WARNING: If you don’t know where babies come from/if you don’t want to read the “F” word or any derivations of same, as they said in The Wizard of Oz, “I’d turn back now if I were you.”
Here is how I found out about human reproduction. When I was about 12, my mom said to me, “We need to have a talk. Let me get my appointment book.”
The formality was very much in keeping with my relationship with Mom, who was horrified at any talk about the human body. Not just sex. Anything. Except for her teenaged bout of appendicitis – she could go on for hours describing the torture, ending with the horrid incision. Why the beauty of human reproduction was not in her vernacular, but lurid descriptions of surgery and bile and barfing were, I will never know.
Like so many of my generation, practically everything I learned about sex was anecdotal. One of my friends whispered to me, “Did you hear about the boy and girl who died fucking? When her parents found them, they were still stuck together.” I didn’t want to admit I didn’t know what she was talking about. Compounding that was the fact that I thought she said they “died fucky,” and I didn’t know what that adjective meant, so I just nodded and wondered whether I could ask my sister.
Now if I never told you before, Mom was an alcoholic. Her family were shanty Irish for generations, all heavy smokers and drinker. Mom said they were “pigs in the parlor poor, but we didn’t have pigs and couldn’t afford a parlor.” Needless to say, about an hour before we were supposed “our appointment,” she started to fortify herself, but good. I spotted her little crystal punch glass in the fridge, back around the corner behind the milk. My sister and I always kept an eye peeled for that, so we could gauge how well dinner and everything after that would go.
She ducked in the fridge four times, went through four punch glasses of sherry. Then she shooed my dad out to play golf and made sure my sisters were elsewhere. We sat down at the kitchen table. She had poured a little something in her coffee, too… and away we went.
Paper and pen. She drew an approximate representation of a vaginal canal, a uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. “Now this, this here…” she stabbed the page at the ovaries, “is where the eggs are. One pops out every month, and it trrrravvvvellls…” (pen traces the tubes) “down to here. This is where the babies are made. And when you are with your husband, well, um…” (sip) “the egg gets fertilized and grows into a baby. Then,” (she drew a big X at the bottom of the vaginal canal) “it comes out here. And then you have a baby.”
“But first, you have to have your period. Someday soon, you’ll get a little stomach ache, and there’ll be some blood on your underpants. So you have to put on a belt and a sanitary napkin to make sure you don’t bleed through your clothes.” (sip) (burp) “So let’s get the pads.”
I tried to make sense of what she was telling me. There’s gonna be blood coming from my stomach ache? Was the blood gonna run out of my stomach? Is my belly button going to bleed? Then why do I put stuff in my undies? Why not my belly button? So many questions. And who puts a napkin in their underpants?
We wandered up the hall (she was bumping into walls by this time), into the bathroom. She pointed to a mysterious box that was always in place, but my oldest sister said I wasn’t supposed to touch it. And a little elastic thingie with clasps on it. Mom trussed me up with the belt and two ends of the napkin stuck into the garters and marched me down the hall, the pad so bulky I walked like a duck. This woman business was gonna be bad, I knew it.
NOTE: No minipads in those days. Oh, and no pantyhose, just a garter belt and stockings. Everything was analog.
We sat back down at the kitchen table. She was leaning on her elbows. I was sitting on top of a mountain of cotton, sure she had it all wrong.
Class dismissed. She toddled into the living room to resume her other habit, smoking Bel Airs. As for the egg being fertilized, it could have involved peat moss, I had no idea. And where on earth did that baby come out? The pee place or the poop place?
Next time, we will talk about how I learned about menopause. Class dismissed.
© 2022 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil, Beehat Baby Publishing