Monday, April 23, 2012

Fulfillment in Infertility

written by guest blogger, Constance B. Fink

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.

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.  

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.

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 @ (without the spaces)

Read more Stories of Hope

Friday, April 13, 2012

Funny Cats

My daughter loves cats (wish I wasn't allergic!), and my husband makes a hobby of finding fun or funny pictures online and collecting them in a file for her.  Here are a few recent ones...

funny pictures - I think I can...

funny pictures - Now What?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Plantar Fasciitis

If you have pain in the heal of your foot or the balls of your feet when you walk, you may have plantar fasciitis.  Two years ago this summer I wondered if I had broken a bone on the side of my foot--only to find out I had PF!  Although this condition isn't as serious as many chronic conditions, it can lead to more problems if you don't deal with it.  (If your feet hurt, you won't feel like walking or know, the whole downward spiral.)  But I thought I'd blog on it today since I often run across people like me who don't know why their feet hurt (or that there are solutions).

Plantar fasciitisThe plantar fascia is a thick tissue on the bottom of the foot that connects the heel and the ball of the foot.  Here's a good overview of the condition from the NIH.

When it's really, really bad, some people even have surgery, but there are a lot of things that can help you avoid surgery (and feel a whole lot better!).

1 - Shoes
Make sure you have a good pair of shoes, with good arch supports.  Scrimp somewhere else, not on your shoes!  Going barefoot is hard on PF, so wear them as much as possible.  Crocs (Caymens/Classics) are pretty good, and are close to going barefoot for summer wear.  Some styles of New Balance (I've had good luck with 927), and Birkenstocks are some others to look at.  On you can search for shoes by condition (even if you don't buy there) to see what might be a good choice, or try a google search.

2 - Stretching 
Do it, multiple times per day, but START GENTLY.  (If you cause more tears by over stretching, you aren't helping your injury).  I've come to accept I can never stop stretching (because I stopped after I got better 2 years ago, and ended up right back where I started after a winter with less walking!)  This page has a short video demonstrating a couple of basic exercises.  A google search will turn up lots of results.

Towel stretch4 great stretches are the towel stretch, the calf stretch, the stair-step stretch, and the frozen can roll/foot massage.  This last one is really nice in the summer when you are sitting at the computer.  Put a plastic water bottle in the freezer, and then roll your foot back and forth over it as much as you can stand, up to 20 minutes, while you surf!  Much more economical than purchasing a roller!

Calf Stretch
I have actually done the towel stretch so much that I can now not only touch my toes, but cup my hands around the bottom!  This one is good for when you first wake up, before you get out of bed (that's when PF is most painful--those first morning steps).  Usually I do that one in the morning, before a walk or exercise, and at night.  The calf stretch is also important to do a few times per day, and definitely before a walk or other exercise.

If you have any stairs in your home, the stair-step stretch is easy to incorporate.  Just stop for 30 seconds on your way up the stairs.  Hold the railing for balance and let your heels hang off the edge of the step, and gently apply your weight until you feel a good stretch.

Once you get back to being able to exercise & aren't struggling with it, you may be able to go barefoot sometimes (though crocs are close to barefoot), but don't stop stretching.

3 - Activities 
Limit the activities that led to your PF and stay off of your feet as much as possible for a week or two while you do the stretches.  Then, after at least 2 weeks, or maybe a month, you can try adding back in some gentle exercise, but really keep it toned down. For example, if you usually walk 3 miles, do a short walk, only half a mile or mile at the most. Make sure you stretch before hand, or you'll regret it the next day! Gradually you'll be able to build back up and have pain-free exercise.

4 - Products and Accessories

FootSmart Passive Night Splint, Each - 10097A night splint like this one from can help.  I have also worn it on occasion during the day.  You can't walk with it on, but if you have 30-60 minutes to put your leg up and watch TV or read, that's a good time to also use the splint.  At night I tend to wear it about half the night and then kick it off.  Some people like the Strassburg sock, but I found that instead of stretching the fascia it mostly put a lot of pressure on my toes and was very painful no matter how much I tried to loosen it.  I couldn't wear it for even 30 seconds.  The manufacturer did take my return though.

Monday, April 9, 2012

More Power

"I can't get the blade off!" said my frustrated fifteen-year-old as he stormed into the room.  Earlier in the day, Dave had hurt his back trying to take the blade off our mower, and now our son was trying to remove it so that he could sharpen it.

With a calm that only can come from the Lord (because I'm not the most patient person!), I went down to see what I could do, even though my son is now stronger than I am.  Sometimes it's a matter of brain over brawn, or perseverance when impatience rushes in.

That nut sure did look like it was there to stay.  (No comments from the peanut gallery, I mean on the mower, not me!).  I tried the wrench...maybe he had reversed which way tightens and which reverses?  Right away I could see part of the problem--there's no way to get any leverage, the blade swings freely while you try to turn the nut.  I looked around for some options, and we tried having one of us stop the blade with a big monkey wrench while the other cranked on the nut.  We pushed in opposite directions with all our strength.  Nothing.

"See?!" he exclaimed. I saw.

I dug some grass that had caked on the bottom.

"That's not the problem!"

"I know, but I need to stop and think what to do here."  What we need is more power. 

I tested the waters:  "Maybe we'll need to ask one of our neighbors.  You and one of the men will be stronger than you and I."

He fiddled with something on the workbench but sounded like that might be worth considering.

