I remember as a child, I’m not sure what age, but I remember it, so likely between eight and ten—I must have asked my mother a question about sex. I don’t know when it was, but I don’t remember her answering it right away. There was kind of an awkward silence. And then she changed the subject.
The next day, I got home from school and being presented with a package of four textbooks about human development. It was anatomically correct, very scientific and straight to the point. She told me I could read the books and ask her any questions I wanted to—but it felt clear that the books were supposed to answer everything. And that was “the talk.”
Now, I was a fairly introspective type of child. I read. A lot. Mostly alone. And I usually figured things out for myself. And I’m still that way. I’m not sure if I’m that way because I’m just that way, or if I developed it because my parents felt more comfortable with my reading about things then telling me themselves.
“The Talk” in my House
Either way, when I had children, I decided that when the questions started coming, I would be open and honest (at least age appropriately). I didn’t want hanging questions and uncomfortable silence. I wanted honesty.
Not that it’s ever been a conversation I ever felt that I’d feel very comfortable having. At home, when I was a child, we didn’t talk about those things. My mother had a very strict religious upbringing, and to this day feels that some things are best left unsaid. I remember, as an adult, she said to me “Oh my goodness Liv, she was telling me all about her hot sweats and her irregular periods—I just don’t want to know about all the details of her menopause”. She was speaking of her sister (who, amusingly, grew up in the same household, but apparently doesn’t have the same shame issues as my mother, I suspect, in part, because she was a maternity nurse). Ironically, it was at a time when I’d just had a new IUD put in, and was experiencing some heavy bleeding and cramping. I had tons of questions. But I knew that my mother would have a similar reaction.
We don’t talk about those things. I don’t want to know.
I ended up asking my aunt instead.
Despite my Upbringing, I’m Very Open
My husband and I are very open and honest with each other and our bodily functions, and very communicative about our sexual needs. Despite my upbringing, I’ve always felt that communication makes sex better. And I’m lucky to have a few close friends with whom I can discuss such things as birth control and hot flashes and hemorrhoids.
Despite the way I was raised, I understand the need to discuss these things. Women’s bodies can do fantastic things. We bleed in monthly cycles. Some of us can have amazing, multiple, mind-blowing orgasms. We can nurture and grow life inside of us.
I don’t understand why it all has to be a big secret. Of course, we have questions. Those are some pretty astonishing things we can do. Of course, we want to know what “normal” is. Is it normal to have a period that lasts three weeks? Should I be cramping when I’m pregnant? What about spotting? What can I expect when the hot flashes start? Why do I sweat so much when I have my period?
All questions I’d like to be able to ask. But not my mother. Because it would make her uncomfortable. And that makes me uncomfortable.
In this day and age, thankfully for me, all those questions can be asked of Ms. Google.
I don’t want my children to obtain their sex ed from Ms. Google. Even if she’s pretty smart. Because sometimes she’s not spot on. She’s really the equivalent of the school yard. Well…if the school yard had porn.
I want my children to feel like they can approach me. I want them to feel as though I’m not embarrassed by their questions (even if I am). I want them to feel that I have answers—and if I don’t, we can find them. I want them to ask me the questions about the miracle that is birth. The amazing process that makes a baby. I want them to have an understanding of birth control—what it’s for and how to use it. I don’t want to present them with books or have a “Talk” that was the be all and end all. I want to have an open and ongoing dialogue.
I’m not foolish enough to think that my children will wait until they get married to have sex. I’m not going to give them condoms and money for hookers, but I am going to encourage them to figure out who they are and what they need—when they are old enough to understand the potential consequences. I don’t want sex to be some big, scary taboo that they’re afraid to experience. And I’m not one of those “not under my roof” parents. When the time comes, my children will be well armed—with an understanding of birth control and STDs and (hopefully) love and relationships and communication. But that’s a long time down the road. Puck is only eight, and Flower, just six.
I did suspect when I got pregnant with my third child that there would be questions about how the baby came to be. But the questions didn’t come. Other than how we were going to get the baby out (which was slightly less uncomfortable for me to answer because of prior C-Sections), they asked no questions.
And Then it Came…The First Question
It’s almost eleven months since Bae was born. The first question came from six-year-old Flower last week.
“Mommy, when I have babies, will they cut them out of my stomach?”
I’m not even sure what precipitated it. But it came. And, much to my surprise, I wasn’t uncomfortable answering it. I told her no, not necessarily. I told her most ladies deliver babies through their vagina.
Yes. I used the word vagina. We don’t use silly nicknames for our private parts in our house. Nor do we call them private parts (as my mom preferred). I do insist that we don’t discuss them inappropriately. But we must call them by their true names. Because there is no shame in having a penis or a vagina.
After I told her the true nature of delivery—Flower’s eyes got very wide. She looked at me. She looked down. She looked at me again. And she said one word. “How?”
I understood immediately. She wasn’t asking how babies get in there. She was, in her own mind, pondering how the giant head of a baby can fit through such a small opening.
The wonders of nature boggle even my mind. And truthfully—that’s why my children were all delivered by C-Section. They didn’t fit. Puck’s giant head would not descend—so they had to cut him out. As a precaution, the other two were also removed the same way.
So when Flower asked, I put my hands up parallel in front of me, with my fingers curled inward like I was holding a ball. “It stretches,” I said, pulling my hands slightly apart.
Her eyes grew wide.
Then my son asked—does it hurt?
And I answered, again truthfully, simply, “yes.” I followed up with “the doctor can give you medicine to make it hurt less, but it does hurt.”
First Test: Passed
I’m learning every day how to be a parent. My children are teaching me what a mother is. Today, I learned. I learned that I can answer questions that would have made my mother uncomfortable. And truly, I wasn’t that uncomfortable (although it wasn’t a very hard question to answer). But I think I taught my children that they can ask me the questions. Even the hard ones. And I will do my best to answer.
I hope that I don’t provide them answers that are too much for them to handle. Even though I’ve been told they’ll only digest what they can understand, I still worry that I might scar them with my honesty. Because in all its wonder, the human body can be a scary thing. The idea that having a baby can cause so much pain, is very intimidating and has caused many a woman to choose not to have children.
But I’d love to know – do you talk about the wonders of the human body in your home? How did you deal with it when your children started asking the hard questions?