"I am glad that he spoke just as he did," Mrs. Edson smiled, "for he reminds me that frogs are as good an example as I can take next. He belongs to one of the lower classes of animals, not so very much higher than the plants. Now, in the plants, you will remember, it was necessary for the pollen to enter the ovary in order to reach and fertilize the seeds. But with the frog it is not so. The female lays the eggs first, and just as she is doing so the male places himself in such a position towards her that he can mingle his zoosperms with her eggs as they come out. That fertilizes them and they immediately begin to grow. First they become tadpoles, and then little frogs."
"What, was Old Croaky ever a little tadpole, mumsey?"
"Yes, darling, he was. Every frog was once. And before that he was an egg, one of many, in his mother's ovary, and it is so with all animals. They all of them have eggs and zoosperms, just as the plants have pollen and seeds. Only, with most of the animals, the zoosperms must enter the ovary in order to fertilize the eggs, as is the way of the plants. And it is the same with the birds. They are higher, that is later, in the scale of life than the frogs are. Now the higher the creature the more complicated becomes the process of reproduction, even though the principle is always the same. It is always growth, always the life within, forcing itself out to take form, and it is only the forms that change. The life and force within are the same that the first single cell had."
"It is very wonderful, mamma," Elsie said, awed by the mystery, even though she was very far from grasping the whole of it. "And the birds, mamma, have they stamens, and eggs inside? I thought their eggs were outside, in a little nest. And some of them are, mumsey, because, you know, I have seen them lots of times."
"Yes, the eggs come out where you can see them, in time, as the frog's do, but at first they are inside the mother bird, as they are with the frogs and all animals. Only, it is not with the birds as it is with the frogs, for the bird's eggs must be fertilized by the male zoosperms while they are still within the mother bird. The zoosperms must enter the ovary as the pollen must enter the ovary of the plant.
So the male bird, like most male animals, has a stamen which is a repetition of that of the flower, made of such a shape that it can reach the eggs in the mother bird's ovary and fertilize them there.
Then they come out, they are 'laid' as we say, and we see them in the nest which the mother and father birds have prepared for them. And just as the seeds need to be covered and kept warm, when they have fallen from the ripe pods to the ground, in order that they may live and grow into baby plants, so the bird's eggs must be covered and kept warm and safe in order that they may grow into birdies. It is just here that you may see where the honey of the plants begins to become love in the higher species. For instead of leaving the eggs to be protected or not, according to chance, as is the way of the plants, the mother bird covers and warms and protects them herself. She sits on the nest and keeps them safe with her own body and feathers. Isn't that lovely! And the father bird goes to market in the woods and fields and brings her the daintiest and best food he can find."
"Isn't he _nice!_" said Elsie appreciatively.
"Yes, he is nice, and so is his wife, the mother bird. Just think! A bird is the most energetic and tireless creature in all animated nature. It is always on the move, urged by the force and overflowing life within its body, and to sit there quietly all alone on the eggs day after day and night after night--oh, it must be hard, so hard that we can scarcely realize the extent of the sacrifice she is making for her little children. That is what love is like. And the higher a creature is in the scale of life the more love it has, until, in men and women, the acme is reached and they not only give up their comfort for each other, and especially for their children, but even their lives themselves. With human beings one can tell how high a given one is in the scale of humanity by the amount of love he has.
Some persons have very little, and they are nearer the animal plane: some have a great deal, and the more they have, the less selfish they are, the higher they have risen. For love is the real stamen that fertilizes the world and makes it grow, and the more one has of it the more life one gives to the universe."
Elsie felt very grave for some moments, thinking out this deep matter.
It was too complex for her to realize wholly, but she caught glimpses of the immortal beauty of the ideas and she was awed by it. Suddenly she threw her arms around her mother's neck and kissed her passionately. It had occurred to her all at once how much her mother loved her and how much she must have sacrificed for her sake during all the years of her little life, and though she had no conception of the full extent of the sacrifice she saw enough to make her feel like crying for very love of that dear and sweet mamma. Her mother understood her and taking her in her arms hugged her closely, sitting in silence with her for a long time, both of them too full of love for each other to speak. And so the lesson for the day ended.
