Homing

 

“This is the fourth death I have had to process in the last week and a half.”

 

My sweet friend is standing in her kitchen, and the torrential rain is still drying off my boots propped in the corner.

This cold, wet day is different than my familiar Seattle rainy days.
My new community is just that, new.
And here we are, moving again to a new house.
Somehow her home has become most familiar to me in this new season.

Home is essential; it is an extension of the spirit that lives within the home.
I realize how vulnerable I feel without my Seattle home,
And with the work of infusing a new place with our family’s spirit.

“All these deaths make me realize we have no control over how much time we have.”

She is right.
And I think of my kids if I were to die.
I want them to have at least a home that feels like me.
Reminders of their mother.
Reminders of our life together.

It makes me nervous about moving into a new house.
Will we have enough time to make memories?
Will we be able to feel at home in this new place?
Moving is like a small death.
When we left Seattle, I didn’t think our family’s spirit would ever transfer fully.
We lost Brave in Seattle, and Brave’s remains are there.

The work of a new home is creating a place where we all feel held in one place.
It is a sacred ground where moments are gathered.
Moving reminds us that our earthly homes are just holding place,
And being at home feels unattainable.
Moving makes me long for heaven.
An eternal home.

I imagine the day I will see my boy again,
when these days on earth have ended for me,
and the one who first named me mother
will be once again in my arms,
This time we are both very much alive.
Brave will put his hands on my face,
And mark me with glory,
For I will finally know home.

 

Our film, A Brave Lament, is a tribute to the work it takes to grieve and honor our losses. You can watch our film at

abravelament.com


Still Sneaking Tampons: Christian Women & Womanist Theology


Still Sneaking Tampons

(excerpt from Theology of the Womb: Knowing God Through the Body of a Woman)

 

It is the last blazing hot weekend in the Pacific Northwest, and our annual church camping trip is nestled in a large campground between the beautiful mountain ranges just north of Seattle. My family of four is unloading our camping gear on our chosen campsite. The kids are playing around the campground while my husband and I are putting up the new tent, miraculously without a bickering word. Our pastor’s wife and decade-old friend Cherie walks over to me and whispers in my ear, “Do you have any tampons? I just started my period.” I walk to the car and rummage through the glove compartment. I am still breastfeeding, but my period came back about a month ago, so I am pretty sure I have something stashed away. Hidden by the covering palm of my hand, I carry and pass the tampons off like a drug exchange. She has no pockets in her running clothes, so she slides them into her sports bra. We smile knowingly and continue talking about other things. My husband comments from behind an almost assembled tent, “What are you both doing?” His inquiry is playful but forthright. I am well aware he is awaiting my return and needs my help. Cherie and I giggle, and he smirks with a ridiculous comment, “Oh, well the secret is out, I am telling all the guys that Cherie is on her period.” We all laugh and begin a conversation about how women have silenced and hidden their menstrual cycles for decades. The conversation becomes insatiable as we exchange countless stories back and forth about embarrassing moments around our bleeding that we have carried silently for years. As thirty-seven-year-old women, we have each birthed three babies, yet the conversation of our period is still so quiet. We tiptoe around the subject as if it will infringe upon others to know that we are on our periods. I consider this silence throughout the weekend, I wonder why I feel so embarrassed about something so natural and normal. Even at a church function, with my closest friends and women I have walked alongside through pregnancies, how is it there isn’t much of a theology tied to our bodies? In particular, our wombs actually invite us to know God as a creator in a way no other human is invited to know God. When I push past the embarrassment, I am in awe of how God is telling a story through the body of the woman and the womb which brings a soul into this world. How tragic that we have turned away from our bodies in embarrassment and hid this expression of the gospel. What we desperately need is to turn toward our bleeding and bearing bodies with kindness and curiosity and bless them. We need to study the theology that is being displayed in a woman’s womb. Thus, the birth of this book, Theology of the Womb.

