Unplanned pregnancy might seem like a difficult conversation to have with your child, but as a parent, it’s necessary. For some, this may be a conversation that you have when you talk about sex with your children. However, for those of us who have adopted our children (and potentially many others), this is a talk that you may have to have much earlier with your child. 

My daughter first asked me about it when she was four. At that time, she became extremely curious about her birth family (particularly her birth mother) and learning her own story. It’s confusing for children who are adopted and don’t have a relationship with their birth mothers to understand that relationship. (We have a semi-open adoption and send letters/photos to our agency for my daughter’s birth mother per her decision.)

When she asked how and why people had babies that they weren’t prepared to keep, I was taken aback. Though at four she had a higher aptitude for understanding than some children, I didn’t feel like we were ready to have the full-on birds and the bees chat yet. So, I found ways to have this conversation and continue to have it when it comes up and I do plan to delve in more deeply when we do have “the talk” when she’s older; but for now, from talking to birth mothers and other adoptees, I’ve been able to formulate discussions that she can understand when (and only when) she asks for the information. If you have an older child that you’ve started having more advanced discussions with, it’s probably time to dedicate some time to unplanned pregnancy. (And if you have a daughter, invest in The Care and Keeping of You sooner rather than later—you won’t regret it!)

Speaking With Children

There is no right or wrong age to have conversations. If you have adopted your child, you know that you start to discuss difficult topics early on from explaining adoption, transracial adoption, and other issues pertaining to your child’s own story. Some mothers I know have had to begin to have conversations about drug addiction and various other things that are pertinent to their own story. Many of us have been talking about things with our kids that many other parents don’t have to address until a later age, so you’ll need to consider what information your child needs to know and what information you feel he or she can handle.

When my daughter asked about birth mothers and why they may have babies they aren’t prepared to raise, I told her that there are a lot of reasons that this might happen and we honestly don’t know how this happened to her birth mother. She was satisfied with this answer.

If your child is older and knows about sex, it’s time to ensure that they know that sex causes pregnancy. It depends on your own beliefs on how you’ll handle the rest, but this is something that older children need to know. I’ve also planned to discuss how protection works. No matter how much you try to shelter your children from false information in the world, your children will learn things outside of the home. You need to be sure that they get the right information from you before they hit the internet where they could find misinformation. 

Be aware of your child’s needs and listen to the questions they are asking carefully before you answer. The most important thing is to remain calm so that your children know that they can come to you with things like this in the future.

Additionally, this conversation may be coming up because you know someone who is experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and your child may be privy to some conversations. It’s important to offer your support and to help your child be empathetic as well. Though those experiencing an unplanned pregnancy may be shamed by others or fearful about the choices, you have the opportunity to be a support person for them. If you know someone who is grappling with an unplanned pregnancy, here is a birth mother’s perspective on ways to support them.

If you don’t know anyone who has faced an unplanned pregnancy and don’t have a relationship with your child’s birth parent, there are several others who may be able to help.

Open the Conversation

I’m the first to admit that I can’t do things alone, particularly when it comes to parenting. I’m a researcher and as such, I like to talk to people that have lived experiences who can help me or even chat with my daughter when things come up.

Outside Support

When asking for parenting advice when I first had my daughter, a friend of mine said to always make sure you have another adult in your life, not in your household, that your child can go to with questions that he or she may not feel comfortable talking with a parent about. I’ve ensured that my daughter has these relationships so that she knows if she doesn’t feel like she can come to me or doesn’t want to, that there is someone else that she can speak with. 

Personal Experience

I’m not asking you to go on social media and seek someone, but if you know someone who is willing to chat with you and give you some advice as to how to approach that, reach out. Many of us know birth parents who are comfortable telling their stories and often have sound advice. I would suggest that you ask if they have any tips on things you should chat about with your child. 

Medical Professionals or Doctors

Sometimes when I have a question I don’t have the answers to, I have the doctor chat with my daughter during our appointment. He is someone she takes seriously and will often listen to him with a little more effort than her own mom. If your child is older, it may be time to visit a gynecologist who can have some of these discussions with more clinical terminology and definitely less emotion than you might feel as a parent. Talk to your own doctor or your child’s pediatrician for support.

Therapists and Social Workers

Depending on why you are having this conversation, you may want to seek help from a counselor of some sort. If your child is experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, you may consider meeting with a social worker or counselor to discuss this further. You may also be considering a therapist or counselor if this is a part of a broader conversation with your child about his or her adoption, birth family, or other things that they may wish to discuss surrounding their adoption. 

