Born Perfect

By Elizabeth, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

“What would you do if you broke your leg?” The question every Christian Scientist kid has had to answer numerous times. My Sunday School teachers and my family gave me the script for it: “Well, I’ve never had that happen, but if we ever had a problem we couldn’t address with prayer, then we would go to the hospital.” The Christian Science brand of denial is enormously powerful; I was still giving this speech when I was eighteen years old and had never had a menstrual period or completed puberty, and had never been taken to a doctor for a diagnosis.

I was told that, “whatever is going on, we know” that I was “born perfect.” Every year at my birthday, there would be some Christian Scientist relative mumbling about “oh, well, dear, you know your mother didn’t get it ’til she was fourteen,” and then the next year, “the neighbor’s granddaughter didn’t get it ’til she was fifteen,” and then, “well, my friend knew someone who didn’t get it ’til she was sixteen.” I was sent to Principia Upper School when I was fifteen, which was a neat way to end the debate, as medical intervention was not allowed there. Then there were just the school breaks to negotiate; I never knew when a shame bomb would be dropped. At a holiday, chatting in groups in the living room after a family dinner, a relative would question me about my period and give some Christianly Scientific advice.

The theology I was held to account to was grindingly inconsistent, although having been raised in it I was rarely able to detect this fact, only able to feel the emotional upset and frustration caused by it. One grandmother made frequent oblique departures from Christian Science doctrine to hypothesize about how perhaps I’d never gotten my period because I was overweight. Once in a while my dad would ask if I wanted him to “do some work” for me, which always led me to uncontrollably wonder how long it had been since the last time he’d offered, and at what point that previous round of “work” had just dropped from his consciousness, the state of denial resumed. My internal state was that of private torment and prayer.

I was very occasionally told that, “It’s your choice if you want to go to a doctor,” regarding my ‘problem’—mostly after I was eighteen and I was expected to take care of myself—but it didn’t feel as though that was an option, really. It took me years away from the Christian Science church before I found going to a doctor comprehensible, and still, then, it was terrifying. I finally went to a doctor on my own when I was 25 and found out that I was born without ovaries. An “infantile uterus” seen on the ultrasound, the fallopian tubes just trailing off, two different lengths.

This is not a Christian Science tragedy. No one lost their child or their limb or the last thirty years of their life. But it’s ridiculous, is what it is. This is what’s ridiculous about Christian Science: for thirteen years, from about age twelve to twenty-five, I waited and prayed for my period to start. I waited and prayed for puberty to finish. I wondered if I was going to be able to have children. And I was sometimes made to feel that I was not doing enough, was not deserving enough, was not diligent enough in my studies or something, for my body to ovulate, when in fact there were no ovaries in my body.

If my parents had taken me to a gynecologist around the age of thirteen, or maybe fifteen, which is about the latest I think a non-Christian Scientist family would have waited under the circumstances, we would have been given the diagnosis: ovarian agenesis with accompanying primary amenorrhea; infertility. We would have been told that I had not been “born perfect.” I would have appreciated having that information very much. Because ages 12-25 were no goddamn picnic for me, I have to tell you.

Everything about my sexuality was frozen in early adolescence. Puberty seemed to have begun around age ten, and then ground to a strange halt. The more time passed, the more the dynamic became that of my adult woman’s body not belonging to me, for it stubbornly refused to develop. Instead it belonged to God, or Christian Science, perhaps. My developed body and adult sexuality would be released into my possession only if I was pure enough. It could be obtained by studying those two leather-bound books marked with blue chalk each week. I genuinely do not think my parents realized how messed up it is to put a teenager in this position.

As a decade passed, and I grew up without growing up hormonally, or entirely physically, this sense of my sexuality being on hold and not belonging to me became conflated with my perceptions of dating and relationships and the fact of my lesbianism. I find it very hard to put into words what it was like to be a gay Christian Scientist. There weren’t any words, for as long as I was a Christian Scientist. No one told me that I had to be this way instead of that way, or defined morality as exclusive to heterosexuality. I understand that must sound like a positive, but it might have possibly been more helpful than the complete silence, because I would at least have had a definition; something to react against is at least something.