Twenty-two years after my first period, I am only beginning to have open conversations about menstrual cycles. Although Cherie and I are no longer embarrassed about carrying tampons and scrounging for feminine products from each other, we are still careful to hide and keep our bleeding a secret from men and from the world. In the Bible, the stories of women mostly present imagery of the woman’s beauty as sexual, and their value is measured in terms of their reproductivity, specifically, as it applies to bearing males. I have yet to read a Bible passage on a lineage that has more than one woman’s name in it. Even though it is a woman’s body that births humans, their names don’t make it into the passages on bloodlines. The few women who are named in the Bible are categorized as either virgins, promiscuous, mothers, infertile, widowed, or temple prostitutes.

My 6-year-old son Wilder and 4-year-old daughter Selah have had many questions throughout their childhood, seeking to deepen their understanding of dominance between gender; who is where on the food chain sort of questioning. Whether in public or private, with friends or strangers, t.v. shows, or sporting events, they would root for the person who was their same gender. Often male competitors were more prominent in sports, and their wins would leave my daughter in tears, to her brother’s delight. Selah would often ask me, “Mom, where are all the girls?” I have often asked myself the same questions, usually when reading the Bible. Biblical women prided themselves on birthing males for their husbands, even though, physiologically, it is the man’s sperm that determines the sex of the child. The patriarchal era of men being better than women is slowly fading, allowing for some advocacy for equal worth amongst all humankind, regardless of gender or skin color. We can still see this mindset lingering globally, as China’s one-child policy has only recently changed to a two-child policy; civil rights laws are only decades old; refugee and gender laws are still controversial.

So, when my daughter asks “Where are all the women?”, and the Biblical text has no female Deity, I am left wondering. A Biblical woman’s reproductivity is often seen as their dominant career or calling, and their menstrual cycles as something to be avoided.

Scripture literally mandates that a menstruating woman must ‘go outside of the city and live in the ‘unclean tent’. That’s not exactly the type of body-positive message I had hoped to receive from my Creator, nor do I  know how to explain this to my daughter. The text of Leviticus 15, for example, reads with terminology such as, “When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean. And whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening.”[1] Go ahead and try to feel good about yourself and your period after reading that verse. No wonder Cherie and I are still asking for tampons in secret at the age of thirty-seven; we have been conditioned to feel shame around the most common and normal activity of our uteruses…Menstruation.

While the Old Testament serves an important purpose in telling the story of God’s creation of and care for His people, I find many of the specific commands in books like Leviticus to be outdated and difficult to apply to my own life. When we as Christian women look to the Bible for understanding and insight around our bodies, we are met with limited and confusing ideas. We have not been encouraged as the body of Christ to foster creativity and imagination around our sexuality or re-productivity. In our exploration of our body theology, I like to begin with the uterus: Why did God give me a uterus? Furthermore, why did He create my clitoris, vulva, menstrual cycle, vagina, and breasts? Inevitably, when answering these questions, you come to face many more questions, but we will focus on this one, for now: why did God create women to bleed, and bleed monthly at that? The word "menstruation" translates in Greek to mene or moon and in Latin as mensis or month. The menstrual cycle quite closely approximates the month and the moon’s 29.5-day synodic cycle. There are 3.8 billion women in the world, the vast majority of which will experience menstrual bleeding throughout their lives.

Of those billions of women, we ALL remember the story of the very first time we started to bleed.

Do you know the story of your uterus and bleeding?

 

Dr. Christy Bauman, Ph.D., MDFT, & LMHC is committed to helping women come into their true voice. She has a podcast entitled Womaneering and she offers story-work consulting, womaneering weekends, and marriage intensives with her husband Andrew Bauman through their organization, Christian Counseling Center for Sexual Health and Trauma. Andrew and Christy host the Therapy Shorts podcast for couples. She is the author and producer of her works: Theology of the Womb, Womaneering Perpetual Calendar, A Brave Lament, and the award-winning Documentary: A Brave Lament. She is a psychotherapist, supervisor, part-time professor who focuses on the female body, sexuality, and theology. Christy’s work can be found at christybauman.com, she works between her Asheville, NC, and Seattle, WA locations.


Fallen Warrior Is Not The Same As Defeated Warrior

“The fallen warrior is not the same as the defeated warrior.” 

Her voice is cheerful and unlike most of my yoga instructors in Seattle. Three months into our cross-country move, I have found myself exploring new yoga studios in the small, mountain town in Western North Carolina. The room is small and holds only six of us today, everyone is older than me and I feel hesitant to share my practice with a new demographic. 

