On a recent morning, I was in the throes of PMS (sometimes this verges on its more severe form, PMDD). I was tired after a restless night, irritable, and just generally lethargic. I wanted to hibernate, nap and shut out the world but I couldn’t. My responsibilities called me and I had to go; it was going to be a particularly busy day at work, teaching three back to back classes. After an already very full week at work, I was drained. My feminine spirit and weary body wanted to melt back into myself and retreat. As I began preparing to get myself out the door, (dragging), a thought came to me, as if out of nowhere: “I must give the gift of myself to my students today. I must be a gift to them.” In an instant, that reframe, that taking the focus off myself and the uncooperative and complicated physical, psychological and emotional aspects of my female rhythm helped me rise above the discomfort: I had a greater purpose to serve.
I thought of my sister, 3 months pregnant, and the difficult early pregnancy she had had: months of nausea, fatigue and illness had plagued her first trimester. It has given me a reminder of how a mother intensely gives her life, her very body, in order to bring forth new life. Pregnancy is an incredible mingling of sacrifice and pain, a cup of offering, given to her unborn child but ultimately given to God, this baby’s creator.
When we as involuntarily childless women experience the fragility and frailty of the female hormone rhythms, it can be easy to face them with contempt or dismissiveness. Oh, what we would give to experience the pangs of pregnancy, if it meant bringing our very own child into the world! But these other rhythms, like the plague of the luteal phase with all its suffering, we see as a nuance, or worse, a painful precursor to the start of our menstrual period which means yet another month we didn’t conceive. Isn’t it just a waste?
What if we faced these weeks of distinct suffering or discomfort as our own unique call to give to the world, out of the weakness of our own body? What if instead of cursing these symptoms and resenting our frailty, we honor this sacred phase. Instead of viewing this premenstrual time as worthless or a distraction from our “healthier” phases, we accepted them as a time to offer our weakness to the world in whatever ways He calls us? During this time before our period, our wombs are literally being prepared to hold life. To nurture it, sustain it and foster it. Every discomfort, whether emotional or physical, is a testimony to the hormonal synchrony that is happening within us. The female body is miraculous!
Some months, for some women, this time literally does lead to the beginning of a human life in the womb. But for those of us for whom it doesn’t, this time can still be a time of gift and nurture. How can we reach beyond the discomforts we encounter and reach out to those He asks us to touch? How can I bring my maternal presence, innate drive to nurture, and holy desire to help others to the world? The rhythms of our bodies confirm the longings of our hearts. If we lean into them, and listen hard, maybe we can see what Christ wants to birth in us this month.