My mother-in-law’s phone call appears on my screen on average five times a day. Ever since we moved her to a memory care facility, she has called begging to be transferred back to her home. My heart breaks to know that her progressing dementia will never allow her to live in her own home again. While her phone calls are persistent, they remind me to pray that God will make another way for her. The Bible story of the persistent widow comes to mind every time I see her name appear on my phone.
Often I can answer and listen to her pleas, only interrupted by my children. But today I am in the middle of multiple errands, just making it to my naturopath’s office on the sixth floor. The doc is talking to me when I see my mother-in-law’s call. I whisper a prayer for her as I silence my phone.
“We don’t have the premenopausal vitamins, but you can take these prenatal ones,” she says.
My hands are already filled with three other bottles I need refills on.
“Can I take prenatals even if I am not planning to have more kids?” I ask.
She smiles, and her silver hair falls over her shoulder.
“Actually, this is what I take. Prenatals are the closest monitored vitamin women have,” she explains. “This is actually better than any other vitamin you could take. One thing you can count on is the industry always putting white men and pregnant women as a priority.”
I buy the bottle.
Proud of myself for taking care of me for once, I carry the bottles to my car, thinking about her words.
Pregnant women, a priority. In truth, for women of color, this is not the case.
In my field of women’s health, I know that the female body has not historically been a priority, particularly once she ages out of the reproductive stage. Medical research for women is on average ten years behind before it actually reaches doctor’s offices. The female’s story seems to disappear with her age. The importance of the female has long been focused on her looks. It’s true that as I have aged I have felt the gaze of others deter.
Spiritual health is inching along for women, as church pastors despairingly have only 11% of woman at the pulpit. When 2,800 women were interviewed about their experiences in the church, they all advocated for more representation in church leadership.
Taking up space has only recently been something I like to do.
When women are conditioned to assess themselves by their body shape and fashion savvy, we lose the heart of the female. It is the female soul that will lead us closer to heaven, closer to the way of love. This means I need to take up more room, speak instead of hesitate, refuse to buy from places that exploit, and require compensation for my services. I tell myself to stand tall, shoulders back, and exhale loudly. It is not offensive to take up the space I have been given.
Miss Representation, a 2011 film, presents some of the leading research on female well-being in the wake of objectification. It points out that both men and women encourage little girls to find worth in how they look and what they are wearing. Even recently, I catch myself telling little girls how cute their outfits are instead of asking them what they want to be when they grow up or asking them about their interests. It takes me by surprise when I see my own blinders still limiting how much space little girls can take up in this world.
I have four errands done and two left to go. My phone buzzes, and I look down to see Momma Bauman is calling again. I move my thumb to deny the call, and then I catch myself doing exactly what I don’t want to do—limiting the space women take up. I decide to forego the last two errands and take her call. Even though I already know exactly what she will say and she won’t even remember that she ever made this call, I answer the phone.
“Hi Mom, how are you?”
I listen to her familiar words and try to hear in a new way. I want to listen better and let her take up all the space she needs.
Christy Bauman, Ph.D., MDFT, & LMHC is committed to helping women come into their true voices. She offers meaning-making and storywork consulting. She is the author and producer of Theology of the Womb, A Brave Lament, Documentary: A Brave Lament, and The Sexually Healthy Woman. 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 Brevard, North Carolina with their three kids: Wilder, Selah, and River.