The teacher is focusing most of the class on warrior poses which is a common entry yoga pose that builds balance and stability. The class feels pretty technical until the teacher asks us to do the fallen warrior pose. This is a new pose to me, one I have never heard of, and it requires your body to be face down with all four limbs pointing in the North, South, East, and West directions at one time. From an aerial view, the body takes the shape of a compass with arms and legs positioned in the cardinal directions. 

At this point in the class, I am struggling to finagle my way into the fallen warrior position, I keep peeking around at others in the class to see if my form looks similar. As I awkwardly set into my best attempt at a fallen warrior, I realize it feels vulnerable. My focus turns to breathe into the pose when she says the words, “fallen warrior is not the same as defeated warrior”, and the tears sting my eyes. 

In the global world, I have watched Ukraine’s infrastructure be bombed and destroyed, with refugees forced from their homes, and citizens remaining to defend. I think about the fallen warrior pose, to lay one’s body down as a compass directing the cardinal points. I think about the idea of fallen versus defeated. The verse, “Blessed are the ones who fight for justice”. 

As I lay there in fallen warrior, I whisper the lyrics from Common Hymnal, “Blessed are the ones who suffer violence and still have the strength to love their enemies, blessed is the faith of those who persevere, though they fall, they’ll never know defeat.” 

God, be with those in Ukraine. 


The Work of Celebration: Three Kings Day & King Cake Traditions

The Work of Celebration: Three Kings Day & King Cake Celebrations

 

Their thumbs and forefingers drop purple, green, and gold dyed sprinkles on top of the warm, liquid glaze. My kids have been waiting after hours of measuring, mixing, kneading, and baking to get to this moment, the decorating.

“What do the colors stand for again, mom?” She is trying to memorize all the information to present her king cake to her classroom tomorrow. “Purple stands for justice, green represents faith, and gold symbolizes power; legend says these were the colors of the jewels in the king’s crowns.”

I answer as she continues to spread sprinkles half-listening but also dreaming about eating this traditional delicacy.

“And what’s the story again?” Her questions continue and I turn my attention from baking to storytelling.

Long ago, before we celebrated Christmas with ornaments on trees, stockings, or presents from St. Nicholas, the tradition of king cakes marked the Magi who traveled to see Jesus. The Wise Men, or the Three Kings, who traveled to baptize baby Jesus' journeyed for years following the stars as their map, because they didn’t have GPS. The three Magi were named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar and in many other cultures around the world, people celebrate the day the three kings finally made it to Jesus and baptized the newborn king. This day, normally celebrated on January 6th each year, is referred to as Reyes, The Twelfth Night, Three Kings Day, Epiphany, Timkat, Little Christmas, or Denha. These cultures celebrate by gathering as a family, exchanging small gifts, taking down your Christmas decorations, and baking sweet bread or king cakes.

My daughter interrupts my story, “Why do they make king cakes?”

The story goes that the three kings had traveled so long, they had to ration food because the journey took years longer than they intended. They were weary and almost hopeless when they finally found out they were one day’s walk from meeting Jesus. As a way to celebrate their journey’s completion, they took out all the food they had left and “feasted” because they no longer had to ration, they had found their King. The next day when they walked into the town Jesus was staying in, the children put out grass and cakes on the road to welcome their coming. The grass was laid to feed their weary and hungry donkeys, and the sweet cakes were celebrating the completion of the Magi’s long journey and the baptism ceremony for Jesus.

“Is that why we put a small, plastic baby in the king cakes?” Her question makes me smile.
“Yes, and the tradition has it whoever gets the baby in their piece of cake must bring the king cake at the next gathering.”

We are all quiet for a few minutes. I hand out the plastic babies and each child finds a secret place underneath their king cake to insert the small doll. I try to imagine Mexico’s traditional mile-long Rosca de Reyes bread that feeds over 200,00 people who gather to celebrate. I am overwhelmed by making a king cake for each of my children’s classrooms and worldwide there are king cakes created miles long filled with as many as 7,000 dolls inside the pastry.

