by Tara DaPra
When I was pregnant with my second child, my four-year-old firstborn asked a lot of questions. Not the “Where do babies come from?” questions but more the “How do they come out?” questions. I really did not know how to answer this, but I also didn’t want to lie, so for a while I waffled. “The doctor will help me,” was my first stilted response. That satisfied him for, like, a minute, but in the next days, the question returned. I thought back to my own mother, who’d become pregnant with her first child at seventeen and had been adamant that we not repeat her mistake. She used the plainest and most anatomically accurate language possible to explain the act of procreation when I was six years old. While it’s among my squirmier memories, I’m grateful for her candor. But still, that wasn’t the question my son was asking, so I didn’t have to tackle it just yet. He was simply asking about logistics: “How does the baby get out?”
For help in crafting an answer, I turned to my local library. I found lots of picture books about becoming a sibling and bringing a new baby home, I found one poetic title that used the metaphor of seeds to explain a baby’s growth, but there were none that tackled the journey down the birth canal.
Miranda Paul’s forthcoming book Nine Months, due out the same week as UntitledTown Book & Author Festival, also skips over the pain and gore of labor and delivery. And maybe that’s just the way kids’ books should be. But she does give curious 4-8 year olds plenty of accessible information about a pregnancy’s development in measured, poetic language, following the days of an expectant big sister. The illustrations by Caldecott Honor Artist Jason Chin are two-fold. On the left side of the spread are medically accurate drawings a how a fertilized egg becomes a zygote, an embryo, a fetus, and, finally, a baby. On the right side of the spread, we see the social and emotional development of a family making preparations. Big sister sees the sonogram, roll plays feeding her baby doll, and waves a worried goodbye when mom and dad leave for the hospital while she, pajama-clad, stays home with grandma. The book then cuts to the crying baby’s arrival, umbilical cord attached and the white, waxy vernix caseosa coating its skin.
The book ends with a portrait of the new family: big sister climbing onto mom’s hospital bed to inspect the baby, dad gentling touching her back, and delighted grandparents entering the room. There is much love and wonder in the scene. In the final four pages, Paul lists more facts about babies for her curious young readers: when developing embyos can first taste and hear, how animal babies compare to humans, and what happens if a baby is born too early or dies in miscarriage.
As parents, we shouldn’t shy away from our kids’ hard questions, be they about how life ends or how it begins. But we don’t always know how to talk about these big topics, either. In the end, to answer my son’s question, I found an animated YouTube video that showed an internal, anatomical view of a baby leaving its mother’s womb, moving through the birth canal, and exiting that “special opening” I had told him about. The animation was blessedly devoid of the gore imprinted on my mind from the video we watched in my middle school home economics class. My son watched for about ten seconds and, having gotten the gist of it, returned to playing with his Legos, equal parts satisfied and unimpressed.
Books like Miranda Pauls’ Nine Months give curious kids the information their young minds are so thirsty for. They also help clumsy parents navigate delicate conversations in honest and age appropriate ways. Saints be praised! And you can help us welcome this lovely and much needed book into the world. UntitledTown is throwing a Birthday Party for Miranda Paul’s NINE MONTHS. Join us on Sunday April 28, 2019, 12 – 1 p.m. at the Rise & Grind Break-Out Room (Third Floor, Brown County Library Central Branch) and experience the miracle of gestation, picture-book style.