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Talking About Infertility With Your Children

When Your Kids Ask, "When Will I Have a Baby Brother or Sister?"

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Updated July 28, 2013

A couple with one child sitting on the beach.

Secondary infertility can be hard on parents and the kids.

Photo: Mel Yates / Getty Images

Fertility challenged couples facing secondary infertility are often asked by family and friends, "When are you going to have another baby?" When your Great Aunt Edith asks, it's ok to change the subject, ignore the question completely, or even get snarky. When your own child asks, it's a different situation.

Children are observant, and even if you have not discussed infertility with them directly, they may sense or know that something is wrong. Depending on her age, a child may feel anxious, sad, or even angry when she can see something is upsetting you and your partner, but no one is discussing the situation with them.

Let's not also forget that a baby brother or sister may be something the child wants even herself. Her friends or cousins may have baby siblings, and she sees how cute they are. Why can't she have one, too?

Talking to our children and acknowledging that something is going on can help your child feel more at ease. Here are some tips to keep in mind when talking to your kids. Obviously, the age of your children will factor into how to approach the topic, and some of the advice below is geared to younger children.

Keep It Simple

"When will I have a baby brother?"

Depending on how precocious your child is, she probably won't need a detailed explanation of why you can't give her a baby sibling right now. Some simple options include:

"We're trying to give you a baby sister or brother, but it's going to take awhile."

"The doctor is trying to help us give you a baby sister or brother. I'm sorry we can't give you one right away."

"I'd love to give you a baby sister or brother, but right now, I can't."

(When asking if there's a baby in your tummy) "Not now sweetie, no. When there is, I will tell you."

"I don't know when you'll have a baby brother. That's up to God/the Universe/Nature."

Be Ready to Explain a Baby Isn't Purchasable at the Local Walmart

"But why not?"

In a young child's world, anything they can wish for is either available in the kitchen cabinets or for sale at a store. All they need to do is ask Mommy or Daddy. The concept of things being unattainable is foreign.

If they can't have something, it's not because it's impossible, but because Mommy or Daddy said no. Even a slightly older child can be bothered by the realization that their parents aren't in control of the world.

There are a variety of ways to handle this topic, depending on your belief system. You may say the decision of whether or not you have a baby is God's or the Universe's. Or you may stick to the facts, explaining that babies are complicated and so you're getting help from a special doctor.

If prayer is an important part of your family life, encouraging them to pray with you for a new baby is ok. Just make sure they understand that "not praying hard enough" won't lead to a lack of a baby sister or brother.

Whatever you do, don't tie the arrival of a new baby brother or sister to their behavior or yours. "Maybe if you're a good little girl, God will give you a baby brother," is not something to say to your child.

Be Hopeful But Don't Make Promises You Can't Keep

"But what if God says no?"

Reassuring your child that "it'll be ok" isn't the same as promising them a baby sibling. The fact of the matter is you can't make that promise. Be hopeful but truthful if they ask "what if" questions.

Don't Feel Like You Must Explain Everything About the Birds and the Bees

"Where do babies come from?"

Don't be surprised if they start to ask more questions about where babies come from, but don't feel that to discuss infertility you must now give them explanations that are beyond your or their comfort level. If they ask questions, answer them. If they don't ask, take a deep breath and be thankful!

You also don't need to provide detail for detail information on exactly why you're infertile. They don't need to know whether the problem is with Mommy or Daddy or both, and they certainly don't need details on the exact cause of infertility. You can maintain your privacy while still acknowledging there are problems. (If you end up needing a donor or surrogate, you may need to go into some detail, but still not much. See more on this below.)

If you have a teenager who already understands basic reproduction, they may want more information. There's still no reason to go into great detail on why you can't get pregnant, but explanations of how fertility drugs and treatments work in general may be interesting to discuss, depending on your child's comfort and curiosity. As with younger children, "If they don't ask, you don't need to tell," still applies.

Be Clear That Your Life Isn't in Danger

"Are you sick?"

If they see you having injections or taking pills, reassure them that you're not sick, but this is just medicine to help you have a baby.

When explaining why you can't have a baby instantly, it's better to avoid words like "sick" or "broken," which can be frightening to a child. Also, depending on their age, they may not even realize there is another way to have a baby. They may easily accept that injections are just how babies are made for everyone, and it's fine for them to think that for now.

In the event of a miscarriage, especially one that involves a hospital visit, your child may naturally become frightened. You or your partner should reassure him that the doctors are taking care of you, and you'll be better very soon.

Be Careful Asking Your Children to Keep Infertility a Secret

"Hello, Grandma! Mommy can't talk now because Daddy is giving her a shot in the bum to make a baby."

If you've kept your infertility a secret, and now you've had to tell your child, you may be tempted to ask them not to discuss what you've told them. This, however, can backfire.

Kids, like adults, need to talk about topics that upset them, and asking them to keep it a secret can be stressful. Also, they may decide that the infertility is a source of shame, and in their child mind, decide it's something they should be ashamed of, something they did wrong.

The best thing is to just not say anything about keeping it a secret. Chances are they won't mention it to anyone else anyway, and if they do, you can of course explain to the now in-the-know adult that you'd rather not discuss the matter. Or, you can take the opportunity to open up about your infertility and perhaps gain some outside support.

Do Make Sure to Support Your Child

"I'm sad we don't have a baby sister like the cousins."

Your child may feel sad when they can't have a baby brother or sister right now. If you have a miscarriage, your child may experience grief, even if you never told him you were pregnant. As I said above, kids tend to know more than we realize.

Acknowledge your child's feelings, and even if you're not feeling strong, do your best to be strong for them. Talking about loss is never easy, and sometimes, a hug and telling them that you love them is more powerful than trying to explain in words why sad things sometimes happen to good people.

Don't Use Your Child as a Support System

"Why are you crying?"

As you already know, infertility can be very stressful, and it's normal to feel frustrated, sad, and even angry from time to time. If your child asks you why you're crying, or why you're upset, you can tell them why you're sad in short ("Mommy is just sad because she wants to give you a baby sister so much,"), but at the same time, reassure them that you're ok, and it'll be ok.

Children can also become nervous that you're sad because they aren't enough. Lots of reassurance of how much you love them, and emphasis on you "giving them a baby", as opposed to you wanting another child, can help.

While you don't need to hide your emotions completely from your children, you shouldn't unload on them or use them as a support. If you're in need of support, call a friend or adult relative. Getting counseling may also help you cope better.

Be Open About Third-Party Reproduction

"A special donor gave us a gift to help make my baby brother."

At one time, keeping donor pregnancies a secret was common. Now, the general consensus is that it's better for donor conceived children to know as early as possible where they come from. This means that their older siblings also need to know, and unless you're keeping it a total secret (as in not even one person besides your partner knows), your child needs to know first. You want them to get the information from you.

A counselor familiar with infertility can help advise you on how to share the news discreetly but openly with your child, friends, and family. There are also a number of books available to help explain this complicated subject to your child.

The best book I've found is What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg. The book explains how babies are made without discussing sex, and whether your child is conceived with donor sperm or donor egg, or if the pregnancy is a surrogacy, the book will help you explain the concept to your child, leaving room for you to add more details if you choose. The book is also LGBT friendly.

More on coping with friends and family when trying to get pregnant:

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