There are some Guinness World Records held for king cakes, such as chefs from La Universidad Vizcaya de las Americas were awarded the Guinness record for the longest Rosca de Reyes bread in the world. Measuring at 2,065.43 meters, the lengthy traditional bread beat the previous world holder for the longest loaf, which was Switzerland. Carlos Tapia of Guinness World Records for Latin America verified the length of the bread and its new world record, noting that the previous record held by Switzerland measured in at 973.24 meters. Haydel’s Bakery created a king cake that completely circled the United States, Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, weighing 4,075.7 lbs | 1,847.68 kg with a circumference of 2,643 feet.

“And why is Mardi Gras the last day we can eat king cakes?”

Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday” is the day before Ash Wednesday, it is the last day we can celebrate before we go into fasting or penance. It is our last day of celebration before we get ourselves ready for Easter. My daughter doesn’t skip a beat when she responds to my answer with, “phew, it takes a lot of work to celebrate big.”

I smile. “Yes my darling, it takes a lot of work to celebrate well. Now, let’s go celebrate while there is still time.”


The Silenced Voice: The Godly Female Voice Has Been Under Attack

Reposted from Red Tent Living 

 

“I hate being a pastor’s wife. My experience from the church has been a re-enactment of my own past trauma,” she says with a trembling voice.

 

I remain quiet, holding the tension for a bit longer. 

“How will you take your power back from this re-enactment?” I ask with curiosity. 

 

This client is one of twelve pastor’s wives that I work with within my practice. Their stories are all different, but their experience in the church is hauntingly similar. This pastor’s wife has just completed her Master's of Psychology and two years of her own therapy. She is weeping that she may have to leave the church altogether. My heart hopes to help salvage her relationship with herself and God. I long to invite her to bring her voice to her role as a pastor’s wife. 

 

“Why don’t you ask your husband if you can teach a series on psychology and the church?” I ask.

 

My question is met with a heavy silence. She looks up at me, her eyes wide with bewilderment. She has never thought of teaching at her own church. I have to restrain my frustration at another brilliant and highly-educated woman who has remained silent in the Western church culture. Sadly, we both know the answer. Although her husband would welcome her voice and expertise, her gender would never be invited by their congregation to the pulpit.  

 

The most common complaint of middle-aged women in my practice is a lack of knowing their life’s calling and using their voice in this world. Research shows us that a woman who has not established a strong self-identity will struggle to feel self-worth and fulfillment. The number one indicator of a woman's well-being is her level of self-identity, and the second indicator is the community that bears witness to her life. In short, self-awareness and friendships are vital to wellness. 

 

Many women have been raised in an objectifying society, and most Christian women have been groomed to be subordinate by Western patriarchal culture. The female has been unconsciously named through a patriarchal reading of Scripture as the “weaker vessel”, “taken from the rib of a man”, or taught that she is to not speak, teach, or preach in church. This narrative, coupled with objectifying media that reduces women down to their body image as a measure of worth, has left many women without the most important tool for success-- self-identity. The godly female voice has been under attack as the pyramid of power often looks like God, male pastor, husband, wife, and children. Regardless of whether you hold complementarian or egalitarian beliefs, the psyche of the woman is not well in our Christian society. 

 

The Western Christian church has a history of male dominance. As Mike Cosper states in his podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, “The church seemingly is more comfortable to be led by misogynistic leaders.” Spiritual trauma shows up deeply ingrained in women who believe they must serve the male voice in their life rather than show up individuated and require from it. In the Creation story, the female has deemed the “helpmate” to men, which translates in Hebrew as “savior” to men. The objectifying lens on our Christian narrative implies to both males and females that women are subordinate to men. This ingrained belief keeps women from naturally seeking their own self-identity and ultimately keeps them from knowing their voice in the Christian world. 

 

My client is looking at me in silence, but her eyes have shifted from sadness to disbelief.

“Have I really been serving a church for 24 years that doesn’t believe in my voice?” she asks. 

 

Internalized sexism is one of the women’s greatest betrayals. Women find that they have come to participate in the misogyny that has spiritually traumatized them. While the lack of female voices in the church is tragic, it doesn’t break my heart as much as the disconnect that happens in women’s spiritual relationships with God. 

