When a number of books on similar subjects come from different publishers simultaneously, the phenomenon is often a reflection of the times. As the national mood has darkened and the reproductive rights of women are again under attack, a cluster of new and forthcoming titles in religion and spirituality zero in on topics related to reproduction and reproductive organs—childbirth, menarche and menopause, miscarriage, and breast cancer—and propose turning to faith for refuge and help when things go wrong.
Breast Cancer and the Soul
One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives, and breast cancer is the #1 killer of women ages 20–59, according to the American Cancer Society. In Breasts: The Owner’s Manual (W, May 2018), breast cancer surgeon Kristi Funk offers a holistic approach: “My ultimate mission as a physician is to get to people before they need to go under the knife. I do everything I can to... empower you with facts and arm you with strategies to help you understand your breasts, reduce your cancer risk, and open your eyes to life-changing interventions and treatments.” Among Funk’s high-profile patients are Sheryl Crow and Angelina Jolie; she performed Jolie’s double prophylactic mastectomy.
Why is a Christian publisher doing health books? Daisy Hutton, v-p and publisher of W Publishing at HarperCollins Christian Publishing, explains, “We know from consumer research that issues of physical and emotional health are at the center of our core readership’s concerns, right alongside of concerns about spiritual well-being.” She says Funk’s faith “finds its way into the book in extremely organic ways that will perhaps be noticeable to people who adhere to the Christian faith and will likely be invisible to people who do not.”
One book urges those who have breast cancer to reframe its course as a spiritual journey. In After the Fear Come the Gifts: Breast Cancer’s Nine Surprising Blessings (In Extenso, out now), clinical psychologist and spiritual director Kay Metres writes: “Our lives are made up of equal parts sorrow and joy and we are well designed to withstand both. Cancer awakens us—there is nothing like a brush with death to startle the spirit into seeing the gorgeousness of life.” Although In Extenso is an imprint of Catholic press Acta, publisher Gregory Pierce says the book “doesn’t use overtly religious language, but attempts to appeal to women of all faiths, which is one of the hallmarks of the In Extenso line.”
Another title from a distinctly Catholic point of view is In God’s Hands: Living Through Illness with Faith by Maureen Cummings (OSV, Mar. 2018), a lawyer, wife, and mother of six, who received a cancer diagnosis after the birth of her youngest child. And Catholic comedian and actor Victoria Jackson—best known for her six seasons on Saturday Night Live—prescribes both humor and faith in Lavender Hair: 21 Devotions for Women with Breast Cancer (Broadstreet, out now). From her illness, she writes, she learned that “Jesus loves all people equally, rich and poor, famous and wannabe, young and old, pop star and cancer patient, talented and talentless.”
Pregnancy and Childbirth
The joyful but often difficult experiences of pregnancy and childbirth are the subject of other books. In Made for This: The Catholic Mom’s Guide to Birth (OSV, Feb. 2018), Mary Haseltine cites Pope John Paul II’s devotion to the Virgin Mary and exaltation of motherhood, and writes: “Physically and spiritually, every woman’s femininity by its very nature points to motherhood.... Motherhood calls for great sacrifices, and it holds a place of honor and distinction not only in the Christian tradition, but also in many other cultures.”
In Birthing Hope: Giving Fear to the Light (IVP, May 2018), English professor Rachel Marie Stone writes: “To bring anything new into the world is to open one’s self and therefore to take on risk—to contaminate oneself with the other, to be made vulnerable. This requires not just courage but also... faith, hope, help, companionship, grace and, in a word, love.”
The weeks and months following childbirth get scant attention from doctors and midwives, despite the fact that as many as 15%–20% of those who have given birth experience postpartum depression, writes Kimberly Ann Johnson in The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing Your Emotions, and Restoring Your Vitality (Shambhala, Dec.). For Johnson, pregnancy and birth was “my heroine’s journey.” She adds: “It was long and arduous.... When you give birth, it is not just your baby that is born, in a way, you are born.”
The Greatest Loss
Three books speak to those who have lost an unborn child through miscarriage, stillbirth, or ectopic pregnancy. In Notes for the Everlost: A Field Guide to Grief (Shambhala, Mar. 2018), Kate Inglis reassures other grieving mothers, “Where you are right now is normal and rooted in the most ancient sort of love.” Loved Baby: 31 Devotions Helping You Grieve and Cherish Your Child after Pregnancy Loss by Sarah Philpott (Broadstreet, out now) and Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope after Miscarriage and Loss by Adriel Booker (Baker, May 2018) encourage Christians to find strength in their faith.
Losing a child—of any age—is a devastating blow. Lama Allione, author of Wisdom Rising (Enliven, May 2018), was ordained as one of the first American Buddhist nuns but renounced her vows to marry and have children. When she lost her first child to SIDS, Allione turned to a form of meditation using the mandala of the dakinis, Buddhist female spirits. She found peace and renewal in the practice and promotes it for others.
Other women grieve for the children they never had. In Longing for Motherhood: Holding on to Hope in the Midst of Childlessness (Moody, Mar. 2018), Chelsea Patterson Sobolik recounts her own struggle and urges other Christians to rely on their faith as they make peace with an unfulfilled dream. She works on adoption and foster care policy for the U.S. House of Representatives; she herself was adopted as a newborn from Romania.
Other books tackle the distinct challenges of each stage of the reproductive cycle. Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity by Jennifer Weiss-Wolf (Skyhorse, out now) explores the once-concealed experience of menstruation, placing it the current political and cultural context of the fight for gender equality and social justice. Activist Weiss-Wolf argues that periods have become a political cause; she advocates eliminating sales taxes on tampons and enacting laws ensuring access to affordable, safe products for all who menstruate.
When periods end, is there still life—and sex? Diana Richardson and Janet McGeever say yes in Tantric Sex and Menopause: Practices for Spiritual and Sexual Renewal (Inner Traditions, Apr. 2018). Menopause can be a difficult transition, physically and emotionally, but Richardson and McGeever argue that one’s sexuality can be reawakened and revitalized through tantric practices.
Finally, 40 well-known Christian women—including Brené Brown, Elisabeth Elliot, Madeleine L’Engle, Luci Shaw, Joni Eareckson Tada, and Lauren Winner—approach getting older with humor and spiritual wisdom in The Wonder Years: 40 Women over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty, and Strength by Leslie Leyland Fields (Kregel, May 2018). That’s a message that can speak to all women.