Today is Mother’s Day. But I am not celebrating as most women.
My ears will never hear a child call me, “Mommy.” My arms will never feel the contented wiggle of a nursing baby. My dream as “Mother of the Bride” will never be realized.
A lifelong desire was to be a friend to my children, to give them special memories like my mom gave me. Memories like shopping with my little girl. Crafting a science project with my boy. Teaching my daughter how to sew. Cuddling in bed on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons. Preparing my son for his bride by teaching him how to respect a woman. Preparing my daughter for her family by modeling how to make a house a home. Most importantly, guiding my children to a personal relationship with God. But these dreams are unfulfilled.
Though I have not felt the pain of childbirth, I have felt the pain of childlessness. Both equally intense, yet different. One lasts for hours, the other may last for years. One results in a happy ending, the other may not. The pain of childbirth is felt in the body; childlessness is felt in the heart. By nature, I am a nurturer. The loss I feel from not having children runs deep.
Twenty years ago I was diagnosed with endometriosis, a painful chronic condition often affecting fertility. Women can have babies after treatment with surgery, pain medication, hormonal therapy, and nutrition. I clung to the options with hope.
The first step was to chart the time of ovulation through a non-invasive test. I simply had to record my temperature the same time every day over a period of months. The goal—to find the few hours every four weeks when fertility could occur.
My husband, Dave, and I waited each month with anticipation. I browsed the baby stores and ooh’ed over the little shoes. I smiled when I saw mothers pushing babies in strollers, my arms literally aching for my own. I mentally decorated the baby’s nursery, down to the detail of the placement of the stuffed animals. We even chose names.
But then, one spot of blood unleashed a torrent of tears. Reality flooded in with my menstrual cycle. Just a few hours earlier, my arms longed for the fulfillment of my dreams; then in a matter of minutes my heart felt like it ripped in two. I grieved as though I had lost a child to death. In a sense, I had. My child had been within reach; now he was snatched away. Though I had not made it to the point of taking a pregnancy test, my baby was real. He had a name. He had a place in our hearts.
Physical pain, associated with endometriosis—burning, stabbing, gripping pain so intense I was unable to open my eyes. Medication brought no relief; it only left me in a daze. There was nothing I could do to stop or control it, causing me to fear my own body.
As I writhed and screamed similar to labor, I cried: A normal woman would have a baby to show for all this suffering. The anticipation would help her persevere. I have nothing to show but sweat-drenched sheets! When my body could endure no more, the pain subsided. But it was not over yet. Dry heaves and involuntary physical shakes began, leaving me totally exhausted.
This continued month after month. The emotional roller coaster wearied me. Relax, our fertile friends said. Give it time, the doctor said, although I had just turned thirty and thought time was working against us.
We continued the routine of temperature charts. And tried to relax. Additional tests ruled out other possible conditions. There was nothing keeping us from having a baby, except endometriosis. We scheduled laparotomy surgery, a procedure to open the abdominal cavity in order to remove the growths and lesions from the condition.
The doctor told us he “got it all” and that the most optimal time for pregnancy was within the first year after surgery. With renewed hope, we focused on getting pregnant. But close to the end of the year and enough temperature charts to wallpaper a room, it seemed I was not one step closer to having a baby. The pain had returned as strong as ever. The endometriosis had grown back.The next levels of tests and treatments were discussed. With the sky the limit in infertility treatment, each couple decides their emotional, physical, and financial limits. How far were we willing to go? The decision was easy.
We chose not to pursue infertility tests with treatments which required readjustment to my hormonal levels. I was at risk for breast cancer. My mom died from it the previous year.
Losing my mother at the time I was desperately trying to become a mother affected my ability to cope not only with her death but also with my barrenness. My mother modeled the type of nurturing mother I wanted to be, but I had no avenue of expression. She passed her baton to me, but I had no place to run with it.
To further complicate matters, my brother and his wife decided to start their family and within weeks they were pregnant; now eighteen years later they have nine children. The phone call to announce their first pregnancy is the one embedded in my memory. It came while reading a book on infertility.
Trying to respond as an adult to my sister-in-law, grieving the loss of my mother, and balancing hope and reality regarding my own barrenness made those years a challenge. It was difficult to keep the issues separate. Most of the time I felt stuck in what seemed like a net over me. But God cut the entrapment and freed me.
GOD ENCOURAGED ME
First, God provided a friend, someone who had walked a similar path but made it to the end. My pastor’s wife not only lost her mother to death, but also went through an extended time of infertility. She knew! She cheered me on when I had strength, held me when I felt depleted, and helped me refocus when I could not see the next step. She passed her baton to me, nurturing me with encouragement.
GOD USED ME
Eight years later, in a phone conversation with my sister-in-law, I spoke of a night when Dave and I had nothing to do. We decided to go out for dinner. . .three hours away! Within minutes we were on our way. When I finished my story, my sister-in-law was quiet. “Are you there?” I asked.
Slowly and quietly she responded, “I’m struggling with jealousy.”
