Is a Vagina by Any Other Name Any Less Terrifying?

I was watching What Not to Wear when Aya burst into the room with a scowl on her face. Clinton Kelly was telling a woman how her ill-fitting trousers made her crotch look a rectangle. My daughter cut short my contained chuckles with a question I knew I was going to have to answer, but never expected it to come on that day at that moment.

“Mommy!” she exclaimed almost tearfully. “Nadjah said that we all used to live in your hoo-hoo!”

“No I didn’t!” Nadjah called from the other room. “I said we all used to live in your stomach, then we came out of your hoo-hoo!”

I couldn’t see her face, but I could tell that my first born was enjoying her younger sister’s state of hysteria. I sighed and muted the TV.

“Yes, Aya,” I said solemnly. “Your sister is right. Remember how big my stomach was when I was pregnant with Stone and Liya? Remember they used to live in my stomach?”

She nodded vigorously, her eyes widening slightly. It’s as if she were girding herself up for tragic news. I smiled and patted her shoulder.

“But none of you guys came out of my hoo-hoo,” I said reassuringly. “You all came out of my stomach.”

Almost every portion of my body has been used in the service of my children since the moment of their conception. A uterus to incubate them in; arms to cradle them in; breasts to suckle them with; a back to ferry them on; lips to kiss away the pain of boo-boos. So without hesitation, I lifted my flabby belly in order to reveal the keloid scar that marked the point of entry into the world for each of my four children. I told her that the doctor had cut my stomach so that she could be born. She seemed relieved and asked me a few follow up questions. Did it hurt? I told her no. (I declined to go into detail about the wonderful drugs and needles that accompany a c-section…or the intense pain that follows when those drugs do finally wear off. Why rock a leaky boat?)

She asked me if a doctor was going to cut her stomach one day too. I told her I couldn’t say. Satisfied with the knowledge that her entry into the world had not come from via a place where I urinated (not to mention menstruated) from, she scampered off to go play. The conversation stuck with me though. Was I doing a good enough job educating my girls about their bodies? Had the time come for me to do so and I’d somehow missed it? Neither of them is in the double digits as far as age is concerned…why these crazy questions??

I consider myself a progressive enough parent. I let them watch videos on when I was carrying their younger siblings so that they would understand what was going on inside of my body. At ages 3 and 4, they watched the cycle of life repetitiously, awestruck at how a blastocyst could become a person in a matter of weeks. By the time they were in preschool, my kids could name all the parts of the body with by their proper scientific names…except for one.

The vagina.

I will admit that there is a certain discomfort I harbor for the use of the word “vagina”, or any reference to it at all for that matter. In fact, I’ve never seen my own vagina. I couldn’t pick it out of a lost and found bin. So when my children asked me what that fold of skin was between their little toddler thighs, I told them it was called a “hoo-hoo”, some generic term I’d picked up from a co-worker 13 years ago. It has served me well…until now.

Dr. Phil said on his show once that it is very important that we teach children the proper biological terms for their genitals – and early. I still haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. I know that there will probably be social implications for my future teenager calling her…. *gulp*…. vagina something cutesy like a “pocketbook” or her “stuff”, but that’s one of those things I’m willing to let her navigate on her own with her peers. The labia minora is something that truly terrifies me.

I don’t know why it should though. I remember having a vagina monolog with my mother when I was about 12. She was laying in her room sunning herself and I burst in. I had a bad habit of not knocking. Her legs were open on the bed and she was naked from the waist down. I came face to face with her hoo-hoo before I knew it.

“Ewww, Mommy!” I exclaimed. “Close your legs! That’s gross.”

“It wasn’t ‘gross’ when you came out of it,” she shot back.

I was stunned into silence, and I learned two things that day: to always knock before entering that woman’s room and that I was terribly afraid of female genitalia.

I often wonder if I’m the only parent who feels this way about identifying that part of my kids’ bodies. It’s not something I discuss with friends during Mommy and Me time or over coffee. In anyone else squeamish over this issue, or am I just being weird?