I remember the day in fourth grade when our school nurse divided the classroom into boys and girls, then whisked us, the ladies-in-training, off to a wing of the school I’d never seen. We were made to watch a poorly scripted, grainy feature film about a girl who gets her period for the first time while sleeping over at a friend’s house. The next morning, terrified, she tells her friend and her friend’s mother. The mom spends the remainder of this ostensibly ’80s classic drawing a uterus and ovaries in pancake batter on the griddle to demonstrate the female system.
They weren’t, like, going to eat those, were they?
I watched the NOVA documentary. I read all the books. My partner explained it to me lots of times. But the truth is, although I guess I grasp all of the tangible elements of bleeding and conception — and I realize that not all babies are made this way — the whole process of conception is beyond my scope of reason. Not to mention it’s a little bit freaky.
Understanding the realm of baby-making takes a missing-linkish leap of faith — and I guess that’s why they call it a miracle.
I always feel like I’m missing a crucial element when I think of how a child can be conceived and grow to suit this wild world. Like a page was torn from my Baby Growing Understanding Manual. If there were an instructor — but, suddenly, you are teacher, classroom, and lab-coated student all in one — they have neglected to mention the most obvious and critical piece of information. The thing that, if stated, would make the entire audience go, “Ahhhhhh.”
Understanding the realm of baby-making takes a missing-linkish leap of faith — and I guess that’s why they call it a miracle.
Inside a man’s balls is a half-mile of tubing that will produce over two trillion sperm in his lifetime, each with a different set of genes. (Genes are cute. They look like apricots!) If jizz were a snowstorm, sperm are the snowflakes — no two produced are alike. The process by which sperm and egg cells are created in-testicle is a brutish, stark-raving mad acrobatic feat wherein chromosomes from HIS mom and dad that have been chilling out inside him since forever replicate and hug. I picture this happening in slow-motion, like a long-lost reunion, chromosomes bounding across fields of daisies to finally be in each other’s arms while violin music yearns in the background. (In reality, I’m sure it happens a lot faster than that.)
And that’s just the dude! The way a lady makes this stuff is even crazier. After producing millions of eggs as a fetus, a female has a few thousand left in her adult life. A tentacle leading to the uterus grabs a single egg cell, The Chosen One, which has been fanned and fed pig’s heads and fruit from hands of hundreds of bitch-ass cells for the last month. After being led down a series of dark alleys and secret passageways, the egg is given a sacrificial task: Get some sperm up in here, or die, letting guts spill and bleed.
Cue the lights. Cue the mucus of the cervix thinning out. Cue some really strange uterine agreements and sexually-stimulated-led bodily reactions.
As the sperm searches for the egg cell, a microcosm scenario plays out: it’s as if our cells act out a tiny version of the intense courtship process endured by their hosts.
Cue the lights. Cue the mucus of the cervix thinning out. Cue some really strange uterine agreements and sexually-stimulated-led bodily reactions. Unencumbered cells bring a bottle of Chianti to a red-checkered tablecloth under an old oak tree. It’s a pleasure to remind you: our bodies are designed for sex. They’re programed to search it out and slay it, which is why lonely singles far and wide can never heed the “you’re better off alone” statute. You might actually be better off alone! But tell your reproductive system that. Cos evolution has got ants in its pants.
The body prepares for a mutually beneficial hoe-down. Meanwhile, the bitch-ass helper cells are sticking close to protect their Special Egg. They screen out the broke, unemployed, under-motivated, loser sperm and send them packing.
The sperm who are let into the elite circle face the Queen Egg herself. They then have a limited time before the coach turns into an unlucky pumpkin. Every pick-up line imaginable must be tossed around here. The sperm has to say just the right thing, have just the right moves. (“Hey there lady. I see you’re ovulating. That’s hella sexy. Can I watch?”) And if he is chosen? They join. And the egg cell, er, well, sucks the contents of the sperm cell inside.
Together, our famed sperm-and-egg-combo jumps through hoops (nay-saying friends, pesky in-laws, competing schedules) all whilst striving for the very best (good timing, gourmet food).
