Puberty usually isn't a laughing matter. For many parents, it's a sweat-inducing subject that involves potentially uncomfortable conversations with your kids.
But, on Wednesday evening, my fifth grader and I sat in a room full of other moms and daughters and laughed about everything from the placement of pads and tampons to a uterus pillow and vulva hand puppet. Yep. They make them.
Whispered one girl to a friend about half way through: "This isn't as bad as I thought it would be."
We attended the very first North Carolina session of Girlology's "Something New About You," hosted by WakeMed Health & Hospitals. Last month, the Raleigh campus announced plans for the free two-hour program that focuses on how girls' bodies change during puberty. I wrote about the program, which was originally just scheduled for a single night. Response was so strong that WakeMed signed on for a second night to help cover the interest.
Girlology was created by two moms, who also happen to be doctors, in South Carolina - Dr. Trish Hutchison, a pediatrician, and Dr. Melisa Holmes, an OBGYN. In both of their practices, they saw a need for girls to get more accurate and honest information about their sexual development and moms to get tips on just how to do that.
Girls need to be armed with the right information so they know that what's happening to them is a natural and normal thing. Hutchison, who led Wednesday's program, said that in the past year three girls she saw as patients cried when she mentioned they were starting to get breasts. Not sure about what was going on with their bodies, they thought they had breast cancer, she said. They were tears of relief.
Wednesday's program, designed for fourth and fifth grade girls and their moms or mom figures, was a fun, but serious discussion of everything from breast development to periods to feelings and boys. (Programs for older girls cover sex).
It started with the Top 10 possibly cringe-worthy words that would be covered during the evening like vagina or penis or period, which brought on plenty of laughs from the girls and moms. At points, Hutchison launched bras out to the crowd, demonstrated the correct way to insert a tampon with that vulva puppet and gasped when there were "naked" drawings of various body parts on a slide show. (I know it sounds a little bit crazy, but I can't emphasize enough how fun, interactive and entirely appropriate the whole program was.)
Throughout the program, Hutchison emphasized that whatever the girls were going through or experiencing was normal and that whatever was happening had happened or will happen to girls and women in their life.
Several times (and I appreciated this), she mentioned that girls needed to help each other during puberty - not making fun of others who are developing at different rates or calling girls out who might have had a period mishap.
"We just have to stick together," she said.
There also were plenty of takeaways for the moms. Inside a goodie bag, was a pin with the letters "FO" marked out. It's a "no freak out" pin that she encouraged kids to wear when they had certain kinds of questions to ask parents.
"The No. 1 reason kids stop coming to parents is because they freak out," Hutchison said.
And, just because we'd taken our daughters to the event, we can't cross off "puberty talk" from our to-do list, she said.
"You're not done with this conversation," she said.
WakeMed representatives said they'll gauge feedback from the program to determine whether it returns, though the strong response makes it possible. Hutchison and Holmes also have programs for older girls and guys among their offerings.
After Wednesday's program, Hutchison, who traveled from Charleston, said she'd love to return. But, she said, she'd really love to train a local pediatrician to run the programs and ensure they regularly take place here in the Triangle.
I'd love to see that happen!
Regardless, the 150-some moms and daughters signed up for Thursday's program, which is full, are in for a treat!
Sarah is a mom of two and Go Ask Mom's editor.