of destroying the patriarchy. Follow her on Instagram @glitterpawzz and on Twitter @misssaraheliz
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