Have you ever had a moment when, mid-conversation, you drop in a nugget of info that feels utterly normal to you, but then everyone kind of … stops? People just cough and uncomfortably look away as tumbleweeds roll by, and you suddenly think — why on earth did I say THAT?
Well today, while I was waiting to pick up my son from school, I found myself in such a moment when I casually mentioned just how much my 10-year-old loves the brilliant TV series, Call the Midwife.
Here in the U.K., it’s on Sunday evenings from 8-9 PM in a “pre-watershed” slot. This means there’s no swearing, nudity, or sex. Yes, it’s occasionally graphic, considering women (as you may have already guessed) give birth during pretty much every episode. But that’s precisely the reason why I think it’s so important for my son to watch it. Birth is the most natural part of life there is, so why shouldn’t he know more about it, even at such a young age?
Honestly, I have never been more proud of him than when I walked into the room with a cup of tea one night and heard him exclaim, “Mum, her water just broke!” I think it’s vital that he understands what women go through in pregnancy, labor, and birth. Being informed makes everything less taboo, and I’m sure his future partner/wife/girlfriend will thank me one day.
I didn’t have this experience at all. I was raised in Northern Ireland in the late 70s and early 80s, when sex was not discussed unless you were in biology class using medical terminology. Then, at age of 12, I was forced to watch a horrific birth video than caused me to faint. I literally hit the floor and was out cold. Poor “Mary”, who was in the throes of labor for what seemed like an eternity (and in desperate need of a decent waxing), was almost torn in half giving birth. The visual absolutely ruined me.
My fear of birth was so great that even 21 years later, when I was trying to get pregnant myself, I went to my doctor and asked for help to get over my tokophobia (the medical term for the fear of birth). They suggested cognitive therapy; but once I got pregnant, I went to make an appointment only to be told that the waiting list was too great. Naturally, I burst into tears and spent much of my first pregnancy in a permanent state of fear about not being able to secure a C-section. (And to think this all boiled down to the traumatic video I watched in 1985 … )
I can’t help but wonder: Had I watched something like Call the Midwife on a weekly basis growing up — and had my prudish mother explained everything to me in honest, simple language — would I have even had a phobia?
In my son’s school, the moms and daughters are invited to a “mother-daughter chat” in 4th grade. The teachers discuss periods to the 9-year-old girls and casually brush over sex. My argument is that boys should have the same talk — at the same time — so menstruation doesn’t have to be this embarrassing, awkward subject only known to girls. (I mean, only at least 50% of the population is affected!)
I recently had a partial hysterectomy and am personally delighted to no longer have to deal with periods. When I had them, they were horrific. Plus, we have only one bathroom in our house, which meant I was often left explaining to the kids why I was scuttling off to the bathroom with tampons in hand. I was always honest, because I feel that lying would only confuse my kids further and make them think that natural bodily functions are somehow wrong.
OK, so maybe it wasn’t ideal that over Easter Sunday lunch at a friend’s house, my daughter (then aged 3) announced she “didn’t want to be a woman” when she grew up, “because of the blood.” My friend’s father wondered how she knew of such things and my husband huffily replied, “Just what I was thinking!” However, now at 6 years old, she fully understands what happens to women’s bodies and her first period won’t come as a horrific shock to her when she is older. Meanwhile, at age 14, when I first began menstruating, I had assumed that a period was just a single passing of blood. I was completely unaware that they last for around five days. (Yes, I was that clueless.)
Call the Midwife deals with all kinds of incredible issues: Having children out of wedlock, poverty, dwarfism, thalidomide babies, racial prejudice, domestic abuse, etc. It’s entertaining, incredibly well-written, and offers an excellent lesson in history. I love that my young son can appreciate such good drama — especially one so focused on the perils of women not just in labor, but also within the constraints of society during that era.
And while I can admit that I hide behind a pillow for a few of the birth scenes (old phobias die hard!), I’m proud to say he’s watching wide-eyed, without a fear in the world.