A few weeks ago I returned for Bedtime Pt II (totally normal for us – part one ensures teeth/pj’s/hug/under duvet settled with book, part two is actual lights out, goodnight kiss and hug for reals 30 mins later) visit, and found an agitated girl.
Thankfully, she’s a pretty open book. Bear’s ten tomorrow, actually, and over the last year or two there has been a slow and steady awareness of the fact that she’s a girl, and an increased need of privacy and space from her three older brothers. Where once she considered they were all equal extensions of one family unit – one being that was split into four parts, in effect – now she revels in her differences, and protects them ferociously. She ensures her bedroom door is closed before changing, demands they knock before entering, and effects an impressively superior tone when they’re being… y’know… boys.
But we’re a close family, and actually I know she’s confident and happy to talk through anything with any of us. Her brothers are brilliant for gaming & YouTube advice, to talk to about online friendships, and of course to introduce her to the ways of the world. Daddy’s awesome at hairbrushing, for curling up on the sofa with, for running to with scary thoughts that need soothing and for the crazy-loony dancing and feet-telephones (don’t ask, it’s their thing). But sometimes, a girl needs her mum, right? And this particular night was one of those.
Taking one look at her face, I knew something was up; but before I could even ask, she said
“Mummy, my vagina isn’t right. It’s actually been bothering me all day, and now it’s really bothering me a lot. It’s itchy and uncomfortable and sore. Can you check it?”
I didn’t bat an eyelid, and a quick investigation suggested from personal experience that she may have thrush. Except I totally dismissed my own instinct, because 10yr olds don’t get thrush, do they? So I grabbed my tablet and chatted to her about what thrush was, and how it was really common, but I didn’t think she could have it as she was too young while I did a quick search on Thrush. Turns out that it’s not very common in young girls, but can happen (especially during puberty) – though vaginal soreness is more often Vulvovaginitis.
Which lead to more chatting about hygiene, and the importance of keeping everything clean. I didn’t have anything much to help her in the medicine cupboard, so she carefully washed and patted dry with warm water, and then we used some nappy cream just to soothe the soreness. I headed off to the chemist in the morning and the pharmacist confirmed that thrush could definitely be the cause – but not necessarily. So we tried a small dose of Canesten® to see if it helped things (if you’re not sure yourself, there’s a super-handy Thrush Symptoms checklist here). Next night was worse – and the fact it was the two evenings that she suffered triggered a new idea in my head. I know when I’ve had thrush it has bothered constantly all day long. There’s only one intimate issue that comes out at night – threadworms.
Sure enough, a closer inspection revealed them to be the culprit this time – and those I did have a tablet in the cupboard for, as her brother had managed to pick them up a couple of weeks before. Ugh.
So in the end, there were no actual vagina issues at all – she’d simply made the area sore by scratching. But the whole experience was a big learn for her; we had that probably slightly overdue conversation about hygiene and health, and she learned far more about the internal chemical balance of the vagina than she ever expected to know (admittedly she was a bit grossed out by the fact that yeast grows inside her all the time; looking back it may have been a mistake to explain the word ‘fungus’ as ‘like mushrooms’… probably not the useful mental image I was going for…). But most importantly of all we reinforced at a slightly precarious time in her development that it’s totally okay and normal to talk about intimate health if she’s in need of reassurance or advice.
So I was really keen to share with you the ‘Mummy Conversations’ campaign from Canesten®. think we’re all acutely aware of the necessity of being comfortable with your own body, and Canesten® want to empower women to not only feel more comfortable themselves, but also to pass this on when they discuss intimate health with their children. We all want our children to feel in control in all sorts of situations, even when it comes to intimate health, and knowing from a young age that their bodies are normal and not something to be shy about goes a long way to instilling that confidence.
A lack of formal intimate health education during puberty means that when symptoms of vaginal conditions appear, it can cause worry and so many teenage girls have to figure it out for themselves – and yes they can of course look up their symptoms, but we all know the perils of self-diagnosis on the internet. before you know it you have Dengue Fever plus Gout. Just having someone that you can turn to and say ‘this is worrying me a bit’ makes the biggest difference in a scary new grown up landscape. Navigating your teen years safe in the knowledge there’s someone you can just ask occasionally simply makes things… easier. I’m so thankful I have that relationship with all my children (though I admit the boys tend to take penis questions to their dad. Apparently I’m under-qualified in that department – they just save the nice ones like worms for me…).
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This post has been supported by Canesten® but as always, all thoughts are my own.