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How much did our Grannies know about 'the birds and the bees'?

We’ve come a long way after years of secrecy and shame.

NEARLY EVERY IRISH woman can recall with horrifying detail the day that their parent, usually their mum, sat them down to have ‘the talk’.

You know, the ‘birds and the bees’ one.  

giphy Source: giphy

Mortifyingly embarrassing, but got to be done.

For my maternal grandmother, the ‘talk’ was given by her sisters the night before her wedding in July 1957.  Up until then the mechanics of what would happen had never been discussed.

She was 39 years old. 

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With women’s’ magazines like Cosmo and Glamour and with the internet my grandmother’s lack of knowledge can seem bizarre. 

But back then sex was taught as being a sin, so why would you talk about how to commit a sin? 

shutterstock_43806454 Source: Shutterstock/CREATISTA

The lack of a frank discussion for my Grandmother before her wedding night was not the end of ‘shameful’ things that remained unspoken in relation to sex, babies, and women’s bodies. Soon after their wedding, my grandparents emigrated to New Zealand by boat. Throughout their journey by boat, my Grandmother was dreadfully nauseous with what she believed was seasickness.

It was, of course, ‘morning sickness’.

shutterstock_610321982 Source: Shutterstock/smile photo

The following May, when she was nine months pregnant and living in Wellington, hundreds of miles away from all of her family, her waters broke.

My grandmother thought she had peed herself and was extremely ashamed. 

Thirty-odd years later, when my mother was pregnant with her eldest child, she bought The Great Ormond Street New Baby and Child Care Book. As she was working right up until I was born, Mum only flicked through it. But my Grandmother voraciously read every page.

She couldn’t believe how open and matter-of-fact the book was about women’s bodies.   

pregnancy Source: giphy

That’s when she told my mother all of these little stories about her own lack of knowledge as a 39 year old.  

Hers are not stories that will go into the history books; they’re not of historical importance. But her stories are a glimpse of what Ireland was like in the 1950s and 1960s.  For my Grandmother, and for countless Irish women, the holy trinity of sex, pregnancy and childbirth was a mystery and a miracle. Women didn’t need to know or to understand what was going on. The one woman worshipped in Ireland was a virgin who gave birth safely in a manger with only her husband and some farmyard animals to help. We are not told about any other woman helping the Virgin Mary on Christmas Day.  It’s only recently that women are truly banding together and sharing knowledge about things that were once shameful.

shutterstock_701760715 Source: Shutterstock/Maisei Raman

These stories about my Grandmother’s experience are ones that I’ve only heard second-hand from my mother as my Grandmother died before I was old enough to inquire and ask more questions.  I can’t help but wonder what other untold stories my Grandmother held in her heart, What stories might she have revealed if she’d lived to see the campaign to repeal the 8th and the #MeToo movement? If you have any stories that you’ve heard from your grandmothers, please send them in.

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