We were driving when my son Kai asked me the question.
“OK, Mom. How DO babies happen?”
“Happen?” Oh no, was this that moment? Where was my husband, Keith?
“You know. How do you make a baby?”
“Oh. You want this talk. You want it now?”
“OK … so …” I gathered myself. “So you know that boys and girls are different.”
“OK, but there’s a reason. Do you know why they’re different?”
“Um …” Then the horse stirred in the barn and got ready to run. Grab the reins, Lynn.
“The best way I can describe it is this. Remember DNA – the little road maps – the directions or instructions for you in every one of your cells?”
“Yeah, I remember.” …
“OK, so every single one of your cells has 46 chromosomes – those are packets of DNA – they’re the directions. Every single human cell has 46. Except for one special kind of cell in men and another special cell in women. The guys’ special cells are sperm – you have them percolating in your testicles.”
“Well, you asked, Bud. OK, so for women, the special cells are eggs.”
“Yes, but waaaay smaller. We have them in our ovaries – two little organs tucked on each side of the uterus.” I glanced back to see Kai gazing thoughtfully out the window. “You with me?”
“Uh … sort of.”
“Inside the sperm and the eggs there are only 23 chromosomes. They each have half of the instructions. So when they come together – it’s like shuffling the deck of cards. You get 23 direction capsules from your mom in the egg and 23 direction capsules in the sperm from your dad.” My gaze darted back in the mirror, trying to read his face. He was still looking out the window. I went on.
“Put the sperm and the egg together and shuffle it all up, and each shuffle makes a different set of directions. If it all goes well, the sperm and egg combine and start the process of a new person. Together the egg and sperm now have 46 chromosomes and starts dividing and turning into a person. This is called ‘fertilization,’ and the fertilized egg sticks and settles into the walls of the uterus in the woman and the baby develops. It stays there, kind of cooking, until about nine to 10 months later, when it comes out as a baby.”
I was feeling very pleased with myself for being clear and straight forward. Taking a science approach seemed to be making this stuff easier to talk about.
“OK, Mom, but HOW do the egg and the sperm get together?”
There it is. Stay calm.
“Oh boy. OK. So you have a penis, right?”
He snickered. “Yeah!”
“And it’s all hooked up to your testicles, and when you’re a grown-up you’ll have sperm inside, ready to come out. It’s almost like a squirt gun.”
“Kind of. A man puts his penis inside a woman’s vagina – women have an innie and men have an outie. They fit together. The sperm is shot inside and they swim up and one lucky sperm finds one lucky egg and BOOM! You shuffle the deck and if all factors are working you start a baby.” I’d made it through!
“Wait a minute. Wait a minute, wait a minute. People DO THAT?”
“Well, yeah.” There was a long pause.
“Ew.” He paused, doing the math. “YOU and DAD did that?”
“Uh … yeah, but when you’re a grown-up it doesn’t seem so shocking. You will mature – you will go through the magical changes.”
“I know, Mom, the magical changes of puberty. But I am never doing THAT!”
I started babbling. I couldn’t stop myself. “You’ll know when the time is right, but it will be about love and respect because it’s a big deal and when you fall in love make sure that you live your life! You’ll go to college and live a life before you settle down and have a baby and you will respect women and you will be safe and protected and – ”
“Can we get ice cream?”
I took a breath. “Did you hear me?”
“Yeah. Can we get ice cream?
Lynn Brunelle is a four-time Emmy Award-winning writer for Bill Nye the Science Guy. She lives in Washington state. From Mama Gone Geek by Lynn Brunelle, © 2014 by Lynn Brunelle. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston. roostbooks.com
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, September 2015.