Hidden Womens Matters
I got ultrasound after ultrasound as a teenager. I had to prepare for these appointments by drinking an awful amount of water so the tech could rub cold jelly on my stomach - only for another GP to tell me I was fine and put me on the pill. Something was wrong with me.
This is what periods are like for all girls! Maybe you’re exaggerating? You’ll get used to it.
If I’m honest, I did get used to it. Chronic pain became normal, but only become increasingly debilitating. My family had exhausted every other route to help me (yes, even Ayurvedic remedies). In year 12, a specialist finally recognised my desperation and performed an investigative surgery on my reproductive organs. They found disease tissue, which can often hide in ultrasounds. They found Endometriosis.
An Endo diagnosis so young is rare - but not because Endo is rare. Today (March 27, 2021) is Wordwide EndoMarch to raise awareness and funds for 11.4% of women with Endo. It is as common as mud, but still widely hidden from public recognition and acknowledgement, with little support. Women are suffering.
Hidden by Shame
Recently, I asked a man how his wife was and he mumbled something about her dealing with a womens matter. If not for his red flush, I would have laughed at what I thought was quick satire.
Why are we still using a euphemism to describe a common human experience for half the world? Still, I see women tuck away their brightly wrapped pads into sleeves and bras as they slip away to the loo (please put pockets in our clothes!). If menstruating has long been a taboo, we are only beginning to find the words to describe what it is like to live with Endo.
Shame creates a powerful urge to hide. When faced with their shame at the Fall, Adam and Eve hid and it’s been the human response to shame ever since. It shouldn’t be shameful to menstruate, and yet conversations about womens health happen in hushed tones in the realm of womens matters.
God’s Word recognises these dynamics and doesn’t shy away from the truth of how women lived. Menstruating was an incredibly marginalising experience in the day of Jesus, where Jewish custom deemed them ceremonially unclean and required physical separation from society. In three Gospel accounts, we meet a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years.
When I am doubled over on the bathroom floor at 3am and attempt to meditate on God’s Word, I almost always think of her and wonder if she too had Endo. Medical trauma and all, I have found doctors who have been able to support me in living with Endo. But this woman we read about in the Gospels suffered under doctors who couldn’t help her at all. All my trips to the emergency room for pain relief have been covered by Medicare. Seeking medical treatment sent her broke. I can relegate myself to my cushy bed when I can’t take it anymore. She likely had to live on the outskirts of town. I ask my loved ones to rub my back while I have pain spasms. No one could even touch her.
In such circumstances, our unnamed woman hears Jesus is in town. She is desperate. Her need for healing overtakes her need to stay hidden. She isn’t technically meant to be in close contact with anyone but pushes through a crowd to get to Jesus. Maybe if she can just touch her trembling hand to the edge of his clothes? It may be a bit superstitious but she has the most important thing right: she believed that Jesus has the power to save her. She is healed instantly.
Jesus was on an important journey to save a dying girl, but he takes the time to search for our unnamed woman in the crowd. He stops everyone and asks her to come forward. She falls at his feet, trembling. I can only imagine how confronting it must have been to be publicly recognised after the years she’s spent hidden away. Jesus does not shame her but honours the one who would put her faith in him. Significantly, Jesus tenderly calls her daughter.
Hidden in Him
The Psalms consistently name God as the Hiding Place, a refuge in distress. Tucking yourself under his wings is described as the safest place in the world, and I know this to be true. I can lament alongside the Psalmist because God doesn’t need me to hold back in expressing pain. His does not get compassion fatigue like humans, and he fully empathises with me in my human experience. Jesus went to the cross and absorbed the deepest pain to overcome the Curse of sin on my behalf. He didn’t hold back.
As we approach Easter, we stand alongside the witnesses of the empty tomb who know what it’s like to not be taken seriously. When their testimonies were not even legally admissible, God honours women by placing them as the first witnesses to the greatest moment of humanity. It was shameful for Christianity to develop from the testimony of women, but God elevates us out of hidden womens matters. Jesus has redefined everything about our reality: the moment we put our faith in him, he recognises us and tenderly calls us daughters. It’s our unity with him that gives us the truest, deepest hope. Colossians 3:1-3 beautifully describes being hidden in Christ with such security it is as if we have already been raised with him.
Living with chronic pain is relentlessly difficult. I also find that when I set my heart on the reality of the Resurrection, Endo is rendered strangely dim. I doubt I will see a cure of Endo in my lifetime, but I will see Jesus face to face at the end of it. He will wipe every tear from my eyes and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Come Risen Lord Jesus, come!
 Endometriosis Australia, 2021: www.endomarchaustralia.org.au/#:~:text=The%20Worldwide%20EndoMarch%20is%20a,world%20on%20March%2027%2C%202021.
 Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48.
 Revelation 21:3b-4 (NIV)
Jeri Jones Sparks is an assistant minister at St James Anglican Church in Croydon and is married to Andrew. She is a Tamil Indian-Australian living on Wangal lands.