 

When we illuminate the spiritual abuse that has been perpetuated onto women in the Western church, we begin to see the Christian female name her own distance with a male-dominant God. I have found the plight of a woman is untangling and individuating herself from men. First, she must do the work to leave her father’s house, such as a daughter finding freedom from her father’s ownership of her. Second, she must engage Genesis 3:16 that “she will long for her husband and he will rule over her.” Spiritual trauma shows up deeply ingrained in women who believe they must serve the male voice in their life rather than show up differentiated and bring their whole self to the relationship. 

 

At the end of our session, my client thanks me for our time. As she opens the door to leave, she turns and looks at me,

“I know what I must do now. I must use my voice.”

 

Dr. Christy BaumanLMHC is committed to helping women come into their true voice. She offers meaning-making and story work consulting. She is the author and producer of three works: Theology of the WombA Brave Lament, and Documentary: A Brave Lament. She is a psychotherapist, supervisor, and adjunct professor who focuses on the female body, sexuality, and theology. Christy is co-director of the Christian Counseling Center for Sexual Health and Trauma with her husband Andrew. They live in Seattle with their three kids: Wilder, Selah, and River.


The Mystery of Funerals

The thick, rope-like straps across my high-heel sandals broke just like my cry spilling out in anguish when I saw his body in the casket. I ignored my limping ankle and continued toward the front of the viewing room. I was glad to see all the flowers surrounding him and amidst my thumping steps, I placed the small, 1945 black-and-white photo of my grandmother in his lapel suit pocket.

I couldn’t look at his face, it didn’t look like him, rather a wax statute you might find in a Ripley’s Believe it or Not. I was thankful his body looked so fake, so different than how he had looked alive just days before.

Physician Duncan McDougall proved in 1907 that there is a physical weigh difference of 21.3 grams after someone dies. It is believed to be the weight of the soul. It was so clear that my grandfather was no longer in his body and his soul had departed to another realm.

When they wheeled his coffin into the cathedral, I was flooded with the memories in my home town’s Catholic church. My grandparents were married here at 8am on October 24th in 1946. My sister and I sang in this same cathedral for their 50th wedding anniversary, and for the funerals of our great-grandparents. Our family history is wall-papered in these majestic walls.

Not growing up Catholic, I only came for those special events. It felt overwhelming to be walking into this cathedral where my grandfather was married and now buried.

The funeral begins, I desperately try to make it upstairs to the choir loft without my broken, super-glued shoe making too much noise. My sister and I sang but this time our voices beautifully crack under emotion anointing the sacredness of sorrow.

As we fist bump coming down the windy stairs with tears in our eyes, my sister says, “Awpa would have loved that we sang at his funeral.” I nod and follow her back to the front of the cathedral with my clacking shoe exposing our hushed return. My sister pulls us into a small alcove to wait until the moment of silence for the Eucharist is finished.

Immediately, my body is flooded with memories of my grandfather teaching me about these hidden pockets in cathedrals to be discreet when taking wedding photos.

Jack’s Photos was my grandfather’s photography business. In middle school, he started taking me to weddings with him as his assistant. I would set up lights and charge the batteries for the cameras and flashes. After a few weddings, I moved to be his 2nd shooter.

We probably shot over 30 weddings together. He quickly taught me where to hide inconspicuously while still getting the best angles for photos. The only mandate he ever told me was, “in a Catholic wedding, you can never take a picture when transubstantiation of the Eucharist is happening. As a zealous, non-denominational Christian, I respected the mystery of communion whether or not I fully understood it.

Twenty-five years later, standing with my sister in a side alcove in the cathedral at his funeral would I remember his lesson…we must respect the moment of transformation. The body memory washed over me reminding me that in a way my grandfather and I spent years playing hide and seek with our theology of communion, the church, and love itself.

What I believe Awpa was teach me was that we must not try to photograph the moment where the passing between life and death are in play. He suggested that one would waste their time trying to capture the invisibility of holiness.

Awpa was teaching me that a mystery is to be experienced not captured.

I stand there looking at his casket at the front of the altar, my grandmother in her wheel chair next to his body. I hear him saying, “stop and witness the mystery of death to new life.” As we make our way to the front, I step in front of the casket, I put my trembling hands on the cloth that covers him. Uncertain if it is allowed and incense lingering in my nose, I lean down and kiss his casket. Tears streaming down my face I say goodbye to his body promising to carry his lessons inside of me.

