Genetics, Ovaries, and Women on Edge

One of the primary reasons we joined a new homeschool co-op this year was to ensure I wouldn’t have to teach middle school science. Of all the things I don’t want to teach, science tops the list. I would rather take a stab at geometry (proofs!) than tackle any level of science above the food chain and weather patterns.

Happily, Jeremy finds his Life Science class (with dissection) enjoyable and challenging. I am so pleased to not be in charge of it.

I get snippets, though, and yesterday he and I had a discussion about genetics and the importance of probability. Though his current lesson on mitosis and meiosis is more about hair color, eye color, and height, I mentioned to him casually that probability in genetics is essential when it comes to medical conditions. How so, he asks.

“Some diseases are linked to our genes, like Alzheimer’s,” I say, “which is a disease that causes memory loss when you’re older. You don’t know who your family members are or even who you are. It’s quite sad.”

“Oh,” he says, wheels turning.

“This is why it’s good to know family history and why scientists use probability,” I say. “They can predict, or somewhat predict, what might happen to you.”

His eyebrows crunch.

“Like Aunt Debbie. She had ovarian cancer and ovarian cancer has been linked to certain genes,” I begin. “It doesn’t affect Alan and Jeffrey because they’re boys, but if Alan or Jeffrey have daughters, it will be important for them to know their grandmother had it. It could affect them because it’s in their genes.”

“And what is ovarian?”


His eyes narrow.

“You know, where the eggs come from and what women contribute to making a baby.” I clear my throat.

“OH!” he nods and small grin starts to form. “Dad told me about this.”

“Dad told you what?”

Sidebar: Jeremy has had The Talk. He knows about reproduction in all its proper terminology and function. He came to us a few years ago with questions and we answered every single one in what ended up being a two-hour conversation. However, not once did we talk about menstruation. He doesn’t have a sister, he and I don’t share a bathroom, not once has it come up in our day-to-day. I figured we’d tackle that beast when a female friend (or any friend, for that matter) dropped some language that he didn’t recognize. Jeremy is good about asking questions.

So naturally, to hear him say, “Dad told me about this,” I was rapt with curiosity.

“Yeah,” his face flushes red. “Dad told me about, uh… about ovaries and…”

I look him keenly in the eye. He fidgets and searches the air for words.

“You know what I’m talking about,” he nods my direction. “You know? Like, how you get all tired every month and stay in your room sometimes? ‘Cause of your hormones?”

I choke down laughter and nod for him to continue. His face is the reddest it’s ever been. Oh dear Lord, let this be good. 

“You know what I’m saying,” he says with his hands, palms up, begging for concession. “How you get all tired and… on edge?

I burst into laughter and he giggles. We laugh about the truth of it all and how he carefully chose his words. On edge. Gracious sakes. Me and every woman on earth.

“Yes, that’s because of ovaries,” I say. We snicker at one another and search the carpet for another topic.

For the briefest moment I consider explaining the whole process – the unused egg, the shedding, the five-to-seven days, but I decide in the end to let it lie. No doubt this topic will resurface in coming months and then I’ll tell him all the gory details. He will be appalled and disgusted and he’ll ask 25 follow-up questions.  

And then, for the rest of my natural life, he’ll know what’s going on behind the scenes whenever I’m on edge and extra tired, but we’ll go on with our day like nothing is happening, ignoring the fact that I know he knows.


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