About those Birds and Bees

 This is specifically about having that talk leading up to primarily one topic with girls.  If you want more, see the Four Moms Birds and Bees post linked below, or scroll down for links to other resources.

When the Four Moms wrote about the Birds and the Bees, we ended up having about two or three days to plan for that post, and there were several things I wished I’d said when it was all over.  On the other hand, that is not my favorite topic to discuss in public, and a blog is pretty public.  But then again, it was obvious from some of the comments (not so much on my blog or Kim’s, but on Connie’s and Kimberly‘s in particular), that there is a need for just a touch more information, and I was specifically asked to share more on one topic in particular- how can you tell when a girl is about to, ummm, you know…. (blush, whisper) start?

If you are horrified by what you realize this blog post is going to be about, this would be a good time to go read a recipe, read up on how the fungibility of money means politicians are abusing taxpayers, or laugh over the worst toddler behavior, evah, or admire adorable grand-babies.

I want to defend myself here by saying first of all that I am not a prude, but on the other hand, I am entirely too bashful to tell you all the proofs that I am not a prude.  Combine that with my concern that in order to be crystal clear here and as accurate as I would be in a one on one discussion (preferably over email), I would have to use words that will show up on a google search- unfortunately perfectly useful words can also attract some bottom dwelling, scum-sucking, scavenger type creeps.  So I’m going to come across a little ridiculous to some of you here, and still too embarrassing for others. And then there is the fact that I do know that my blog is not only read by women which is a bit awkward for me as I do consider some perfectly healthy topics of conversation not suitable for mixed company.  So we shall tip toe through the tulips here and I shall seem a bit ridiculous to some of you and completely, scandalously, outrageous to others, and I can live with that, because I hope that this will be helpful to some mothers of daughters.

First of all, the whole birds and the bees thing is about both more and less than than first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in the baby carriage.  The birds and the bees, in other words, is not just about, er, issues of intimacy and where babies come from.  Health is also involved- if we did not live in the real world but in a fictionalized Victorian era and your daughter was going to become a cloistered nun in a sheltered nunnery and almost never, ever see a member of the opposite gender and never hear of anything remotely related to conception and birth (again, this is imaginary, not real), then there would still be some things she would need to know for her own personal health, and that’s really the scope of this post- how to broach the topic of monthly cycles, when, and some tools you might find useful.

Your daughter does need to know this.  There are physical conditions (aside from pregnancy) for which the early signs are changes in cycles, changes in monthly cycles, etc, and a woman who has never paid much attention to these is not going to be able to be as pro-active about her own health as she might be.

It’s important to remember that all families are different, children are individuals, and what is ideal for one would be appalling to another and incomprehensible to a third.  You make decisions on what is best for your family, and nobody knows your daughter like you do.  Do not make reactive decisions out of horror or anger at what you own parents did or did not tell you or what some stranger on a blog tells you about what her parents did or did not do.

I think it’s a good idea to just have a general study of the human body no later than between 8 and 10- the digestive system, the respiratory system, etc.  I’d repeat this in high school as well with more detail.  But I think it’s useful to give your kids a general idea of the internal workings of their bodies, a basic understanding of the idea that there are various organs with different jobs, and that what they do, choices they make (sleeping, eating, exercise, etc, and I hope you are following me on the broad category of etc. here.) can change how well these systems function.  You don’t even necessarily need to go into the specifics of the reproductive system at this point. It will also help you, I hope, feel more comfortable discussing this with your children when you are ready for a talk about the etc. side of the human system, and since you will have already discussed the stomach and how it works, the lungs, and what they do, maybe it won’t seem too freaky to you and your children when you bring up fallopian tubes and what they do. Resources are listed at the bottom of this post.

