The Great Expedition

I had never been more excited to schedule a pap smear. When my OB-GYN’s clinic called to tell me I could see my doctor before she retired, I yelled excitedly into the phone, “I’ll be there!” This is the woman who cared for me and delivered three live babies and two miscarriages with me. During our final appointment we smile through glasses and masked faces. I end my blessing over her and thank her. “Your next exploration is menopause,” she says as I leave.

Menopause. The slowing down of my uterus, the falling asleep. What do you believe God intended for women in menopause?

Many cultures revere this stage of life with deep respect. For example, the Korean word halmeoni means both “grandmother” and “goddess.” By tradition it is a title given to women in respect for their strength, independence, and persistence.

After my doctor’s appointment, I sit in my minivan and scroll Instagram to buy time until picking up my kids from camp. 

“I am preparing for surgery to remove my remaining ovary and my uterus. I’m 37, have never been blessed with a partner and babies, and now I’m going to be radically transported into menopause. And I wonder sometimes if my lack of children and soon-to-be lack of a womb makes me less holy, less feminine somehow.”

The response is one of many comments listed under my Instagram post. I close my eyes and inhale, “Lord, have mercy.” Immediately my mind hears the words “an emptied house” from Jalaluddin Rumi’s poem “The Guest House.” When I return home, I grab his poetry book off my bookshelf, find the earmarked page, and read it through. I almost gasp at the line, ”violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, he may be clearing you out for some new delight.”

As a Christian therapist who works with women and body trauma, I am always aware of the violence that happens to the female body. With surgery and a removal of female reproductive parts—the breasts, the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or uterus—we must grieve that a woman will be waking up and there will be a removal of the furniture inside of her. We must ask the questions, what is being removed from my body, and what is the hardest part about what is being taken? Maybe we respond, “I don’t ever get to do it again” or possibly, “I never got to do it at all.” What I did or never did with my breasts, my uterus, my ovaries, I can never do once they are taken.

For me, loss and sadness come when I realize I am aging and my body is no longer young or can produce life. For others, a hysterectomy or menopause that impacts the physical possibility to create life brings sadness. For some women, entering climacteric (the period including peri-menopause, menopause, and post-menopause) brings relief. However, menopause is not the spiritual or emotional end for a woman’s creating; in fact, the end of the physical creating process can be an invitation to a next stage of creating. In my book, Theology of the Womb, I explain that a woman’s body will always birth, for it was created to birth adolescence, reproduction, the climacteric, and finally birth death.

In fact, the wise woman in each of us can not fully awaken when we are still bleeding and growing.

When we wake, we might meet the sage femme, the wise woman, the great explorer within each of us.

Although we must consider how a woman loses her uterus, the actual death of the uterus is the pathway to some of our greatest opportunities for spiritual and emotional births.

What do we know of God? That God is more visible in us during our suffering. Thus, could it be said that through the climacteric of our female bodies, we are becoming more like God? Just maybe, we are sharing God’s story more clearly through our dying bodies. For me, the dangerous hope is that I will birth my wiser self as I lose my adolescent youngness, my aesthetic beauty, and my physical strength. As I am aging, my body is becoming invisible and perhaps my internal self is becoming more visible.

It seems like one day I woke up and I didn’t remember my years of reproduction because when I was birthing children, I was in a daze and I didn’t have ownership over my body. That season is gone, and I can never do it again. Now, I am awakening my aging body, and I am sage femme, the wise woman. I now must learn how to be with her and trust that she is my best self and that God is doing a good work in me by allowing me to engage suffering and death just as Christ invited us to understand through Himself.

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