Welcome to Mamá Liberada!
by Katey Sleeveless
I remember the day in fourth grade when our school nurse ceremoniously 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 80’s 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, the whole process of baby-making is beyond my scope of reason – not to mention a little bit freaky.
I always feel like I’m missing a crucial element when I think of how a child is conceived and grows to suit this wild world. Like a page was torn from my Baby Growing Understanding Manuel. 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.
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. Turns out, the process of making a baby is… well, a lot like the process of making a baby.
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.
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, 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. There is every woman who has ever given birth, beside you, cheerleading. There is a transcendence of moments as one more person is “born” – notating the exact minute they shimmy through your birth canal and squiggle into the light of day. 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.
Though it grows within you, you are making something inside of yourself over which you have little control. It always has this connection to you and to the outside world. You feel its heart beat, its legs kick, its fists pump, its head bob. It gets the hiccups. It sleeps. And one day, he or she wakes up, and decides they’re gonna make a mad dash for it. Except they don’t know how to run. So your body has to shake them out, one contraction at a time.