The myriad of nuances is daunting. The number of “this has to be just so”‘s, the “if A, than no B”‘s, the narrow windows of opportunity, all combined with the miniscule scale of the world we’re talking about. For every miraculous hurdle being leapt by the respective sperm and egg cells, there is another momentous, Odysseian task within cell-sight. There are little, tiny pieces of you that exist your whole life to serve as a brief, transitory module for a greater development! There are itty bits you carry around so that they can take the stage for a single, though life-determining, announcement: “Boy” or, “Girl.”
Together, our famed sperm-and-egg-combo jumps through hoops (nay-saying friends, pesky in-laws, competing schedules) all whilst striving for the very best (good timing, gourmet food). And, if they’re very fortunate, against all odds, the relationship thrives, and they create… a baby!
And, after all this, hurdle followed by hurdle, the making of mix tapes, the late night phone marathons, the undeniable effort – two weeks later, the whole shebang (get it?) yields something the size of a poppy seed.
Never mind the following thirty-eight weeks of indecipherably magical baby formation.
Can you believe this?
I totally can’t.
After delivering a baby into the world on my living room floor, sans pain reducers, without a single intervention, into the light of day, feeling every miniscule bump and twist and urge — both mine and his — well, neither divine design nor evolution offer sufficient explanations toward this experience. (Although I have to say, people make a lot more sense if I think of them as a bunch of tall, less muscular, ninety-nine-percent-ish apes bumbling around.) But also? Clearly, there is a Great Spirit. Because with each lasting breath of pain enveloped within pain mixed with relief inside a big ball of, well, pain, a collection of divine essences drawn together by moans rally in torrents somewhere deep within.
This is the common human element. This is what connects me to you and to every person who has ever graced this planet. We’ve all been born. We’ve all traveled that one, same, path. Some of us were cut out and ripped from the folds of our mother’s abdomens, and some of us were pushed and struggled through the tiny, bony hole of conception. It is one of the two single things that undeniably happens. It is life.
Comments on Penis in vagina: this way of making babies is kind of crazy
Wow! I KNOW how it works because we all learned it, but I am always amazed that is DOES work so often and so well…
This is so funny and beautiful! And totally true–it’s amazing how we get here. Also, my class watched the same video, but I forgot about the uterine pancakes until you reminded me!
Hilarious! Great post.
I just want to say that I am SO GLAD someone else had to watch that awful video. No one ever knows what I’m talking about…
I remember it too! I wish my 4th grade self had my adult self’s sense of irony. I would have enjoyed it a lot more.
I remember it too, I thought it was just that I went to a private religious school and they were too uptight to explain it, so they dragged out a decades old video (which may well be true, still). The only other person who has ever known what I was talking about was my friend who also went to catholic school. So glad someone else understands the complete weirdness of that video!
I saw it too! I remember because we saw it in mixed company in 7th grade and one of the boys got detention for yelling out. “Yum, Eggs for breakfast!”
It was followed by the boys version, in which a teen boy ends up asking the local zookeeper for advice about nocturnal emissions. Who makes these films?
You saw the boy version! I always wondered what the boys saw while we were watching the pancake vid!! Wow, sounds way weirder than I ever imagined… !
We had the separate videos (those not those particular videos) in 4 and 5th grade, but in 7th we had sex ed as part of science class and it was coed. Our teacher followed the boys video by giving us a list of people we could talk to about puberty or sex that would be better than a zookeeper.
HOLY CRAP SOMEONE ELSE SAW THE PANCAKE VIDEO! At my school, they showed us this video more than once – I think it was even annual for a couple of years – and rather than being freaked out the umpteenth time we saw it, we wanted the teacher to show us how to make pancakes in weird shapes.
She totally did, by the way. She was the coolest teacher ever.
It’s pretty amazing when you spell it all out, huh? And I had to watch it, too. When I make pancakes I have to stop myself from drawing fallopian tubes every. single. time.
Please tell me that video is available to watch somewhere on the internet! It sounds wonderful. (Wonderfully awful…?)
Great post. It really does seem magical…
I loved this. I wish there was a kid version. lol.