"God," I prayed out loud, "we're really frustrated and we need your wisdom to figure this one out.  Please help us."

I went to find the owner's manual, that suggested using a block of wood to brace the blade while cranking the nut.  I started to think about leverage, wondering if I was using every advantage I could with the handle of the wrench when Dave came downstairs.

"I thought you were sleeping?"

"I was.  But suddenly I knew I had to get up and come down here."

God is so good!  We needed Dave's wisdom, and Dave needed to feel useful (my hero!)...and God answered all our needs!

Dave handed me the same wrench I'd been using, and a mallet.  I'm astounded by the physics--literally I barely tapped the handle of the socket wrench, and the nut turned right away.  Zach and I had used all our strength and that nut hadn't even budged!  We needed more power in every way...and God supplied.

Friday, April 6, 2012

What's So Good About Good Friday?

This blog post by Carolyn Arends is worth reading and contemplating.  A few quotes to whet your appetite...

...we grieve not only the wound but also the fact that we can be wounded. We feel that either we're not doing faith right or that faith—that Jesus—has let us down. We don't consider it "pure joy" when our faith is tested. We consider it failure.
I'm beginning to think our expectations are not just unrealistic, they're anti-gospel. 
"What do people mean when they say 'I am not afraid of God, because he is good?'" asked C.S. Lewis, musing on this idea. "Have they never even been to a dentist?"
Almost all the new beginnings in my life have come from what felt at the time like terrible endings.  


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dog Poo and Falling Too...

This might seem like a funny title for a "Thankful Thursday" post!  But my grandma used to say to learn to laugh at myself so I'd always have something funny to think about--and that works for me!

Yesterday I went for a walk, and was feeling kind of down when I started.  Then I found a penny and it reminded me of a friend who used to always throw pennies when he found them, thinking that it would make some little kid's day when he found it later!  And then it reminded me of Dave and shopping at Aldi's where you have to put a quarter in a slot to get a cart--and the joy he takes in giving his cart away to others without getting his quarter back!  So I started to smile and decided...this was a day to be thankful.

The green grass, blue sky, and sunshine--definitely something to be thankful for!

Then, a nanosecond too late to stop guessed it, I stepped in dog poo.  Then I laughed.  I'm thankful that it went "crunch" instead of "smoosh!"  Yeah, I can be kinda uncouth like that...

I walked a little farther and found another penny.  Ha!  The day's "2-cents worth."

I turned up one of the main streets in our town, and looked for a good time to cross the 5-lane road.  (My walk was doubling as a trip to the health-store for vitamins).  As I watched the traffic, I missed a foot-deep hole and face-planted in the grass.  (Am I the only person who thinks it's funny that I fell on the way to the health-store?!).  If you saw me, it's ok, you can laugh.  I did get up quickly, and hoped no one would stop!

The man at the store suggested this was a good day to be working outside, but I thought to myself, Not with my track record today!

The rest of my walk was uneventful and enjoyable.  I'm thankful I'm able to walk...remembering times when things like asthma and plantar fasciitis have prevented me.  And I'm thankful I didn't break my leg!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hidden Potential

Forsythias in full bloom
My forsythias were beautiful this year!  I was excited this spring to see them full of little yellow buds, and watched the flowers unfold in all their fiery brilliance.

Budding this spring...

Forsythias only bloom on the previous year’s new growth.  And because our bushes were trained as a hedge in front of our house (long before we moved in), the blooms are usually scanty.  I longed to see their radiance.  They had been healthy, but their glory, their potential was hidden inside.

So last year, we pruned them instead of trimming them.  We cut back a third of the largest branches so that there would be more room down low for new growth, and we didn’t trim the long, scraggly branches that shot up several feet from the top.  My son, who takes pride in his job of mowing our lawn helped me, but he complained about those ugly bushes all summer long.  They made “his” lawn look terrible! 

After pruning and a trim..."They still look ugly!" 
When people would visit, they eyed our hedges with silent disdain or a smirk, and sometimes sympathetically asked if we needed help trimming our bushes.  Indeed, one day a work crew came and almost mistakenly cut the forsythia instead of the gigantic junipers out back!   I saved my precious, beloved bushes just in time, but I did take some advice to slightly trim those scraggly shoots.  We left at least a foot of new growth on top to support the new blooms, but the bushes did benefit from that bit of cosmetic shaping. 

“They still look ugly,” my son would say.  He was right.   But this spring it was worth it to see the fruit of all that waiting.  Next week, however, they will wonder what happened. I plan to cut them down to knee height.   They have been miss-trained for too long to simply prune them, and to get the truly lovely shape as well as the color they were designed for, I have to face facts and cut them back.

Beautiful blooms treasured by a novice gardener
I’m a little intimidated because I’m not a master gardener like our Heavenly Father, who knows when to prune and when to cut us back.  Maybe those around us sometimes think our form is unsightly in the process, and they may even look at us with disdain—but God knows what he’s doing.  He knows the glory, the hidden potential of the Son shining through us.  He sees what we cannot, “providence.”  He sees (video) before (pro), and plans and works accordingly.  He longs to see our beauty, for we are his beloved.  When he cuts us back to the ground, that’s when we can know most though we may feel it least—we are greatly loved and treasured by Father-Son-Spirit who works in us for our good.  I treasure my bushes.  Think how much more the Keeper of your soul treasures you.