Children may begin to question a parent about unplanned pregnancy because they are facing one themselves. Here is some advice to remember when having these conversations from someone who has been in your child’s shoes.

Prepare To Discuss Other Topics

If you’re having a conversation about an unplanned pregnancy, there are likely other things that are coming up that you should be prepared to chat about should your child ask. Now, that’s not to say that something may be asked that will catch you off guard. When that happens, or if it’s out of his or her scope of understanding, I’ll tell my daughter that I don’t really know the answer and I have to talk to people that do first before I can talk with her about it. That usually suffices, but she does follow up quite often, so I do have to do that work pretty quickly. 

Remember that with pregnancy comes questions about sex and how people become pregnant. Again, it’s at your comfort level with your child and his or her age when you should discuss it. Every kid is different too, so don’t use your other children as a measuring stick. Personalize this discussion to your child’s understanding, maturity, and needs. 

This may also open up other conversations about birth parents. We don’t have a lot of information about my daughter’s birth mother and this is something we have to remind her of often when she asks questions. This is a soft spot for me and one that makes me a little emotional because I would love to have more information for her, but I don’t. So, I have to keep calm and answer to the best of my ability.

Children that are adopted will also learn the differences in other family structures when they go to school. Understanding that these questions may start to arise when children realize that their family doesn’t look like everyone else’s can also accompany these conversations. 

Think ahead when you’re planning a conversation to feel a little more ready to have these difficult conversations.

Here are some quotes about unplanned pregnancies you may want to read. 

Resources to help Facilitate your Conversation

While there are many books for kids about adoption, there aren’t a lot that specifically teach about unplanned parenthood. If you are speaking with a child not familiar with adoption, there are some great books. For other adoption books that might benefit you and your children, you can find a list of books for all ages here. There are countless resources available on the internet and in bookstores. You may also call your local library. Your child’s school library may be of help to you. The good news is that we live in a world full of information between podcasts, magazines, books, etc. Try to find a medium that will work for all of you and will have information that you can use. Below, you’ll find some online resources that might help as well.

If your child would like more information about his or her birth parents and other family members, consider “Talking with Children about Birth Families.” If you know a teen who is struggling to tell a parent about an unplanned pregnancy, this is a great source: “Telling Your Parents that You’re Pregnant.” For quizzes about unplanned pregnancy, check out this guide: “Unplanned Pregnancy Guide.”For more generalized information about unplanned pregnancy, check out “The Unplanned Pregnancy Handbook.” For a woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, “Surprise Child: Finding Hope in Unexpected Pregnancy” is a great read. 

Parenting isn’t easy and has a way of throwing us curveballs, particularly when our children leave our house and start to experience the real world and all that comes with it. By being patient with yourself, learning as much as you can about the subject matter, and, most of all, having confidence in your relationship with your child, you’ll be able to have these conversations. If you’re having this talk with a child that is still growing up, this discussion has the potential to set the stage for other very important conversations. 

Regardless of why you are having this conversation with your child, you’ll need to remember to remain calm, stick to answering the questions asked (unless you feel like your child may be seeking information they aren’t asking and are able to handle a wider scope of information), reach out to people with lived experiences, consult professionals who may be able to help with information or speaking to your child, and to find resources that are helpful. You can always take a beat and think about things when they ask and not come up with an answer right away if you feel that you need more information, preparation, or professional support.

Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Do you want more choices with your adoption plan? Do you want to regain more control in your life? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98. We can help you put together an adoption plan that best meets your needs.

Julia K. Porter is an educator, writer, and cultural competency consultant. She began her career as a high school English teacher in Brooklyn, NY, and has taught college courses since 2008 and has done nonprofit work. Currently, she is the project manager for Celebrating Cultural uniqueness at Tiffin University. Julia has a passion for diversity and in educating about the nuances of adoption as that is how she chose to grow her family. Julia holds a Ph.D. in Global Leadership from Indiana Tech, an MA in English Literature from Brooklyn College, and a BS in English Education from Indiana University/Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI). Her personal interests include reading, writing, traveling and experiencing new cultures, and knitting. She lives in Indiana with her husband, Kyle, daughter, Brooklyn, and Australian Shepherd, Hunter. For more information, visit www.juliakayporter.com.