Thank you Awpa, for teaching me to stop and experience the mysteries of God rather than pick them apart in hopes of understanding them.


Marking Sorrow: An Ode to Love & Grief

 "Grief is really just love. It's all the love you want to give,
but cannot.
All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes,
the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest.
Grief is just love with no place to go."
It is quiet and dark as I creek open the screen door
I’m careful to not let it slam behind me
as the smell of their house envelops me
for what I think will be the last time with both of them alive.
familiarity closes around me like a theology of belonging,
I am home.
He is sleeping in his chair and she is in her bed.
Their hands are clasped together as they wait to see who will be taken first.
Awpa sees my silhouette in the doorway and bids me come in.
They both welcome me with such joy even in the late hour.
Their bedroom feels 40+ years comfortable to my childhood and adult body,
which automatically crawls in next to Mema at the edge of her bed.
Her warm silk nightgown is soft to my traveling body.
Her greeting is familiar,
“aww che’ my Cre-Cre”
I can tell by the frailty in her voice she has aged since I last saw her three months ago.
Awpa looks like it will not be long.
That is why we came.
The hospice nurse says she doesn’t know how long.
“It is better if you come.”
We talk for a few short minutes and then I crawl out of bed and say goodnight.
As I close the bedroom door, I hear them whispering to each other,
“goodnight sham, I love you.”
“I love you too, so much.”
With the morning comes nurses and aides, chaplains, and conversations.
We move Awpa to his chair and instead of coffee we give him oxygen.
He reaches for his rosary to say his prayers.
The circular, silver case is unclasped and lays open kissing the mahogany table,
the engraved image of the Virgin Mary peers back at me,
her arms down by her sides lay open ready to receive what is to come.
I am trying to take it all on before it will never be again.
This image of my grandfather’s morning routine that is slipping from him.
His round, short, sausage-like fingers hold the circular beads in his trembling hand as he fingers through the prayers religiously. His arms are bruised and cut from many falls in the night, he looks like a bull who has fought his way up against death and refuses to be stopped.
Slow and determined much like his breath that pumps through his aching chest. He breaks the silence.
“I am ready to go…but what about Mema?”
Death is like birth,
sometimes it comes two weeks early, and sometimes right on time.
Yet some have bent the ear of their Creator and pushed past their due date.
Death seemingly waits for my grandfather’s release because of how he holds so tightly to every moment with my grandmother.
What is this love that I see and hear whispered between their day and night?
Dehydration and a body shutting down fill the weekend hours into days.
I mentally must open my emotional medicine bag, making myself available to the act of midwifing death.
So much about the end of life is our will versus our organs and what passes through his body shows me that he is hollowed out, like his empty armchair where we would share coffee in the morning on my visits home from college.
Days turn to nights, I sleep in the living room on the couch near his recliner.
Through the night I listen for his breathing.
Sometimes he asks for help, other times he gives himself over to sleep.
Granddaughters and daughters fill the house with cooking and caring.
Grandsons configure equipment and plan to aid with aging.
He makes an upward turn and I breathe a sigh of relief.
Today will not be the end.
I kiss his cheek and make the sign of the cross on his forehead before I say goodbye.
We smile knowingly that this is not the end for us, we are forever.

Womaneering Holy Week

As we begin holy week, this conversation in womaneering podcast couldn’t have come at a better time. Tracy and I navigate what it means as women to live fully into our bodies through holy week. The theme of our conversation is around what is required for a woman to birth death and to be a doula in the life/death/life cycle. Join us please as we help you spiritually prepare to know Jesus in His crucifixion and resurrection through the body of a woman. Join us for the conversation on the Womaneering Podcast and follow us on IG at womaneering_


Everbearing: The Female Cycle & God

**Trigger Warning: There are explicit content and description of miscarriage, loss, and death.

The mist of rain falls on my unwashed hair and flannel pajamas. It is another overcast, cool morning, and the garden beds adjacent to my house have been beautifully tilled, yet I can’t stop harrowing the soil. My exhale sends a heavy cloud of condensation in the perfectly rounded out holes I am digging out. I have about twenty strawberry starters lined in a row by my rain boots, and my nails are packed with dirt. I feel wearily alive. It has been only a few weeks since my D&C procedure, this is the second miscarriage in eleven months and my body is desperate and determined to grow something that will live. So I plant each one of those strawberry plants as proof that I can keep something alive. My husband was gentle when he asked why I had spent over $300 on plants this month. It took a while to put words to but I realized that I was exhausted by so much loss and death, I wanted to surround myself with living things. The Holy Spirit is speaking to our human bodies throughout the seasons, igniting a desire in us to create. We as women are everbearing creatures, whether we want or don't want to raise children, whether our wombs are able or not able to bear children, whether we have stories of losing children, adopting or birthing children...