You want to explain to your daughter what menarche is before she gets there, but it’s really not the end of the world if you didn’t. Some kids freak out and think something horrible is wrong, although not all do, and it’s just not always going to happen in the quiet safety and privacy of your own home. Some girls will feel traumatized for life no matter what you tell them (one of mine sat in my lap and cried for hours because she didn’t want to grow up and one was thrilled to death because it meant she was growing up, and they had exactly the same teaching from me).  So yes, you want to tell them what’s coming before it hits them.  It’s much, much better if you do, it’s just that you don’t need to go drown yourself in remorse if you didn’t, and if it is your mother who failed here, you need to forgive her and move on.  Even if you didn’t and your daughter is very angry now, if your relationship is otherwise good, I promise that some day she will get over it and think you are funny and quirky. Well, okay, I can’t promise that because I am not your daughter. But I can tell you that your perspective on how your mother did or didn’t handle this won’t necessarily be the same in your forties as it was in your twenties. What’s done is done, move on.

For those who haven’t gotten there yet, fortunately, there are ways to tell that some big changes are going on in your daughter’s life, and you can have up to two years warning.

There is no set order for these changes, and some of them will be more marked for some girls than others.  I did some googling so you don’t have to in order to be sure I covered everything I thought important, and found it interesting how one site would say that one of them was the earliest sign, and another would say that was the latest, and there were other contradictions as well, even from sites written by ‘experts’ with degrees and everything.  So keep in mind that you and your daughter are individuals and you will have to find the path to communication that is right for you.

Signs to watch for, in no particular order because this will vary:

Pimples

Your daughter will need to start wearing undershirts or something else, you know?  That whole training ‘undergarment’ thing is not about support, and it’s not about encouraging little girls to grow up too soon. It’s because little girls will be extra tender there- their shirts might actually irritate newly sensitive skin, they will get hurt when wrestling with their daddy or brothers, or when playing catch and a ball hits them in the chest- doing things they used to do without any problems will start to occasionally cause pain, and shirts and materials that once were modest won’t be anymore.

She needs deodorant.

The hair on her legs is less fine than it used to be, and hair will show up other places where it wasn’t before, and I hope that’s all you need me to tell you. If your family is so private you never see one another in a state of nature (which is a euphemism of nekkid if you’re even more private than that), then surreptitiously heck her armpits somehow- have her raise her hands to the ceiling while wearing a tank top or swimming suit, or while trying on clothes in the dressing room. Hair grows there, too, at about the same time as, um, other places.

If you do the laundry, you may notice some slight changes indicated in what the Victorians and Edwardians once used to delicately refer to as ‘linens,’ and I don’t mean sheets.

Moodiness- this will vary with the child, and it can be caused by other things.  We had this ‘talk’ with one of my girls two years earlier than necessary (not that this was a bad thing), because we moved to Alaska and the change in sunshine levels (from a tropical island to the constant twilight of the great North) really was hard on her- she burst into tears for no reason at all, insisted nobody understood her (that was true enough), and just baffled her poor daddy, who would look at me in helpless  and hurt bewilderment, asking “What did I say?” My mom came to visit for Christmas and the second day she was there told me, “YOu need to have that talk if you didn’t already, that child is going to go through puberty any day now.”  Later we realized it was the lack of sunshine, and some of my girls didn’t have the moodiness at all.

Going along with the moodiness, some girls will just suddenly be more private, more prickly, less open than before.  Sometimes this will be for other, more serious and even urgent reasons (abuse, drug use, really serious stuff that you need to address immediately),  Sometimes it’s just because they are embarrassed about the changes they see and don’t know how to handle them.  Sometimes it’s because hormonal changes make their emotional signals a bit, well, haywire.

Rapid growth- again, this won’t apply to everybody.  Two of my girls never breached 5 feet and there was never a time when they had what anybody would call a shooting up period.  But for most of the rest, yes, there was a time when their feet grew so fast that we wondered if they were going to be wearing a size 13DDD shoe (they mostly stopped at 8), and where it seemed like I needed to buy them new clothes every three months because they were growing so fast.  Boys will have these growth spurts all the time- the girls seem to have this one last, big push where you wonder if they will be six feet tall by the time they are 13, and then they stop abruptly.Catching them in that growth spurt period is a good time.

