Wednesday, 19 February 2014
Where babies come from
It was so simple. I thought that all girls automatically had tiny babies inside them from birth and it was only when you got married that they started to grow and then you actually laid them, like a hen laying eggs. The fact that this only happened when you had a husband was due to the same kind of magic that allowed Father Christmas to come down our chimney in spite of the fact that we didn't actually have a fireplace. I remember jumping up and down one day and saying to my mum, “I hope I'm not making my baby feel sick!”. I was only about seven or eight; just for a brief moment there my mum may well have felt a little nauseous herself. The 'getting married' bit was the trick, though - maybe it was something to do with the ring. Anyway, when I got married, probably to the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Christopher, who had given me a clockwork helicopter for my sixth birthday, the baby would come out of my bottom and we'd all live happily ever after in one of those houses with the sticky-out windows that I'd seen on the way to Aunty Margaret's.
So it was all a bit of a shock when Elizabeth told me what really happened. Elizabeth was off school for a trip to the dentists that fateful day. It was a Wednesday, and on Wednesdays at 10 o'clock Mrs Williams took her class of 9-year-olds into the assembly hall whereupon she wheeled out the big television with wooden shutters on its tall stand and we spent the next half hour sitting on the floor cross-legged being educated and entertained, often by some rather excellent programme such as Merry Go Round. However, for some reason that Mrs Williams wouldn't explain, that Wednesday the routine was changed and we didn't get our usual telly session.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth, being a very good, studious, little girl, thought she'd watch it at home anyway before she went to the dentist. Her mum was upstairs cleaning the bathroom and left her daughter to it. If only she'd realised.
When Elizabeth and I sat together on the pudding stone at playtime the next day she was a different girl. She knew. She knew all about how babies were made... she'd seen it on Merry Go Round... and she couldn't wait to tell me. It was shocking. “The man puts his thing right inside the woman!” “But how? Where?” I was aghast. It was hard to imagine Christopher putting his thing... well... you get the idea.
By the time I got to secondary school, just turned 11, I felt I knew the basics, but I was surprised to discover it was complete news to some of my classmates. We had to watch a creaky, unimaginative film about The Facts Of Life, all very cold and anatomical, and one of the Bagwell twins fainted. I don't think she even knew about periods, poor thing. But later in the year we got the gory childbirth film in our Biology lesson and with all the blood and guts and umbilical cords in that I nearly fainted too. It was even worse than having to look at the dissected pregnant rat (and I can still smell the formaldehyde from that particular traumatic event).
Then there were those conversations on the way home from school. Sarah T revealed what her biggest sister had told her she'd done with her boyfriend... that “she put his... you know... in her mouth!” We giggled uncontrollably, shocked, embarrassed and uncomprehending. Gradually we notched up a bit more knowledge, like when Tracy P found a load of torn out pages from Playboy and Mayfair strewn around on the footpath behind her house (how did they end up there?) She brought them in to school and we pored nervously over the naughty pictures, in disbelief, unable to compare those oddly pink bodies on the pages to our own not yet fully formed ones.. so much hair!...so much strange-looking flesh!...such huge nipples! These must be the kind of women who'd put their boyfriend's... you know... in their mouths!
I don't know what kids of that age know now, how much is taught or when, nor how much sense it makes to minds that may have already been exposed from infancy to the internet and Keith-ubiquitous-Lemon. There must be a fine line between a refreshing openness and too much too soon – but not having kids of my own I've swerved that particular challenge.
Elizabeth went on to be a midwife, by the way. And by the age of ten Christopher and I were no longer talking, so I wanted to marry Simon, who had a bicycle with gears.