 

Women are everbearing creatures.

Our bodies are everbearing the cycle of life and death, our ovaries and uterus, in particular, are everbearing the cycle of hope and loss. 

We see this cycle again and again throughout Scripture. Isaiah 5 is one of my favorite examples of this. God is singing a song about what it is like as a parent to watch your son get his heart broken in his covenant relationship with human beings. 

 

[EXT]“I will sing for the one I love

  a song about his vineyard:

My loved one had a vineyard

    on a fertile hillside.

He dug it up and cleared it of stones

    and planted it with the choicest vines.

He built a watchtower in it

    and cut out a winepress as well.

Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,

    but it yielded only bad fruit.”[/EXT]

 

The verse always gives me chills.

It reminds me of the helpless parental heart which cannot make someone love their child; the futility a parent feels when their child gets their heart broken by a lost love or a lost dream. One of my favorite worship songs is entitled the Garden Song, which I imagine worship leader Jason Upton wrote after studying Isaiah 5: 

 

[EXT]“I want to build you a garden, in a dry and desert land, I’m gonna find a river there. 

For I have seen a garden grow in a land filled with injustice

 and I have heard a mother’s cry for her child to live again.

I have seen a withered soul fall like petals on the water, 

and I watched a flower grow, 

I have seen the power or resurrection, slowly rise toward the sun. 

No one knows what God has seen, 

human kind destroyed this garden, 

with bleeding hands we will plant the seeds, 

and You will make all things new again, 

God will make all things live again. ” [/EXT]

 

The process of creating a child is filled with awaiting hope, injustice, trauma, healing, celebration, longing, pain, and resurrection. It is much like this parable of the vineyard, which is a womb where God is trying to build a lush garden that gets destroyed because it is trying to grow in a fallen world. The Garden Song is a beautiful response to the brokenhearted Creator; it is a song I have tried to sing back to God in the years of my pregnancies. In the weeks of desperate waiting for a pregnancy to reach the 12-week mark, or when I have wept with blood on my hands when my baby never made it to a viable life, I have made this my prayer.

Co-creating life with God has made me a woman who has contended with faith and hope. Living through the ups and downs of a decade of reproduction, I have become a brave and wild woman who sings with faith, hope, and love. Each one of us has a birthing story, whether it is that we never had the courage to try, or we easily brought life into this world without struggle. Our birthing story tells us how we will come to the last stage of our lives, how we will lay down and die. I know my birth story and the story of my birthing years, and I will tell you this much, I will dance into my death as an autumn leaf falls to the ground.

 

I ask you to study the cyclical pattern that unfolds in your menstrual story, in your birthing years;

how do you come to the creation process?


Infertility & Loss of Hope

*This is an excerpt from the book, "Theology of the Womb", **Trigger warning: this article is about miscarriage and infertility

         Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, little yellow birds perched in a tree, four are painted blued with life and the other seventeen painted yellow with loss. The framed picture in my sister-in-law’s living room of twenty-one birds in a tree signifies her family, 17 yellow painted birds representing her children in heaven, and 4 blue painted birds signifying her children on this earth. The verse in Ephesians is printed clearly underneath the tree which reads, “to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.”

She often remarks that abundance is different than she originally thought.

Reproduction was a long road for her, filled with years of giving herself injections, taking pills and medication for the hormonal increase, countless waiting rooms, and doctor visits. The agony of waiting and waiting to know if these embryos took, wondering if the implantations were successful. The warrior of a woman it takes to live through this process astounds me. The Proverb often comes to mind when faced with a longing unfulfilled, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” How many sick hearts I have encountered over the years. My own sick heart at many seasons in my life, but the heart of a woman who longs for children and cannot have them has been one of the sickest hearts I have ever known.