The girls will also get, well, hips.  Curves.  Most of them will flesh out here- their legs will no longer be toothpicks, or, if they have been plump and adorable little puddings they will seem to stretch out, elongate, and the sweet little puddins’ become shapelier.  Again, there are variations, and some girls are always going to have the figure of a slender snake- straight at the sides from hips to stomach, no indentation upon which to plant their hands when overseeing the work of the menfolks.That’s just fine, it’s just not so helpful when you are looking for ‘signs.’

When you see a couple of these signs- and, again, the above is not a check list- every girl will not have every single sign in the same order, it’s a good time to move from general discussions of basic human anatomy, modesty, self-control (learning self control in spending and in eating ice-cream does have cross over benefits in learning self control in other areas) into some specific information about the big change that is about to happen to your daughter.

It’s obvious (I hope) that you will want to mention that there will be, well, blood coming from a possibly startling location, which will be news to a home educated child who doesn’t live in a household of big sisters or who has never had a female dog who hasn’t been fixed, or who isn’t pretty good at putting contextual clues together.  This means one of mine needed everything spelled out and one of mine didn’t bother to mention this big change in her life to anybody but just took care of things herself because she knew what to do- and several fell somewhere in between.

Basic hygiene, care and cleanliness should also be covered,products to use (including home-made options), and be sure to offer vital practical instructions like ‘do NOT clog up the toilet,’ as well as what, if any, code word you family uses for the public shopping list posted to the refrigerator.  In my parents’ home, it was ‘stuff.’ In my family there was no code word because my husband refused to buy any such products, so the girls would just tell me. In one family, marshmallows written at the top of the list meant you-know-what, but marshmallows written anywhere else meant marshmallows. Some families are so open they just write down anything on that shopping list, or maybe your family sends the girls out to a hut in the woods to commune with cattail fluff.  Whatever it is, explain it to your child because I promise you, your family ways are not obvious and self-explanatory and everybody does not approach things the way you do (that’s a generic you). But there are some other things I think it’s also important to address:

The role hormones can play on our moods- not to use as an excuse, but it is helpful to tell a girl who is currently not being bombarded by hormones that sometimes when you are under hormonal bombardment, it clouds your judgment and reactions, and it’s important to know that if the people you have always loved and found to be delightful companions are suddenly raging idiots who annoy you merely by existing, it’s probably NOT something they are doing. It’s important to explain in advance that their cycles can create a negative filter through which they view others, and so it’s a good idea to set aside important discussions for a bit later.

Cramps and back-aches: My own mother never really had any unpleasantness associated with monthly cycles, so she didn’t mention it as a possibility to me.  When I was about 12, a friend’s mother pointed out to me that my lower back aches and weepiness probably was cyclical in nature.

It’s a good idea to get in the habit now of marking the start and finish on your calendar each month.  Girls will not be anything like regular in the beginning, but it’s a good habit to develop, and a good way to learn to recognize your body’s signals.

The doctor is going to ask her if she’s started.  Some girls find that embarrassing, so warn them ahead of time.  Also discuss with them very clearly whether or not they want you in the room with them for future doctor’s visits.  Some doctors will try to kick Mom out- and if the girl isn’t clear that this isn’t what SHE wants, the doctor will assume Mom is just being a smother mother. If you are not a military family, you can easily change doctors if this happens.  Also, FYI, most midwives will do feminine type exams and discussions with girls, just ask.  That’s a much more comfortable and natural environment. And your daughter does NOT need an internal exam until she is, er, ‘active’ (and I’m not talking about playing a mean game of tag football) or in her early twenties.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying, “You know, this is a topic not generally discussed in public,so I don’t have much practice talking about it and so as you can tell, I am very embarrassed and my own embarrassment is probably making you nervous.  I’m sorry about that.  I do want you to feel free to talk to me if you have any questions, and I really do not mind if I am embarrassed. It’s okay to talk to me even if it makes me blush.  Please do not worry about it. I would much rather you ask me a question and let me be embarrassed than have you wonder about things without answers, or get the wrong answers from somewhere else just to save me a few blushes.  Maybe the more questions you ask, the less embarrassed I will get.”

