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Thursday, 15 May 2014

the birds and the bees

{TW for 2 x non explicit mentions of CSA}

I was writing a few days ago about parenting and how many of us make the same mistakes as our parents, and I got thinking about those cringing awkward conversations about sex and adolescence where neither you nor your parent wanted to be in the room...

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For the family I grew up in, the simplist acknowledgment of physical changes was to be avoided at all costs, never mind any real two way communication to do with puberty / sex / relationships.  This meant that from the age of nine, I always sat with my shoulders hunched over, hiding my developing body, because I knew it was something to be ashamed of, embarrassed by - those were the messages I had learnt.  A visible manifestation of my gender, something that labelled me as female, which in my mind also marked me as vulnerable.

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Still, I knew nothing about adolescence until it bit me on the bum (for want of a different phase!) when my first period began.  
At school.  
And I thought that I was dying. 

I had developed fairly early and hadn't yet sat through that excruciating talk at school, so I was scared I had somehow been broken by my father's abuse.

I hid my 'dirty' knickers in my bedroom and kept shoving a wodge of toilet paper into my pants to absorb the flow.  It was only about four months later, when my year did have the talk in school that I realised what was going on.  Once home I quietly retrieved a pair of pants from the pile underneath my bed.  Cheeks on fire, knickers balled up in my hand, I went looking for my mother, who seemed to suddenly be under the impression she was in a film. Her voice creaked as she uttered the words 'you're a woman now' with tears in her eyes.

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But even after this, I didn't seem to merit a more detailed discussion on anything even slightly linked to what was going on with my body.  I knew, in basic animal husbandry terms, what sex was, but zero about anything else.  Nothing about relationships, affection, pleasure, decisions, STDs, preferences.

I'm not sure that she knew about the cringing school video, because she began a conversation, once, about six months later with a book full of solemn black ink diagrams - potentially a textbook from her nursing and midwifery training days.  I figured I ought to use her words so there was no confusion, and I was afraid of what might happen if she realised school had told me more than she had.  She quickly turned page after page muttering under her breath until she came to a 'place tab A into slot 2' schematic, where she paused and took a deep breath.   Her voice was high pitched and tight as she told me that when you were married it was your duty as a wife to have special cuddles with your husband.  But when I hesitantly told her 'Daddy has special cuddles like that with me', pointing at the illustration on the page, the book was slammed shut, never to be seen again.

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So I did what every other girl in school was doing, and read Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.  It answered some of my questions, but not all, and it wasn't as though there was anyone I could ask.  I remember looking up the word 'rape' in the dictionary because there was a big case on the news and I genuinely didn't know what it meant.  I was fifteen.  

Having a baby girl at 23 was simultaneously exciting and terrifying.  I had a daughter now, how could I keep her safe?  I didn't know what to do, only what not to do.  What was the perceived right way to begin these conversations? 

Watch this space :: Noah and Petal's story coming soon...

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