This is awesome! I was just telling my husband last week that I imagined that if implantation happens, say, when I am running on the treadmill, it will look a little bit like a pin ball machine in there 🙂
This spoke to me because I have TOTALLY thought this stuff before. My son was a pleasant surprise and I didn’t have many early pregnancy symptoms (other than missing my period). So, when I went to my first doctor’s appointment and we saw the ultrasound I was like “really?” It just seemed SO unlikely. How did that happen? I still find the idea of sex and a baby completely disconnected. Also, if you think about it objectively,sex in and of itself is super weird. I love this post!
“sex in and of itself is super weird.”
So true! They want to put what in my what now!?!?
Hahaha! Oh man, this made me laugh. We were just talking the other day about how, when you think about it for a while, pregnancy and birth are super weird. I mean, a human being GROWS INSIDE YOU for nine months… and then you push it OUT OF YOUR VAGINA. And then, wham, you’ve got a baby!
I can’t believe how many women across the country have seen that pancake reproduction ed video! Hilarious!
Tried to find it on you tube, no dice… somebody let us know if you come across it!! Too funny.
this is my favourite OBM post. ever.
perfect!!! thank you!!
When we learned about sex (sexth grade) my classmate’s mother, a nurse, came and drew pictures on the chalk board. I closed my eyes when she drew a penis. My sister’s told me that since I closed my eyes I would never know what a penis looked like and when I became an adult I would have to ask a male friend if I could see his. For awhile I acctualy thought that was true!
I still can’t believe this craziness actually happens even though I thawed the sperm myself and took photos every step along the way and now the baby is talking already.
I’ve said many times over the past 6 months that no one EVER warns you about the existential weirdness. For me it was when he started moving and it was obvious that he was just in there doing his own thing, reacting to me but not really caused by me, if you know what I mean? It’s like the book needs to start out with, “This is probably the weirdest thing that has happened to you, and it will get weirder. Don’t think about it too much.”
Agreed. As I sit here with my four week old baby boy eating milk from my body, THAT I MADE, the whole thing does not seem any less surreal or miraculous.
And it’s weird how the whole thing now seems so easy, so effortless; even though I intellectually know there were challenges along the way.
Oh golly THIS!! At 20 weeks, babies been moving and shaking for 6 and I’ve got a belly the size of a beach ball and I still cannot get my head around it. Definitely totally and utterly the weirdest freaking experience OF MY LIFE. There’s an entirely separate being in there, growing from microscopic stuff and then I push it out where? I mean, its gotta come out HOW?! Phoar, totally surreal. And then I’m a MOTHER. That’s a whole ‘nutha load of weirdness.
My god, Katey, that was a pleasure to read. Awesome post, awesome writing. I feel like I learned something. THIS shit should be passed out in sex ed at schools.
Thank you! 🙂
Finally someone else who saw the pancake video! My elementary school’s 4th grade and older female population refused to eat pancakes ever again. I still get a little nauseous eating them (ick I’m eating uterus!).
Sexual reproduction is so amazing though. As someone who is interested in heredity and genetics no amount of uterus pancakes could deter me from studying it. I’m reminded of a quote from Watchmen…
“Thermo-dynamic miracles…events with odds against so astronomical they’re effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing. And yet in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations against the odds of your ancestors being alive, meeting, siring this precise son; that exact daughter…..to distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability , like turning air to gold…”
Life is amazing.
I’m pretty sure this is very similar to the talk we gave both my step-sister and my brother-in-law (they are about 2 years apart in age). I am absolutely certain it scared my brother-in-law abstinent for several years following. I believe it was talk about cervix mucus.
GAH. LOVE this!!!
I truly enjoyed this so much! I just finished up my advanced pathophysiology class (student midwife) and so many of your descriptions match exactly what I picture when I go over the mechanics of it, particularly: “A tentacle leading to the uterus grabs a single egg cell, The Chosen One, which has been fanned and fed pig’s heads and fruit from hands of hundreds of bitch-ass cells for the last month. ”
I think you’re right…that is why it’s called a miracle. Such a great read. 🙂
After struggling with infertility for so long I truly can’t believe ANYONE gets pregnant this way. But I’m 24 weeks today and I can certainly empathize with how utterly astounding growing a human being really is. It’s just so bizarre when you stop to think about it. Right now I have 2 hearts.
Please tell me this is supposed to be a joke. Half of the explanations are rubbish.no wonder you don’t understand and think it’s missing link magical.
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