WHERE BABY GIRLS COME FROM
"Now, mumsey," cried Elsie the next day, running to her mother at the hour set aside for their baby-talks, "I know what comes next--it's I, isn't it?"
"Yes, darling, it's you. And it's I, too. Isn't that a beautiful thought, that you and I held the same relation to each other that the mother bird holds to the egg from which the birdies come! For once you were a tiny, tiny egg inside mamma just as it was with the birds."
"Oh-h!" gasped Elsie, gazing at her mother in bewilderment. She could not realize such an astounding thing at once.
"Yes, darling," Mrs. Edson went on, "every female human being has an ovary, just as every female flower has, and just as every female bird has; and, also like them, she has seeds or eggs in this ovary. And she has a great many of them. They have been growing within her ever since she was a baby, and when she is about twelve years old they begin to ripen, one at a time, and pass from the ovary into a nest that is all ready for them inside the female body. This nest we call the womb. At first, while she is so young, the womb is not strong enough to hold the egg while it grows, so the egg soon leaves its nest to come into the world and be lost, as so very many seeds of the plant are. As it does so it acts in such a way on the young girl that, when she first becomes aware that something which seems strange is happening to her, she is frightened and does not know what to do. And as you, darling, are now at the age when this must come to you very soon, I am going to prepare you for it, so that you may know that it is natural, coming to all girls of about your age, and that there is nothing to be alarmed over. All the talks that we have had were intended as a kind of introduction to this event and its consequences, for it is the greatest that enters a girl's life before she has grown fully to be a woman. And you were once one of these tiny eggs. More than that, you now have within your body, a great number of that very kind of eggs from which you sprang."
Elsie sat with her eyes in breathless interest on her mother, so filled with wonder and speculation that she could not ask a single question. Mrs. Edson proceeded:
"I must repeat dear, because it is so very important for you to remember, that every woman has an ovary which contains many seeds or eggs, just as the female flower has. These eggs, if left unfertilized, will pass from the body and never grow any more. But each one, if fertilized by the papa, as the bird's eggs were, and as the flower seeds were, will stay in a little nook inside the mother's body, where it will grow and grow until the time comes for it to burst forth into the world, following the same principle that the first cell followed in reproducing, and which all living things follow always. The life within forces it away from the parent, to become a separate growth.
Then it will come forth, and behold, the tiny seed or egg has grown to be a baby girl or boy, weighing several pounds!"
"Oh-h!" Elsie gasped again. "And that is how--how--I--came to be born, mamma!"
"Yes, darlingest, it is the way in which every living person was born.
There is not, and there cannot be, any other way. Each child is a part both of its father and mother. The egg in the mother would never grow into a baby unless it had first been fertilized by the father, who does so through his great love for the mamma, just as with the birds and animals, though his love is of a higher kind than that of the lower orders."
"And does the mother-woman warm the eggs as the bird in the nest does, mamma, while the papa-man brings her nice things to eat?"
"Yes, dearie, only the mother-woman has the nest inside her body, as I have said, and she keeps the little one safe and warm there much longer than the bird sits on her nest. And think of all the years after the baby is born that she waits on and cares for it! There is no other love that equals in devotion that of the mother."
Elsie, without a word, her eyes swimming in tears, kissed her mother affectionately. She had realized a little more of what she owed to her.
"Now," said Mrs. Edson, "I must tell you how to care for this nest in which, by and by, when you have grown up and have a husband and are strong enough, you will be keeping a little baby of your own. Because many girls who become married do not know these things there is a dreadful amount of sickness and misery in the world, all needless. And it does seem too bad--when merely a few words at the right time would have saved it all!"