“You, jealous of me? What do you have to be jealous of? You have everything I want!”
She longed for spontaneity. She and my brother used to have it, but not since the children came. A few hours of freedom required days of planning to arrange for babysitters, schedules and supplies. It was as if a light clicked on and I saw things about my situation I had not seen before—I had something others wanted. For the first time in years I saw what I had. Our friends had children, but we had freedom. Not only were we free to enjoy our marriage, but we were available to serve others. Rather than seeing childlessness as a loss, I began to see it as a gift. God gave it to us not to impair us but to use us.
Late one night we received a phone call asking for prayer for an elderly couple in church who, after a serious car accident, had been transported to a hospital a couple of hours away. We knew what we had to do. By the time we hung up the phone we were out of bed and half dressed. Within minutes we were on our way. No one in our church of elderly widows and young parents could have gone. That night I passed my baton, nurturing one in need…not my child but an elderly couple.
GOD HEARD ME
For years I avoided anything to do with Mother’s Day, especially card shops and mother daughter banquets. I had nothing to celebrate. The thought of watching mothers and daughters together made me shiver in emotional pain. But after a friend shared a couple of ideas for the annual mother daughter banquet, I thought I would try to attend. (Then she put me on the program to be sure I would not back out.)
But grief came over me like a tornado a few hours before the dinner. I was not expecting it, especially not that day. I have to get a grip before evening. I asked the Lord for a verse, something to lean on through the event.
As I read Isaiah 61:4, God reminded me that He “bestowed a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Even though I mourned the loss of my dream and my mother, I was glad for her example and the memories. I did not have ashes to show for it—I was not in despair with regrets. As I thought about the banquet that evening, I knew there would be some mothers and daughters in difficult relationships. Stepping away from my own grief for a few hours, I gained the desire and strength to encourage others.
Then God did something creative. Unknown to me, a few days earlier, a co-worker had entered my name in a drawing for a bouquet of flowers. I won! On the very day of the banquet! As I carried the huge bouquet back to my office, it was as though I was holding a “crown of beauty” from God, a visible reminder that He heard me, was with me, and had created me with individualized purpose.
I would have liked to be with my mother that evening, but instead I took her memory. I would have liked to share the evening with a daughter, but instead I took comfort in being God’s daughter. That night was the first of many opportunities to pass my baton with joy and strength, nurturing…not my child but other mothers and their daughters.
A few years later on Mother’s Day, trays of colorful annuals decorated the front of our small church. The pastor asked the children to come to the front and all the “mothers” to stand. The children gave a plant to each one standing. I was the only woman sitting; I wanted to hide. Then I heard a child’s voice nearby and I looked up. Before me was a smiling seven-year old girl holding a beautiful pink plant. “This is for you, Mrs. Fink. You are a mom!”
Fulfillment and contentment is not measured by childbirth, but by responding to opportunities to give to others, no matter their age or residence. This is what gives a woman a mother’s heart. Today is Mother’s Day… and I am celebrating!
Endometriosis is a painful, chronic condition that affects five and a half million women and girls in the United States and Canada, and millions more worldwide. The condition occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus is found outside the uterus, usually in the abdomen on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and other abdominal areas, including the bladder and bowel.
The misplaced tissue develops into growths or lesions which respond to the menstrual cycle in the same way that the tissue of the uterine lining does—each month the tissue builds up, breaks down, and sheds. Menstrual blood flows from the uterus and out of the body through the vagina, but the blood and tissue shed from endometrial growths has no way of leaving the body. This results in internal bleeding, breakdown of the blood and tissue from the lesions, inflammation, scar tissue formation, and adhesions.
The symptoms include: pain before and during periods, pain with intercourse, fatigue, frequent urination during periods, painful bowel movements during periods, other gastrointestinal upsets, and frequent yeast infections. Infertility affects approximately 40% of women with endometriosis. For more information, contact the Endometriosis Association
Practical suggestions to help ease your pain of childlessness:
Pamper yourself on Mother’s Day. Don’t make it just a Sunday in May. Plan something that is special to you.
Write a letter to the child you dream of.
Ask your gynecologist to schedule your appointments when the waiting room is not full of pregnant women.
Take care of a pet, something to love, and something that will return affection.
Eat well. Good nutrition is a significant factor in the relief of physical discomfort.
O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.
You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.
(Psalm 139: 1-18 (NIV)
© 2003, shared by permission
Constance B. Fink was raised as the pastor’s daughter of a large metropolitan church in New Jersey. She has a degree in psychology from The King’s College in New York, and has worked at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and in the Counseling Center at Bradley University. She has also been director of Christian education, church secretary, church librarian, and coordinator of several women’s programs. Married for twenty years, she and her husband are currently members of a quiet community and rural church in northwest Illinois. Her articles have appeared in Bible Advocate’s Now What magazine, Voice Magazine, Charisma, New Wineskins, Rest Ministries Newsletter, and local newspapers.
Email Constance B. Fink at: cbfink @ yahoo.com (without the spaces)
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