The women I have seen for therapy or done life through seasons of infertility, miscarriage, or a child’s death have been the heaviest of hearts. Infertility is referenced as the “shriveled womb” in the Bible, and I would even explain it more as a shriveled heart. The incapability of creating a child within you, if it is a desire you have, is devastating. Women and medicine have become desperate and brave by seeking alternative means such as in vitro fertilization or IVF, in which the art of creating children becomes a science. I feel deep gratitude for science allowing women to get pregnant while realizing the cost of co-creation with God through a petri dish is daunting at best.

Pelvic floor specialists report that trauma held in the pelvic floor due to traumatic D&Cs and births are prevalent. Research states that over 90 percent of women who undergo surgeries in their abdomen will have scar tissue problems, because “the female pelvis contains a remarkable array of structures, responsible for myriad complex processes. It is situated in an area of the body that is vulnerable to injury, accessible to objects from the external environment, and susceptible to infection. When structures in the pelvis heal, they can become bound by adhesions...causing pain and dysfunction.”

 

Our wombs are sensitive and powerful, fashioned by the Creator to bear witness to the complexity of creation...

Do not be fooled, the invitation to create is one of agony and glory.

 

Do not be fooled, the invitation to create is one of agony and glory, sometimes found in a petri dish and other times in sacred acts of intimacy. We must honor the process of healing when the womb is harmed for it is our sanctuary made up of that which is most holy.

When we bleed, whether years of infertility or miscarriage, something is being shed. Whether it is the potential for life, or life itself, it is being shed and we have nothing we can do at that moment but to stare down the invitation to mock death. I have feared death too long, fear only can be immersed in perfect love. I have few choices while on earth but one I do have in the face of loss and death is to choose to weep honorably and love deeper than I choose fear. I weep for injustice, I weep for loss, I weep for the pain of hope, the discipline of waiting, the ache to birth, and grief of death. I imagine God, receiving this gift of mine, whether is my blood, my low-grade eggs, an undeveloped fetus; whatever I am offering, it is a gift, my attempt to desire and create life. Can you see God asking you to carry the futility? That may look different for you depending on your story: maybe God is asking to continue trying to create or to let go of life not created. This intimate, sacred, painful image is my kindest, most loving thoughts. My fears being drowned by perfect love. There is an aftermath for the body that continues to attempt to create and remains infertile. 

Postpartum is not only for the woman who has had babies but also for the post-partum for the infertile woman.

Postpartum refers to the period of time for the mother after the birth and the postnatal care of the baby, it involves the sharp drop in the hormones progesterone and estrogen, which contribute to feeling tired, depressed, and sluggish. Postpartum, in particular to postpartum grief, is only recently being addressed in the medical world. The range of emotions in a woman after childbirth or child loss oscillates between longing attachment and bliss to protective nightmares and panic-ridden anxiety. The mother's brain shifts as the gray matter become more concentrated. We see changes in the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and all the regions of the brain that control empathy, social interactions, and anxiety. When a woman is in recovery from infertility, miscarriage, or birth, one must be aware that it is hard to explain what is happening in the brain and the healing process of postpartum. It is helpful to engage anyone in a season of postpartum with curiosity and care through this transition period. 

Loss and grief have many symbolic similarities to birth, and in many ways, we give birth to death. In the aftermath of a loss, the burial process has looked, to me, a lot like postpartum grief. Postpartum is different for everyone, and I think the same is true with postpartum grief. Often after one has a baby we ask the question, “How was the birth?”. The same is appropriate for the postpartum griever; we should ask, “How was the death? How was the miscarriage? How was the attempt amidst infertility?”. Whether death is difficult and painful or worthy of the celebration of reaching eternal life is dependent on the details of the death, much like the details of birth. How did one come to die? Were they sick or in pain? Was there family nearby? Did they get to say goodbye to everyone they desired or were they taken too quickly? Was it accidental, intentional; timely, expected? These answers don’t tell us whether one should grieve more or less around this loss, rather it gives us details of how the person grieving might encounter the next few months of postpartum grief.  

With the "shriveled womb" of infertility, we must be people who come alongside and be curious about the "sick heart" of the infertile woman and how her post-partum is affecting her heart, body, and mind.