We first heard part of Sophie and Amy Silverman’s narratives in a quirky and superbly featured installment of NPR and PRI’s most darling podcast: This American Life. On episode 564, entitled Too Soon, Ira Glass, the host and producer of the show, discusses with Amy, her relationship to an old video from the 60’s or 70’s, named “The Pink Slip” or “Jill Learns About Periods,” where a mother, a father, and a sister explain the basics of periods and period maintenance to a young girl who’s curious about the nature of such a mysterious transition. In the episode, Amy delivers an insightful treatment of what it was like to watch the video with her friends when she was younger versus when she was older with two daughters, one of which (Sophie) has Down Syndrome. From listening to the podcast, we deeply felt Amy’s experience of the video going from a comical source of entertainment to a helpful learning resource with which she could engage in dialogue with her young daughter about the particulars of menstruation.
The podcast did a considerably good job opening up a contemplative space around what parents could say to address the basics of menstruation as well as navigating the social taboos that come with menstruating. Amy’s Girl In a Party Hat blog does an even better job of giving us some insight into the everyday blessings and challenges of parenting and living with Down Syndrome, as well as features of Amy’s other work.
As I read through some of Amy’s most recent blog posts, I found myself thinking that despite the apparent overwhelmingly stronger challenges parenting a child or being a child with Down Syndrome can entail, there are oh so many similarities. Like Sophie, I remember being called stupid in grade school and interrupting in school with excited questions that might have bothered others, like that time on the first day of first grade when our teacher was about to dismiss class without having assigned any homework and I raised my hand asking why we didn’t get any.
I am in no way trivializing the experience of a child with Down Syndrome, especially after reading Amy’s most recent post the about the mascara she put on instead of the good cry she wanted to have over some of her most recent parenting frustrations. The #struggleisreal as they say, but there is one “struggle” that I couldn’t relate to experiencing as positively about as a young teen, like Sophie does, that now as a fierce woman, I wish all young teens would experience like Sophie – menstruation. Much like our company’s pioneering spirit of creating a brand of organic and natural tampons and pads inspires us and others to be, Sophie understands the importance of embracing your period. Menstruation is an experience that bonds all girls and women and all of life, as it is the process that allows us to breed life.
As Amy talks about in the NPR podcast, Sophie is truly the “Girl In A Party Hat” when it comes to her excitement over anticipating her first period. Maybe it’s because deep down she knows it’s one of few things that she actually does experience no differently than the other girls and her sister Anabelle, whom she admires so much or maybe it’s because like many of the children with Down Syndrome whom I’ve had a chance to meet, like Sophie, have a soul that is more in tune with the human experience than the many of us who have lost touch with it.
Whatever it may be, we’re excited to tip our party hats to this fierce mother and daughter duo with this exclusive interview, for bringing a change in perspective to the experience of menstruation!
Questions for Sophie:
Can you tell us what else you’re excited about in the process of growing up?
Sophie: “I want to be a hairdresser for my full-time job and a babysitter for a part-time job.”
In your opinion, what does it mean to be a strong woman?
Sophie: “Swimming. Rock climbing. Gymnastics. That’s my answer.”
In listening to the podcast episode about you and your Mom, we noticed that you were so excited when you thought you got your period that you wanted to tell everyone. In our company, we wish periods could be more of a cause for celebration than they are for most people. Tell us please, why is it so important for you to get your period? What’s special about it for you?
Sophie: “I want to be like my sister.”
If you could tell girls your age about getting excited about their periods, what would you say to them?
Sophie: “I do not know.” (She said she doesn’t want anyone to know when she gets it.)
And we directed a set of questions to Amy about her set of supreme skills as a parent.
Motherhood is a phenomenal experience in many regards. It comes with responsibilities, logistics, and planning, that only people who have become parents truly understand. What was it like to explain menstruation to your daughters? Was it a transition you dreaded explaining to your daughters? What ideas did you have about what you wanted to say and how you wanted to say it?
Amy: “So, my mom is an incredibly strong, open person but for some reason, we never talked about periods when I was growing up. I’m 49 and learned about periods in the third grade when the school nurse came to our classroom and showed us a reel-to-reel film about menstruation and told us about how she had to use rags because there were no sanitary napkins back in the day. Understandably, I was horrified. I never talked about it with friends or my mom and I only had a younger sister. I was on my own. By choice, but still. It’s such a different time now — I grew up using euphemisms for body parts and my kids use the real words, they are more open and I don’t credit that to myself, it’s the world. It’s a more accepting place. Not a perfect place, but more accepting. So the period thing was not a huge deal for us — except of course that it’s made a little more difficult by the fact that Sophie has Down syndrome and everything’s a little tougher to explain.”
If you could give parents tips about teaching their young daughters about periods through a positive, strength-based lens, what would you tell them to do/ not do?
Amy: “Don’t make fun of it, don’t be squeamish, be matter of fact and if you are the shy, giggly type, then offer up books. (The American Girl folks make a really good one about growing up.) And call in the reinforcements: Sign the permission slip for human growth and development class at school! Remind your daughters that all women get their periods and be sure they understand what it leads to (usually): the ability to have kids. Not to get too maudlin but that’s where it gets problematic with a daughter with Down syndrome. I couldn’t tell Sophie, “This is to get your body ready to have babies” because I know how unlikely that scenario is. That’s a little heartbreaking.”
Are there any resources in addition to Pink Slip that you think would be helpful for parents, parents of children with Down Syndrome, or parents of children with learning disabilities to have when explaining puberty and menstruation?
Amy: “Yes! This book- Teaching Children with Down Syndrome about Their Bodies, Boundaries, and Sexuality“
And finally we asked Amy and Sophie questions together to learn more about the power of their bond as mother and daughter:
What tips do you have for mothers and daughters everywhere to be united when it comes to the process of growing up? How can we honor each other and honor each other’s experiences as women?
Sophie: “We cuddle a lot…. Talk about things….(she took over the keyboard) like CHRISTMAS AND HALLOWEEN AND HANUKKAH”
Amy: “Be present, be open and honest but also be fun loving!”
At Maxim Hygiene, we define a Fierce Woman as a “glorious female creature whose idea of beauty is hinged upon the idea that she can change the world with each choice, each moment and each breath of her life.” Who in your life is a Fierce Woman and why?
Sophie: “Annabelle is a fierce woman. She sprained her ankle and she was really brave about it. I will take care of her. And always love her. And she is the best sister I ever had.”
If you’d like to learn more about Amy and Sophie’s journey together as Mother and Daughter, keep an eye out for Amy’s upcoming book entitled, “My Heart Can’t Even Believe It.” It will be about all aspects of Down syndrome- a mix of memoir and journalism and the reporting Amy has done since Sophie was born. The publisher is Woodbine House, which is a great resource for parents dealing with issues around learning disabilities and special needs.