The Truth and Nothing But The Truth, But Not Always The Whole Truth

Like many people, I grew up with a lot of shame signaling surrounding human sexuality. One of my earliest memories is being about four years old and wanting to know where babies came from. The nasty, horrible neighborhood kids were telling me you needed to "do something dirty" to make a baby. I didn't like hearing this from these terrible kids. They were mocking of my ignorance and talking with them was a generally awful experience, so I had an innate desire to outright reject anything and everything they asserted merely because they had asserted it.

"Do something dirty" was their expression for sexual intercourse. I did know one other word for this act, but only one other. That word is four letters long and starts with F. Even at the age of four, I knew this was a word I could not say to my mother.

So, I asked my mother if you had to "do something dirty" to get a baby. With the absolute best of intentions and wanting to signal to me that sex was not dirty, she told me "No, you don't have to do anything dirty to get a baby."

I felt stymied. I felt like my question had not been answered. I wanted to say "No, I don't mean is SEX dirty? I mean, do you have to have sex to make a baby? The neighborhood kids say you do, but they are all terrible people and I don't trust them. So I came to you, a trusted adult, to get solid information about whether or not this is true. And I am feeling lied to here."

Except, I was four and I didn't have the ability to express any of that. I still knew I could not use the only other word I knew for sex to clarify what I was trying to ask. So I let the matter drop and just felt incredibly frustrated. Just like my guilt over inadvertently fooling George in kindergarten seared that event into my memory, my enormous frustration with this conversation with my mother seared it into my memory as well. It later had a big impact on my parenting policies.

When I was nineteen and a half, I got married to a man that had graduated high school with me. His birthday is mere days after mine. His only dream was to go into the military. My only dream was to get the hell out of my home town of Columbus, Georgia. I was in love with him and his military ambitions looked like my ticket out of there. This plan worked out extremely well. He did, in fact, join the army and we moved away to Killeen, Texas not long before I turned 21.

My plan had been to go to college, pursue some kind of career and have kids later. I was young and idealistic and didn't want to pollute my body with hormones and the like. My husband respected the fact that it was my body being affected by birth control pills, not his. So he went along with my somewhat flakey plan to use a rhythm method for birth control.

Unlike my very effective plans to get out of Dodge, this plan worked rather less well. I was soon pregnant. In fact, I got pregnant about three months or so after I left my home town. This baby was born the day after I turned 22.

I cried when I found out I was pregnant, not because of ruined plans for my future, but because pregnancy was undeniable evidence of sexual activity. I didn't like the idea that anyone on the street would now know with one look at my growing belly that I had had sex at some time.

I was ten weeks along when I found out I was pregnant. I had already spent some time in therapy in my teens to deal with the sexual abuse I had endured as a child. I also read a lot and I was aware that the shame I was feeling was a very common problem and it is something that is typically transmitted in myriad ways to children while they are still very young. I was aware it was a form of brainwashing and that I didn't really have anything to be ashamed of. I was married and we wanted children together, we had just intended to have them in our late twenties, not right away.

I was also aware that this pregnancy was unplanned and that the cultural meme was to talk about an unplanned baby as if they are unwanted. I spent the rest of my pregnancy wondering how on earth I was going to tell the truth to my child about how they had come to be without causing them all kinds of emotional and psychological harm.

It was already super important to me to be honest with my children, even though I didn't yet have any. I was clear that I did not want to lie to my children ever about anything. I think that does enormous harm. Many of the worst lies are lies surrounding guilty personal secrets. These often involve sex.

Given my personal history, it is hardly shocking that my first pregnancy would prove to be an emotional crucible for me. As most young people do, I had very high ideals. Living the life of an adult was testing those ideals. I had already gotten one hard lesson -- my idealistic form of birth control had failed and I would never use a rhythm method again -- and this, no doubt, was driving my desire to actually come up with a seriously thought out plan for how to address this question instead of waiting until he was old enough to ask questions and then trying to figure out what in heck to tell him.

By the time my baby was born, I had made my peace with the question of how to talk about his conception. I thoroughly examined all the details and concluded that he was neither unplanned nor unwanted. We had planned to have kids, just later. He was very much wanted, he was just earlier than intended.

He grew up hearing me say things like he was unfashionably early. His father used to joke that we planned to have kids later, but the kids didn't get the memo because we forgot to invite them to the planning meeting.

When my firstborn child was three or four and he asked how I got him, I told him "You were not really planned. I was just trying to have a good time." He would give me the deer in the headlights look, not comprehending what that meant. But I was always honest with him and my story was consistent. So when his father read him some book when he was about six or so about how The Stork brought babies, he wasn't fooled. He trusted his father less than me and he concluded that I had not prank called The Stork and accidentally gotten a baby that way.

I heard years later about his father reading him a book about how The Stork brought him. I was furious at hearing that his father had tried to deceive him in this way. I was glad to hear that my policy of honesty had inoculated him and he had, thus, not bought any of it, in spite of not yet knowing that human babies were made the same way as babies on animal shows he was already watching.

Some years after his father tried to convince him The Stork brought him, he finally did put it all together -- that human babies are made just like other mammal babies and that this apparently feels good to the humans doing this thing -- and it hit him what mom meant when she said "I was just trying to have a good time." This was, perhaps, the first of many times he would roll his eyes about his mother's behavior.

Turn about's fair play. I assure you, I rolled my eyes at him a LOT while raising him. He was quite the challenging child to raise.

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