The first time I attended a small group meeting with Sisters of Hannah, I don’t think I actually said one word the entire hour-and-a-half—partly because I was still in disbelief that I shared anything in common with other women who were dealing with infertility and pregnancy loss. I recall getting in my car and thinking, “Hmm…this was probably not a good idea for me.” I really can’t deal with my stuff and also absorb the emotions of other people dealing with this issue.
It was a journey to realize that I couldn’t lean on my family for emotional support and found myself back at the next small group meeting. Over that next year, I came to appreciate that, for at least for two hours each month, I didn’t think I was the only one living in this space. Oddly, even if I said nothing the entire evening, I felt seen and heard.
I was a newcomer to this land and there were women in this small group who had been in this wilderness for several years. The conversation was always organic, covering practical, emotional and spiritual topics. My husband had just stepped out of a failed business, and I did not have the type of health insurance that covered fertility treatment. While I accepted the story that God was writing for me, it all seemed unfair.
Shortly after our diagnosis, my husband and I started attending a small group of Newlyweds on the Hill (NOTH), led by Mike and Sara Kruger. During our first meeting, by chance, I heard Sara share with a woman about her inability to bring a pregnancy to term. Weeks later, I got the courage to tell Sara about my situation.
As my husband and I moved forward with Intro-Vitro Fertilization (IVF), we only shared our updates with Mike and Sara. They knew exactly what we were dealing with (decisions, financial realities, etc.), and they allowed themselves to revisit their pain to support us.
When my friend Melissa Cummins and I started Shiloh, a small group for couples experiencing infertility and pregnancy loss, we clearly understood that a group like this is not for everyone. My hope is that the presence of Shiloh sparks us to be more sensitive to those in our community who are struggling in this place. I wanted to create the same safe place that someone else made for me. Some have lived this journey a lot longer than I have, and have carried heavier burdens than I have had to carry. Others have had no challenges conceiving and successfully giving birth. All of that said, I have found that even among a group of mothers who live in both of these worlds, it is difficult to share the challenges of infertility or pregnancy loss. Few people are comfortable volunteering that they just had a miscarriage after an evening discussing toddler discipline or working on a scrapbook.
For our community of parents, my question is: How do we ensure families who are traveling the road of infertility, pregnancy and infancy loss feel seen and heard?
This question has many answers, and I pray God reveals those answers through your unique relationships with other couples/families in this situation. Deep empathy, steadfast concern and lavish love most often occurs in one-on-one interactions. Below are a few thoughts based on my personal experience and my experience leading Shiloh.
Be Transparent. Like Sara Kruger, challenge yourself to be transparent about your journey.
Be Observant. Notice when people opt out of children-centered events or don’t attend church on certain Sundays (e.g., Mother’s Day, Christmas Eve). Look for opportunities to connect with that person one-on-one during that period – not necessarily to discuss their pain, but to let them know you notice when they are gone.
Remember With Someone. If you lead a small group for women or couples, consider sending an email highlighting National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month (October). Identify local opportunities for women who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss to remember their precious babies, and actually offer (if you feel so led) to attend with anyone who wants to go.
None of this is easy or comfortable. But I pray that you are open to what God presents to you in this area. Please feel free to reach out if you have questions about Shiloh, or may be considering starting a similar small group at your campus.
Dannielle Pearson Hawk attends NCC’s Lincoln Theater campus. She spends much of her time in the corporate world as a coach to senior leaders and executives who are in the process of transforming themselves and their organizations. Dannielle is a native of sunny San Diego, California who enjoys life in the DMV especially during the Fall months. She lives in downtown Silver Spring with her husband Austin and a preschooler by the name of Deacon who sometimes refers to himself as Chase (from Paw Patrol).