To say my 2.5yo son is obsessed with trains would be an understatement. He can spend hours in his playroom building tracks and having conversations with Henry, Hiro, and all of his other Thomas the Train friends. But every now and then, he does decide to venture to other areas of the house. He did this yesterday morning when he asked to come upstairs while I got dressed after my shower.
“Mommy has a boo-boo?” he asked, when I took off my robe. I had to choke back tears at this question. This little guy was so concerned, and really, I wasn’t even sure what he was referring to. The scars on my breasts (does he even have other breasts to compare)? The hip-to-hip incision scar? The scars to the sides of my belly-button from the laparoscopic surgery? The various red areas where I’ve placed and removed estrogen patches? He has seen me with various cuts or bruises on my hands or legs – he always asks if he can kiss it to make it better, just like I do with him. But this was probably a horror show!
It’s always been our practice to respond to our son honestly. He asks a lot of questions – a lot! – and I love that about him. When he asks where the moon is during they day, I don’t say things like “moon went by-by” – I explain to him how the planets spin and why we can’t see the moon during the day and instead see the sun. I never just say “because” in response to a question – I always give a full explanation. My husband does this too, and because of it, our son is inquisitive and has what I think are exceedingly strong verbal skills for his age (I’m sure most moms say that, but it’s true for him!). But I didn’t know how to answer this question. While I was recovering from DIEP almost a year ago, he didn’t know more than five words. So, while I had to explain to him that he couldn’t jump on me or that I couldn’t lift him, he wasn’t able to respond with questions or express any curiosity. And, I made sure to do all of my dressing and undressing behind closed doors.
Yesterday morning, my instinct was to explain that I’d had surgery so that I wouldn’t get sick, but he’s only two – I didn’t want to scare him. I didn’t want to mention doctors or anything that might make him afraid to see his own doctor (especially since he might be having eye surgery soon, and he also has his first dentist appointment next week). This interesting article was published this summer, discussing why BRCA+ moms and dads should talk to their children about their genes; the woman in the story talks to her daughter about BRCA when her daughter is 12. Watching In the Family with adolescent children would also be a good option. My cousin, Alisa, has written a beautiful essay on this topic: it’s featured here on the FORCE website. But again, her daughter was a bit older than my son when she asked the question.
I know there will be a time when I’ll have to explain BRCA to my son, but I don’t think this is really it. One day, he will see me in a locker room at the pool and he will ask why other moms have nipples (although perhaps he won’t use that word) and I don’t. One day, he will ask directly about the vicious scar across my abdomen. But at 2 years old, this isn’t the right time to explain all of this.
But I did want to be honest. So when he asked me about my boo-boo, I told him, “Yes, mommy has a boo-boo, but it doesn’t hurt.” “Doesn’t hurt?” he asked. I repeated that no, it didn’t hurt. I didn’t ask if he wanted to kiss it. I just waited until he said “Ok” and toddled back into his own bedroom, and I finished getting dressed.
On Friday I will have my second (and hopefully last) stage of breast reconstruction. And over the next few days, I’ll be thinking about how I can answer the questions my son will have that he wasn’t able to verbalize during my last recovery.