Of course Elsie was not old enough to understand how this could be, so she said nothing, but sat looking earnestly at her mother as she went on:
"In the first place, dear, you must know that the little baby's nest, which we call the womb, is placed in the lower portion of the woman's body, just above the 'private parts'. Perhaps it is put there because it is the safest place for it in the whole body--for the eggs and womb are very delicate, and must not be exposed to any danger of injury. So it grows in the interior of the trunk, where outside dangers would be less likely to reach and spoil it, so that the woman would be sick all her life and never have any children. Many hopeless female complaints, ending with premature and painful death, are caused by lack of proper care of the womb and its entrance. That care consists chiefly in preventing the womb from being touched by anything, and keeping the entrance clean. It is very simple--just keep the entrance clean and the womb untouched by anything. An observance of such slight rules as these would have saved many and many a poor soul from a life of continual misery and suffering.
"I have told you, dear, long ago how to keep the entrance clean. And now that you will soon begin to menstruate, as the passing out of the eggs is called, I shall have but little to add to what you already know, but I will repeat it from the beginning in order that you may have it all clear in your mind.
"First, bathe the entrance every time you bathe the rest of your body, and at such other times as you may feel the need of doing so. Never neglect this. It may have evil consequences. Just keep it clean, and never touch it for any other purpose. And be careful to use only your own towels, for disease is easily communicated to these parts by cloths that are not clean, and you never can be too careful in this respect. It is plain enough, and easy enough to do, isn't it darling--and you will always remember about it, won't you?"
"Oh, yes, mamma, that is easy enough!" Elsie said quickly. "I could remember a lot more than that, I'm sure."
"It would have been so infinitely much better for so many poor sick creatures if they had known and remembered even that!" Mrs. Edson sighed, holding her little daughter closely, as if she would protect her from not only that harm but all others. "But," she continued, "I must now tell you what you may be expecting to come to you before long, when it will be harder to keep the entrance clean than it has been so far, and when to keep it clean will be more necessary than ever.
"Every twenty-eight days, dearie, beginning with you very soon now, there will be a flow of blood into the little baby's nest, the womb, and this will come out of your body through this entrance to the womb.
As soon as you see any signs of it on your body or clothing you must come right and tell me, as you would if you had cut your finger or stubbed your toe on a stone. It is something to be very proud of for it shows the possibility of motherhood, and it must be given the very best care, which is, as I have said, chiefly to keep the parts clean.
By and by when you are grown old enough and strong enough, and have a husband, who will fertilize the eggs, one of them will grow into a little baby, but it will be a long time yet before that can be, and until then you will have this flow every twenty-eight days, for the sake of your health. This brings more work for the womb to do, while the menses, as they are called, continue, and therefore you may feel out of sorts both mentally and bodily for two or three days. But this will pass away when the flow ceases, and if proper care is taken of the womb and passages you will never feel anything worse than this.
Some women feel great pain at this time, but almost always the reason is that some of their internal parts have been injured in one way or another. Sometimes lack of proper food, sufficient fresh air and sun, or not enough exercise and clean water are responsible for a portion of the pain. In order to have strong reproductive organs a woman should be healthy in all bodily ways, and anything that she can do to improve her general health will be favorable to her at the time of the menses as well as at all times. Do you think you understand all this, darling, and can remember it?"
"I don't know, mamma," said Elsie hesitatingly. "There is a lot to it, but I'll try."
"That is my dear little girl! To try is the next thing to doing. Only remember that when you don't know what to do, and have tried, come to mamma. That is one great reason why mammas are--to help little girls who have tried."
Elsie kissed her mother warmly, and then sat looking dreamily out towards the woods. She had learned many strange things and was thinking them over. Suddenly she spoke, as if unconsciously, saying: "Who would ever have thought that so much could come out of it!"
"Out of what?" her mother asked.
"Why, out of a bee trying to step on my nose!" said Elsie.