Resources we’ve used include:

Reader’s Digest ABCS of the Human Body,- I like the information on the various systems of the body.  However, this is very thorough, not written from a Christian perspective of morality and the blessing of the human body, and you may not want to leave it lying around. You can tell your kids not to read beyond chapter ten, or whatever it is, but I think that’s a bit hard on the kids. Either let them read it, read it together, or glean what you need from the book and get rid of it.

Christian Liberty Nature Reader Book 5,  You should check to see if information is current, which will be a useful study in itself. It’s written at about fifth grade level, and is a useful look at the wonder of the human body.  What all of mine remember about it is the digestive system.
If you prefer, the Christian Liberty Nature Reader’s are online here

Outside-In: A Lift-the-Flaps Body Book– for younger children. Basic stuff on the digestive, respiratory systems and so forth. This was the HG’s favorite book in kindergarten, though, because it shows drawings of naked children, it may have too much detail illustrated for some of our more bashful readers.

Anatomy Coloring Book, The (3rd Edition) – obviously, for older students just because of the complexity of the drawings.

I Am Joe’s Body, helpful for Mom and high school students


Period.: A Girl’s Guide– I have a much older version, a 1992 reprint of the ’79 version.  I hate the illustrations- they are crude and vulgar.  I don’t mean in a sexual way, I mean they are scrawls and look juvenile.  The updated version has better illustrations, but also some additional information I personally wouldn’t use with a pre-pubescent girl.  That said, this is a good resource for a bashful mom to read first, and then share the information with her daughter, or for a different sort of bashful mom to leave in the bathroom for her daughter to read.


New Moon, the Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams– In 2002 I often picked up an issue at our favorite hippie health food store, and we read parts of the issues together. I kept the January/February issue specifically for an article on sizing and selecting the right bra, and I like the stuff in it on being comfortable in your own skin.  This is not written from a Christian perspective, and I find the emphasis on self esteem tiresome and often misdirected.  I love the lack of ads, the lack of dieting advice, the focus on health rather than weight, size, or popularity, the emphasis that body image should not come from pop culture. I do not love the decidedly feminist in that annoying “Why would anybody think any differently than us unless they just hate women or are afraid” fashion, tiresomely ‘save the earth’ through actions that won’t make a spit of difference, sometimes new agey- You can decide for yourself, there is a sample issue available online. I think it’s changed since I was buying it, and the target audience seems to be younger.


What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause– this is excellent for all ages.  I read it in my early forties and wished I’d had it at twenty.

For a more general study for pre-teens, I really like Moral Principles for Young People.  It’s free online, and there shouldn’t be anything there to embarrass the most bashful maiden. It won’t replace ‘the talk,’ but it is a good study.

The same author also has Growing Up In The Lord, for Boys, and Growing Up in the Lord for Girls. We haven’t used this last two yet, but I think we are going to use Growing up in the Lord for Boys with our son.  We know the father personally as well as his three of his four sons, and I do respect his sons’ moral standards and behavior. It was also recommended to me by another mother with one son whose standards I respect.  These are fairly straight forward explanations of the birds and bees, from a Christian standpoint (emphasis on purity), with additional information about basic hygiene (the boys’ study covers information for both circumcised and uncircumcised boys).

Also for boys: Every Young Man’s Battle: Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation (The Every Man Series)  Be warned, this is pretty explicit and should be read together with a father and son if possible.  Particularly useful if your son is or might be exposed to pornography or having a really rough time with his thought life.

I didn’t use these, but they’ve been highly recommended to me recently by some young mothers:

The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls (American Girl Library

Taking Charge of Your Fertility, 10th Anniversary Edition: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health
 
Take Charge Of Your Fertility: Teach Yourself

Looking at the Body, excellent for grade school study of the human body, strictly the less embarrassing systems of the human body, unless “a brown sludge called feces (and other, less polite names)” would be a problem for you.

For more information, I found these sites useful:
This is from a parenting website.
This is also for parents, so it’s user friendly
This site has a flash diagram of the female reproductive system and a very helpful explanation of the process that should be useful.

Okay- this was a long blog post and a big topic.  What do you wish I’d said instead?  What would you add?

This is (or shortly will be) linked at WFMW

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