I am no stranger to disgusting things. When I was 8, my brother slammed his foot in the front door, and his big toe was left with a mangled and eventually blackened toenail. Within a week it fell off, and he unceremoniously tossed that sucker into my Barbie Dream Camper, right next to Ken and Midge (who were, as usual, making out).
I didn’t react, even when confronted by the cavernous, nail-less gully, which housed a mixture that was the visual equivalent to an oyster sprinkled with mouse bones and topped off with a single peppercorn.
All of this was pretty typical and truly no big deal to my grade school self. I was desensitized by the grotesque early on; unsavory hijinx was just part of daily life in a household of seven kids, with three inventive and ruthless brothers at the helm. Without a doubt, I grew up sure of my formidable unflappability and ability to forestall dry heaving in most every situation. I liked this about me.
This is how I rolled for the next four decades. And then. I am at a café with the regular Thursday group, my galfriends are tossing pregnancy stories around—and one offhandedly throws out the phrase “mucus plug.”
Myoo. Cus. Plug.
Not a single other woman flinched—but those three reckless syllables (and what they might mean) rattled me and rocked me and broke me. Suddenly, I was not formidable. I was weak and I was vulnerable, I was dainty and I was a priss. And my takedown only took about four seconds.
(Of course, I’d known about the less-offensive placenta for decades and had prematurely thought that lump of mess was the pinnacle of birthing horror. I knew it looked like a raw slug-organ and that sometimes it exited the body in chunks versus a lump sum. I knew people shampooed with essence d’ afterbirth. I even knew that new mothers sometimes saved it or ingested it, though you can never tell me you can’t get the same nutritional boost from kale. I wasn’t enamored of all this information, but I wasn’t shattered and terrorized by it either.)
For nearly 50 years, I traveled this earth gloriously unaware that the mucus plug existed. And I can’t tell you too much more about it, because I don’t have the guts to type those two jiggly words into the Google search bar. There’s no way my fingers could carry out that particular brain-command, and there’s double no way I’m gonna have “mucus plug” stored in my internet history.
With a descriptive name like that, though, how many things could it really be? Here’s what I imagine: a rubber-cement-ish glob that exists in a wobbly limbo somewhere between a liquid and a solid, ideally suctioned tightly in the birth canal. Its job? To keep baby nugget nestled snugly in a warm, cozy sac den. And to prevent that scamp from escaping, speed-crawling to the local convenience store to load up on Fireball and Tatuaje Havanas. (Nobody can trust a baby.)
I don’t like that sea cucumbers and blobfish are a part of my world—but I can hardly stomach the fact that there is something named “mucus plug,” no matter how well it keeps rebel babies in check. My children are adopted and thank god I didn’t have to incubate those boys in my uterus. Because, honestly, if I was visually confronted by that gelatinous cork when it torpedoed out of my body and slither-boinged all over the delivery room, I would have been carted directly to the psychiatric ward. And I’d still be there.
I am on the fence about whether we should inform our future-birthers about this unpleasant reality. One part of me thinks, “Really, do we need to warn them now, when they’re still innocent and pigeon-toed and carrying unicorn notebooks?” At the same time, the other part of me knows these same little girls are probably experimenting with open-mouth kisses and clumsy gropings, and we all know where that leads.
The semester before freshman year of high school, my generation of fecund young women was forced to tote around a raw egg to remind us that unprotected sex has consequences. I’m not convinced, though, that being inconvenienced by a cottonball-swaddled symbol, even for an entire century, would deter any right-minded teen girl from diving into the mysteries of the male body.
But make a curious middle-schooler carry around a mucus plug for about two minutes? Now, that, THAT might work.