St. John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body, writes that “only the body is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus be a sign of it.” When we look at a woman’s body, we see that her reproductive organs – her uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries – are on the inside of her body whereas a man’s reproductive organs are on the outside of his body. She receives her husband’s sperm into her body where the egg is fertilized in the fallopian tube. Then this new life implants in her uterus where it grows for nine months.
This reveals a fundamental truth about who the woman is. A woman is receptive to new life and this new life grows in her body. This tells us that, spiritually, a woman has the capacity to receive the love of God and then give it back as a gift to those entrusted to her care. Edith Stein, in her Essays on Woman, says that this receptivity is where a woman’s strength lies, and that her soul is “fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.” The way that we live this truth of our femininity can look different at the various stages of our life from our teenage years to our childbearing years to menopause.
As a teenager, I went through a reversion back to my Catholic faith through studying the Sermon on the Mount and the Theology of the Body in my high school religion class. I started to discover my femininity through taking care of the body God gave me, dressing in a way that corresponded to my dignity and expressed the unique person I was, and discerning how God was using my greatest passions and desires to love the world. Realizing that my body was created to grow a child helped me to recognize the importance of eating well when I struggled with my relationship with food and restricting it from a young age. Discovering that my body was a tabernacle that had the capacity to hold human life helped me to start to dress in a way that didn’t just focus on modesty but expressed who I was through my own personal style.
My love of Theology of the Body and conversion through it ignited a desire to spread this message to the world (which I now have the privilege to do through practicing women’s healthcare that upholds the dignity of women and marriage). A few years after this, I learned of Natural Procreative Technology and started to realize how my own cycle abnormalities and symptoms could be indicative of underlying health problems.
Women who have likely experienced misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis and intimately felt the effects of it, can instill in young girls – whether they are daughters, nieces, goddaughters, students, or others – how their bodies and menstrual cycles work, and help them identify when they do not work as they should. I’ll never forget, when I went back to my high school two years ago and talked to the girls about Natural Family Planning, menstrual cycles, and women’s health problems, the audible roar that erupted in the room when I showed a slide depicting changes in hormones throughout the menstrual cycle and the female anatomy. Girls are hungry for this knowledge. If you have experienced symptoms as a teenager which could have been indicative of disease that is now contributing to infertility, and which was ignored or brushed aside, you have a unique perspective.
For women in childbearing years experiencing infertility, it is so easy to believe that when your body does not work in the way it is intended to (by conceiving and bear a child) that you are somehow “less of a woman” or that your calling in life is inferior to those who have children. Catholic author and speaker Emily Stimpson Chapman writes in her essay titled, Tending the Garden, “Generosity, hospitality, and Christian witness, and active concern for the little and the least are a part of marital fruitfulness, too. Not in a secondary way, but in a fundamental way, a way that recognizes God’s call to spiritual fatherhood and spiritual motherhood is not some exclusive call to the consecrated nor a consolation prize for the infertile, but the unique task of every man and every woman, the reality to which physical parenthood points and in which it finds its fulfillment.”
Your life and fruitfulness do not begin if or when you have children. From the moment you said, “I do,” you said yes to parenthood with your spouse in whatever way Christ called. The fundamental call in marriage to love as Christ loves the Church is visible in your bodies when suffering with infertility. The scars from laparoscopies or C-sections and bruises from injections and blood draws speak, “this is my body given up for you.” If you’re struggling with lies about your femininity, I recommend meditating upon the wounds of Christ and how your wounds (both physical and emotional) just like His, bring life to the world, both physically and spiritually.
When biological fertility ends either prematurely (premature ovarian insufficiency or through cancer) or at menopause, this does not mean that you cease to be feminine or to be a woman. Just the other day my grandma (who has been in menopause for years) said that the desire to take care of things and people never really goes away. It just looks different now. While her days of raising children are over, she still nurtures life through taking care of the birds that flock to her yard, cultivating her garden, hosting and comforting me for a weekend after a difficult breakup, and always looking for ways to put a smile on her grandchildren’s faces through giving personal gifts or making their favorite food.
Whatever season of life you are in now, know that your body and femininity are very good (God Himself said so). He is speaking truths to you and to those entrusted to your care through your body and femininity and He is making His love visible through you. Please know that I am praying for you and rooting for you on this crazy journey to Heaven.
Caroline Gindhart is a nurse practitioner at Divine Mercy Womens Health in Camp Hill/Carlisle, Pennsylvania. She received her nursing degrees from Penn State University. In her professional work, she diagnoses the root causes of infertility and treats in a way that cooperates with the woman’s cycle using her training in the Creighton Model and NaPro Technology.