The first time I got a whiff of my daughter's body odor, I thought it was my husband stinking up the place. What? He'd had a long day at work, and he'd been outside working in the yard. Besides, who expects their just-turned 7-year-old daughter to have BO? You don't get that until puberty, and my little girl couldn't be headed into puberty, could she?
Oh, but she could. She is. Those headlines that warn about a spike in girls hitting "early puberty" have come to roost in my house.
According to statistics, the rate of precocious puberty has doubled in white girls in America. In black and Hispanic girls, the march toward puberty has always been faster than their white counterparts, but the white girls are catching up. Fast.
Like my daughter.
First it was the distinct scent of onions from her armpits after she'd play. Then came the acne. Her nose and forehead are both sprinkled with small white dots. She's starting to develop hips too; it's noticeable only to me, her mother, who sees her when she undresses to get into the shower, but still, it's there.
I don't know when the rest will come -- pubic hair, breast buds, her period. I've talked to the pediatrician, and he said his guess is as good as mine because she doesn't have the typical risk factors for early puberty. It's being seen in girls with a higher body mass index, but my daughter has always been on the skinnier side of normal.
It's also more typical for girls whose own mothers started early, but I was a late bloomer. I didn't get my period until I was well into high school, and I only started using deodorant in seventh grade because everyone else in the gym locker room was doing it. I did it just so I wouldn't be left out.
It's more typical in girls whose mothers smoked during pregnancy. I have never lifted a cigarette to my mouth. Ever.
Could it be the toxins in the environment? Was it because I used plastic bottles before we knew that BPA was a risk? She was born right before that information really came out in the news; although I never warmed things in the plastic container, and I switched to BPA-free as soon as I found out.
Could that have been enough?
Is it the hormones in the food we buy?
Or is this something that came from her father's side of the family but is less obvious because he never had a period (of course)?
We will likely never know.
We're flying blind here, and it's scary for both of us.
I'm afraid of what early puberty could mean for her body. There's a risk that she'll be especially short because when puberty ends, growth stops. Some studies also show an increased risk of uterine and breast cancers for girls who start early. Neither runs in our family, but that may not matter for her in the long run.
I'm also afraid of what this is doing to my daughter, right now.
It's scary for her because her body is changing. It's scary for her because she's experiencing things her friends are not. Her friends don't use deodorant (we found a natural brand without antiperspirant at the pediatrician's suggestion). Her friends don't have special face wash for their acne (again a natural solution suggested by my dermatologist).
As a late bloomer, I had an advantage. I wanted to be like everyone else.
But she wants to be like everyone else too -- in reverse. She doesn't want to be changing while her friends stay the same.
My heart breaks for her as she loses her innocence. The memories of how the girls who developed early in my class were treated are not forgotten. Boys and girls both could be unkind, and adults weren't necessarily better. They expected more from girls who were more developed because they assumed they were older than they were. They treated them differently. Everyone treats a girl who develops early differently.
I fear that fate for my daughter.
Have you experienced this with your daughter? How are you dealing with it?
Image via mike baird/Flickr