Until I was able to break through the denial system of Christian Science and go in search of my diagnosis, I felt that nothing of the world of adult sexuality was meant for me—not dating, not intimacy, not being straight, not being gay, and of course not being a woman with boobs and a period. I remained almost completely divorced from my own sexuality and very out of touch with my own body until I began my relationship with my wife-to-be, within a few months of that first doctor’s appointment. We have been together for sixteen years now, and our union has led both of us steadily away from dysfunction in our relationships and in our lives, and me away from Christian Science.

7 comments

  • Synergy

    A tragedy, even if nobody died, as you say. I’m glad you are in a wonderful marriage now!

  • Melissa C.

    “Ridiculous” is the perfect word for it. I read your story with the same incredulous reaction I have had to to all the Ex-Christian Scientist life experiences I have been reading, the same incredulous reaction I have had as I have delved into my own past raised in this unfathomable religion. I appreciate you sharing your very frightening, embarrassing and horribly-dealt-with situation and I hope it helps others to see the lower case “t” truth about CS and get out before more damage is done to them and their families. This is a very eloquently written, intelligent and heartfelt piece. Thank you!

  • Susan A.

    I had kind of the opposite experience. My mom was very concerned that I had not yet begun having periods when I was 13. I did finally start at the end of 8th grade. My mom then told me that she was so worried about me that she called a CS practitioner – and that’s why my periods began. So I guess I have a CS practitioner to thank for my sexual development!

  • Amy

    Thanks for sharing this. Wouldn’t it be something if we could go back and hold our younger selves’ hands, and walk them through these crazy times?

  • Amanda MacNaughton

    Thank you for sharing this valuable piece, Elizabeth. My experience was somewhat opposite too. I began my periods at age 10, when I still wanted to be a little girl. This is still a complete mystery as I was not overweight, was not exposed to a lot of sexual material (one theory for why early puberty happens), and no other women in my family started this young. It was very traumatic for me. My family dealt with it OK, except I remember my mom telling me now I could get pregnant, which was so far from anything I was inclined to do at that time that I was really sad and upset! Also, a friend told me I could now be considered a woman, and I didn’t want that at all. Just another example of the idea that it’s our fertility that makes us women. Ugh!

  • Chrystal

    I feel angry about the part where your extended family felt it was their business to comment on your period. The only person who knew my period started was my step mom. And she hadn’t given me warning about it so I thought I had pooped in my pants and didn’t know it. And after like 3 days of that, I finally very embarrassed went and asked her what to do. Then I was told about my period.

    But it seriously bothers me that your extended family felt it was their right to embarrass you at every single large family gathering. I would grow up hating major Christian holidays if that had happened to me.

    It amazes and disgusts me how much Christian Scientists think all issues that should rightly have medical attention are their business when it’s other people. But they will hide if they need some attention OR they will go to the doctor and tell no one.

    I am tired of the hypocrisy. The secrecy. The shaming. This is shaming behavior and abusive behavior.

    I know they are your family and maybe you love them and I am sorry if I have spoken too strongly. But I also want to acknowledge this shaming by family members who proclaim out of their same mouth that they are being loving.

  • Cali

    My heart goes out to you. I’m sorry you went through that. But I am happy you found love in your life that is wonderful!

    Me having been born/raised in CS with a total dysfunctional family/Mother.. Never told me about starting my period, her being too involved with her many men/husbands and drinking, but still throwing CS at us as like it was some kind of medicine.
    So she would not have to deal with us.

    Maybe that is because her mom ( my grandmother) did the same thing to her? Who knows, a vicious cycle.

    I watched my sister/mother/grandmother suffered and died, partially clinging to CS.
    It was very sad to watch.

    I am trying to break free from all the memories, people, stress of being a CS. Each day becomes easier and happier. I am not trying to erase of pretend like it never happened I am try to feel the pain and memories and get better.
    With help from this site, and books that I am reading. I know it will take time, I am looking forward to learning more about me, and getting healthier…

    Thank you for all these articles and links…