“Tonight, after your brother is asleep, you girls can come to my room. We’re going to do something special.”
My sister and I were seven and nine in 1962 when my mother whispered those words to us after supper one night. We were excited. My five- year- old brother wouldn’t be included in whatever was going to happen. Mom’s whisper indicated it was something secret and very interesting indeed.
When my mother was sure my little brother was asleep, she poked her head into our room where we were waiting in anticipation, and gestured it was time to come down to her bedroom. She invited us to jump up onto her bed and when we were sitting snugly tucked in on either side of her, she took out a book called Susie’s Babies. There was a hamster on the front cover. She told us she would be reading us one chapter of the book every night and we could stop her anytime to ask questions.
Susie’s Babies, published in 1960, is the story of an elementary school class that has a pet hamster who is pregnant. The book’s flyleaf calls it “a gentle and charming way to explain the miracle of birth to your children with wholesomeness and reverence.” The students in the story follow Susie the hamster through each day of her pregnancy and observe her nurturing her baby hamsters. My mother used the book as a springboard for talking to us frankly about sex.
After my mother finished reading us Susie’s Babies she told us she was pregnant and in six months we would have a new brother or sister. Throughout her pregnancy Mom let us continue to ask questions and explained the changes that were taking place as our new sibling grew and developed. She talked to us about what would happen when the baby was born. The birth of my youngest brother was such an important and meaningful event in our lives because Mom had shared the experience with my sister and me almost right from the start of her pregnancy.
Looking back, I realize how fortunate I was to have a mother in the early 1960s who thought it was important to impart the facts of life in such a positive and honest way. I found out later many of my friends had been left completely in the dark about the physical changes they would experience when they reached adolescence and had no idea how you got pregnant. This lack of information left them fearful and uninformed about sex, a reality that sometimes led to disastrous consequences. We lived in a small, very religiously conservative community, so there was no sex education in the schools.
When my mother was in her eighties, she told me that her own mother had never given her any information about sex. Consequently, her wedding night had been a shocking experience and she had been anxious and scared when she became pregnant for the first time. Mom wanted things to be different for her own daughters. Thanks to her it was. I am grateful to my mother for so many things but especially grateful for those memorable evenings in 1962 when she read us Susie’s Babies.
Note: Three years ago a version of this story appeared in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book called My Amazing Mom.