Margaret Sanger, "What Every Girl Should Know," 2 Jan1913.
Published article. Source: New York Call, Jan. 13, 1913, 15 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm C16:0051 .
This is the eighth article in an 12-part series. For "Introduction," see Nov. 17, 1912, for "Girlhood-Part I" see Nov. 24, 1912, for "Girlhood-Part II" see Dec. 1, 1912, for "Puberty-Part I" see Dec. 8, 1912, for "Puberty-Part II" see Dec. 15, 1912, for "Sexual Impulse--Part I" see Dec. 22, 1912, for "Sexual Impulse-Part II" see Dec. 29, 1912, for "Reproduction--Part II" see Jan. 19, 1913, for "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence--Part I" see Jan. 26, 1913, for "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence--Part II" see Feb. 2, 1913, and for "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence--Part III" see Mar. 2, 1913.
In the preceding article on Sexual Impulse I said that the natural aim of the sexual impulse is the sexual act, and the natural aim of the sexual act is reproduction.
In teaching children or young persons the process of reproduction one of the cleanest, most natural and beautiful methods of doing this is to tell them the process which goes on in the various forms of life in the flower, fish, frog, bird and animal, leading up to the highest and most complex of all living creatures--man.
In a series or articles written for this page a year ago I told how this subject had been taught to a group of children in this way. They watched the butterfly and bee carry a load of pollen from the father buttercup to fertilize the seeds within the mother flower. They watched Mr. and Mrs. Frog awaken from their long winter nap, and stirred by the life-giving impulse within them, start for the breeding pond. They watched Father Thrush win his mate and patiently stand guard over her during the tedious hatching days. They were told and saw that the that the flowers depended upon outside forces to bring the pollen from the male to the female to fertilize the seeds before the seeds could grow. They were taught that the mother fish lays her eggs in the water first and that the father fish, unlike the flowers, being able to move about, carries the pollen (which is now a fluid) to the seeds himself. They were told that Father Frog, being a higher creature, fertilized the eggs before they reached the water, and Father Thrush being still higher in the scale fertilized the eggs before they left the mother's body. That the higher the species was, the greater the care required to preserve that species.
In this way the mind is prepared for the information which should follow.
The girl at puberty should be taught this process and something of what goes on within the womb after the ovum has been fertilized. She should know that all organic life is the result of a simple cell; that man is a community of cells, banded together and depending upon each cell to carry on its work, for the benefit of the whole.
Let us first, then, get an idea of a cell and what it is and what it does. A cell is a tiny portion of living matter having in its center a spot or nucleus which represents the point of germination; it is separated from its sister cells by partitions of cell membrane.
A simple cell is formed by the fusion of two germ cells when they meet to exchange nuclear elements. After this fusion they are able to proceed with fission which means splitting into parts and it is the subsequent cellular growth of the fused germcell that constitutes reproduction.
There are two kinds of reproductive cells, the ova in the female and the spermatozoa in the male.
When the sexual act takes place, there is deposited into the vagina a secretion know as semen. According to Sutkowsky, each deposit or ejaculation contains 50,000,000 of spermatozoa.
About the same time in the act there occurs in the female spasmodic contractions of the muscles of the uterus which draws in a small amount of the sperm which the male has left there.
The sperm cell of the male under the microscope shows that it contains both a head and a tail.
The tail enables it to move and advance with a tadpole-like motion toward the ovum.
As in the lower forms of life, the male cell has within it the instinct to chase and capture the female cell. Consequently, it does not depend upon the uterine contractions of the female to enable it to reach the ovum for fertilization. The vagina being a corrugated or wrinkled tube, hides and secretes the sperm cell for days, unless it is removed with water or killed by poison.
When, however, the sperm comes near the ovum it is drawn to it as to a magnet.
The ovum being carefully protected by nature within the ovaries, leaves its sister cells and travels alone. The sperm cell, however, having more dangerous paths to travel, must provide against the uncertainty of doing its great work by going in numbers, though it takes but one single cell to produce human life.
A number of the male cells go to meet the ovum, but only one enters it. Almost at the moment the head enters the ovum it becomes completely absorbed by the ovum and all trace of it is lost.
