Saturday, March 6, 2010

A very long story about discussing the "Birds and the Bees" with your child. (And perhaps a teeny, tiny, small lesson about what NOT to do.)

Before we officially get started here, let me warn you that in this post I will use the word "vagina" multiple times. In fact, I think I'll edit that statement to say that in this post I will use the word "vagina" LOTS of times. And I might use descriptives like "bulging". And there's a good chance I'll use the word "vulva" too. If that makes you squirmy, I recommend that you stop right now. Seriously. I mean it.

Still reading? OK then.

Here we go....

We've been having a multi-layered, years-long discussion with Gibson on the topic of pregnancy and the creation of babies. It all started a few years ago when a number of his Aunts were pregnant at the same time and anytime we got together as an extended family, there were these huge bellies in his face no matter where he looked. And so it was that one day when he was about 4, he asked me, "Mom? How do those babies get out of there? Do they get them out with huge scissors?" So we sat together and we had a little anatomy lesson. I explained all about how women have a uterus AND a stomach in their bellies, and how babies grow inside the uterus, and how women have different parts than boys -- (which he already knew since I'd had to assure him a few times as a 3 year-old that my penis hadn't fallen off) -- and that most babies come out through an opening right here (pointing) called a vagina. When we were all done, he nodded and said "So a baby comes out from where you pee?"

"Yeah.. Basically." I answered.

"Does it hurt?" he asked.

And I looked at his inquiring, innocent blue eyes and said "LIKE A $&#(*$)%# SONOFABITCH!!"

Ha! Just kidding. What I really said -- with a laugh -- was "Like crazy, sweetheart. It hurts like crazy." He mulled this new information over while I braced myself for the inevitable question about how those babies get IN there in the first place. But it didn't come. Instead he said "OK." and that was that. For a couple of years.....

Then, one random day when he was six, he asked. "Mom? How are babies made?"

Luckily I'd recently had a conversation with my brilliant friend Janna, who said that she'd gotten some advice about not going into too much detail when that question first comes up. That we should simply answer the question they are asking. And that sometimes, they're not really looking for a huge long answer.... So I tried it.

I explained all about how men have these teeny tiny things called sperm, too small to be seen with the human eye, that are in their bodies -- in their testicles to be exact. And that women have teeny tiny eggs, too small to be seen with the human eye, inside their bodies -- inside these things called the ovaries. And that it takes a sperm (gesturing with one hand) to come together with an egg (gesturing with the other hand) to make a baby.

"Hmmmmmmm...." he nodded. "So women have eggs? And men have sperm? And when they come together they can make a baby?"

"Yep. It's called fertilization. And then the baby grows inside the uterus. And you remember how it comes out, right?"

"Yeah... It comes out from where you pee... AND it HURTS!" (Because apparently I gave my previous answer a little too emphatically.)

"Yep. So do you have any more questions about it?"

"No. That answers it."

"Are you sure.....?"

"Yeah. I've got it."

And then he went outside to play. And apparently to process for a little while.

Now cut to 3 weeks ago.

Gibson is sitting on the toilet, apparently contemplating some of life's mysteries while he takes care of "business".

He sticks his head out of the open bathroom door - because you have to be over the age of 7 around here to consider shutting it in the first place - and yells for me to come here. He has an important question for me.

When I show up in the door frame he hits me with this: "Mom? I was just thinkin'..... HOW does that baby get in there in the first place?"

"Well..." I start, "You know how men have sperm........"

"Yes. In their testicles." he tells me.

"......and women have eggs?"

He nods. "Yes. On their feet."

"Uhhhh... No.. That's in their OVARIES. Not 'on their feet'. Ovaries. Inside here, OK?"

Oh -- OK he's got it now. Not on their feet. (Though to be fair I totally get how he went there..)

"And how they have to come together for a baby to start to grow?" I offer.

Yep. He's got that already.

"So, Gibson, are you asking me HOW the sperm and the egg come together in the first place?"


"OK....." I say, and I go ahead and make myself comfortable on the floor of the bathroom because I figure we're going to be here a while.

And so I start in explaining all about how women and men have different body parts and how they sort of fit together like a puzzle piece. I go on about how a uterus and a vagina are kind of like a balloon (thank you again for your brilliant advice, Janna) and how this part right here is like the vagina, and how the bigger part is like the uterus? See? And the same way a balloon is stretchy, a uterus is too! And once the baby is ready, it comes down and out of this part -- the vagina. And see, you know how your penis sticks out from your body? Well, it fits right in the vagina like this.. (index finger into end of balloon) ...and that's how the sperm gets from the man's body into the woman's body and finds the egg. And then BAM! The sperm fertilizes the egg, and that's how the baby starts to grow.

And as I am sitting in the door frame of the bathroom, explaining all of this, Mike walks in the door from work. Here's the piece of conversation he walks into: "And see the penis fits inside the vagina like this..." and I hear his footsteps pause, then an audible groan, followed by an "Oh My Gawd" as he makes a quick exit to the kitchen. Apparently someone isn't interested in joining in on our conversation about penises and vaginas today.

Anyway... We get through all of that, and I ask Gibson if he understands how it works. He does. And then I probe for any more questions. He doesn't have any. "Well, when you have any more, you can always ask Mommy and daddy. We know how it all works and we're always happy to explain to you anything you want to know. OK?"


"Gibson," I venture "Are your friends talking about this?"

He snaps straight up on the toilet and says, emphatically "NO! nonononononononononnonono...." Which is pretty much proof positive that they are.

"Well, my friends used to talk about it.." I offer.

"They did?" He's intrigued.

"Good God, he's only 7!" Mike yells from the kitchen.

"Yes." I tell him. "It's normal for people to be curious and have questions. And we want you to know that you can always come to us. We'll always answer your questions." (Though from the way Mike is all squirmy in the kitchen, I think I should have said 'You can always come to ME.')

Gibson is satisfied, we finish our discussion, and I point out, quietly, to Mike that our son DOES play with all the neighborhood boys -- some of whom are 5th graders. SOMEONE is pretty clearly talking about it.

He grunts. Or snorts. Or basically makes that man-noise that means "I'm not really interested in talking about this at the moment...."

Now folks, the responsible thing for me to have done right then - or the following day -- would have been to go the the book store and get a book about how babies are made. Because a "thinking/planning" parent would have realized that the bathroom doorway talk certainly wasn't going to be our only discussion about it. But did I do that? Nope. Because "thinking/planning" isn't really my parenting strong point.

And so it was that a few nights later, Gibson invites me into the fort he built. And there, as we were snuggled into the relative safety of all the blankets and pillows he says "Mom? You know how you said that I could always ask you any of my questions?"

I nod. "Sure."

"I have some more...."

"OK. What are they?"

"Well.... I've really been wondering..... HOW does the baby come out of there?"

"How does the baby come out of the vagina?"


"Well... The vagina is stretchy... you know... Like the balloon?"

"Yeah.. But HOW?"

Hmmmm.. I'm befuddled. Words clearly aren't cutting it. And, Dang it! I should have gotten a book! Why didn't I do that?! He was asking questions weeks ago! DUH......!!!

"Gib, I should have gotten you a book. I'm sorry I didn't. Hang on... Let me see what I can find.."

I climb out of the fort and scour our bookshelves for "What to Expect When You're Expecting", because I think it has pictures. But then I remember that I gave it away. I mean, once you've been through it, you pretty much know what to expect....

And then it hits me! Google! You can find anything on Google!

I go to the computer and pull up Google Images. I put in "pregnancy" and I get exactly what I'm looking for. Drawn images like this:

"OK -- See this? This is how a baby looks when it is first starting to grow....."
Bingo! He's totally into it. Things are clicking.....
We talk about how crazy it looks in this stage.
We talk about where the head will be, where the eye is, what part will turn into the arms, the legs, the spine.....
We flip through each week, talking about all the changes the baby goes through, and how long it takes for it to grow all the way into a baby that's ready to be born.

We talk about the umbilical cord, and how it feeds the baby.

We talk about how the baby doesn't "breathe" in there. We talk about the amniotic fluid....

We talk about what it looks like when the baby is ready to be born. How the head is down. How it pushes on this muscle called the cervix. I point to the vagina on the screen and say "Here.... see? This is the vagina. See how the baby's head is going to come down through here?"
He does.

And then he says "But HOW? HOW does that happen?

"Well... The uterus will start to have contractions, like this.." and I make my hands into a uterus shape and I contract them. "And see this?" I point at the screen. "The cervix? See how it can open? When the uterus starts contracting like this, one side of the cervix will open this way, and the other will open this way... And it makes a pathway down through the vagina. See?"

He does. But he has one more question. "HOW? HOW does that happen?"

"It stretches. It's a muscle."


"Well... It just does! It comes down through there. See? Right there? It comes down through there!"

BUT HOW?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! HOW???!?!? HOW?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

And then do you know what I did? I got all exasperated because how else do you explain it? I scratched my head. And I got another idea. "Well... Hang on a minute and I'll show you."

Then....THEN.......I Googled "Childbirth, Crowning".

(And if you are reading this with your hand over your mouth in horror thinking "Oh NO she didn't!" I want you to know that "Oh YES... I did.")

And I opened up a picture -- a real live photograph that someone had the aduacity to take in the delivery room and post on the internet -- of a woman in the midst of delivering her child. There on the screen was an enormous buldging vulva (I warned you) with a small, dark, wrinkly head making it's way out of it.

I pointed at the screen and said "That's how. THAT'S a vagina, and THAT'S a baby's head making it's way out of it. Right there!"

And Gibson? He started screaming. Screaming in horror. "OHMYGOD!!!OHMYGOD!!!OHMYGOD!!!!!!!!!!!!! THAT'S DISGUSTING!!!!!! AHHHHH!!!! OHMYGOD!!!!!!!!!! IT LOOKS LIKE........IT LOOKS LIKE AN ALIEN!!!!!!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!"

"Well that's how." I told him and clicked out of Google about as quickly as I could. Gibson, for his part, turned on his heel and ran screaming down the stairs as fast as he could go.

So, I'm sure that I've now tramautized him for a few good years. And to be fair, I don't remember it being so ...well.... so graphic. I mean, I had a mirror. I saw it. But in hindsight I realized that my focus was not at all on what it actually looked like, and more on the fact that I needed to see that that child was going to come out of me before I died. So, you know.. I saw it... but I didn't really "see" it. There's a small difference of perspective there.

So if you are in the throws of discussing conception and childbirth with your child, and you are considering using Google Images as a resource? My advice to you is this: "BE YE NOT SO STUPID."**

Really. Don't.


** Advice taken, word, for word, from hilarious blogger Heather B. Armstrong on She was doling out advice on not blogging about work, but I find that it works in this pretense too. She's a funny, funny woman, who I'm sure could beat me if we had a post contest about who could use the word vagina more frequently. And though she certainly doesn't need me to promote her, if you haven't had your giggle for the day, you should go there now.