This union of the two cells is called fertilization, fecundation, impregnation, or conception. Any of these terms may be used. This union usually takes place in the tube, but the fertilized egg does not remain there; it wanders along and finds its way into the uterus.
Now, that the ovum has been fertilized, it readily becomes attached to the soft lining of the uterus which has been specially prepared to receive it. No menstruation occurs. The woman is now pregnant. A new being is created, and marvelous changes will now take place within the tiny cell clinging so weakly to the lining of the uterus. At this time the ovum is so small it can scarcely be seen by the naked eye, but in two weeks it has grown to the size of a pea, in four weeks to the size of a walnut and in eight weeks to the size of a lemon. At this time it is three inches long and is completely formed, the head being much larger in proportion to the rest of its body. What has happened to the ovum in these few weeks is briefly this: Immediately after fertilization the ovum begins to divide into sections or lobes, into 3, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc.--cells until they are almost countless. Each cell splits in the middle of the nucleus, forming two complete new cells and so on.
The next stage is represented by this mass of cells forming themselves into a shape like a hollow ball. The third stage is the meeting of the two layers of cells, as if the bell had collapsed, and these two layers meet and unite as one, stretch and flatten out.
After this stage things become more complicated, new organs begin to develop, spine marks for the backbone and intestinal canal show themselves as do the bony and muscular structure of the skeleton.
A slight pulsation is observed, showing the development of the heart. The head fold is formed by a gradual bending of the spinal column at the front end of the ovum, which we will now call the embryo. There are also formed at this time processes which soon become arms and legs, there is a furrow for the face; pits for the eyes; all of which has happened in less than four weeks.
From this time forward development is rapid, the bones, which up to this time have been soft matter, grow harder, and all organs which were only outlined now become definitely formed. At the end of the fourth month it has grown to its natural shape. The remaining months it increases in size and gains strength. The uterus becomes enlarged, rises out of the pelvis and occupies the abdominal cavity. It takes forty weeks or 280 days to complete the growth of the human embryo, although the time may be two weeks more or less and yet be normal.
Let us see how the child has been fed all this time. When the ovum is fertilized and up to the eighth week it is fed by delicate branched threads which form a covering for it. These threads are called "villa," and dip into the uterine surface for nourishment, from the mother to supply the embryo.
About the eighth week these villa have grown greatly intertwined into a mass of spongy tissue full of blood vessels called the placenta, or afterbirth. This fastens itself to one side of the uterus, takes oxygen as well as nutriment from the mother and sends it through the umbilical cord to the child, the point of attachment being at the navel, the depression left on the belly of the child by the cutting of umbilical cord at birth. In the same way it takes the waste product from the child to the mother, and she in turn throws them out of her system through the kidneys, bowels and skin. The child and placenta are both encased within a membranous sac which secretes and serves to hold a watery fluid in which the child swims.
The child is folded together with legs on the thighs and thighs on the belly, arms on the chest and head bent forward over the breast. Toward the end of the term it moves about slightly, often stretches a little, and has periods of rest when it scarcely moves, and again periods of great activity. A mother first feels the child move in the fourth or fifth month. Often the young mother at this time begins to worry over her acts lest something she should do might deform the precious charge she carries. This, as you can readily understand from its early development, is impossible, for by the end of the second month the child has been formed, and no mental impressions of the mother can alter its shape. Just as the nucleus of the male sperm has within it all the contributions which the father of the child can give it, until after it is born, so does the mother give it its physical qualitites right at the beginning.
Whatever is to be inherited from the father must be within the substance of the spermatozoon at the time the ovum is fertilized. He has no further pre-natal influence over it.
It is interesting to observe that the children of so-called great men are seldom above the average in intelligence, where, on the other hand, almost all men of great minds have had intelligent mothers.
How great or how little influence a mother has over her child through her thoughts has not been proven, nor has the subject of determining or influencing sex of the unborn child been settled.
At the end of nine months the child's development is complete and it is ready for its journey to the outside world. The process of this journey is called"labor"--a word which will describe the mother's share in it. When this occurs before the embryo is able to live outside the uterus it is known as abortion and we will continue that subject next week.
(To be continued.)
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project