Mary Elizabeth Hill Hanchey: Fertility Grief: Turning Together

As I left the preschool, I passed a woman who was crying. Hurrying, needing to get to class, I barely stopped to ask if she were OK. I must have still been walking even as I asked – and I smiled and nodded as she responded merely that she would be.

I left the building and was walking across the parking lot when my feet stopped and something powerful turned me around– very suddenly, it felt.

Finding the woman inside, I stopped to look at her face and asked her how I could help. In this stopping and asking I learned that she was afraid she was losing a pregnancy.

Because I responded to the realization that I must go back, because I stopped and turned and sought out her face, I had the privilege of sitting with a woman who was anxious and afraid, and who needed someone who understood this story.

October closed with brisk winds, ghouls and goblins, and remembrances of the saints whose lives we acknowledged on Sunday. Everything has turned–very suddenly, it feels. Our clocks have fallen backwards into a schedule that is darker and the cold will begin seeping into our bones after a luxuriously warm fall. The mountains of my home state saw a very early snow this weekend.

We have turned to a season that is more contemplative, more about inside than outside – both physically and spiritually.

October served as a month of awareness of those who have suffered miscarriages and the loss of infants. This awareness is something that I will carry with me, even, or perhaps, especially, as I navigate the darker weeks ahead. In my own work I have begun to use the term “Fertility Grief” to describe the pain of these losses and the pain of infertility. As an online community who has been offered glimpses of fertility grief this month, we must also make a turn: we turn from becoming aware to meaningful ministry.

The seasons that lie just ahead can be excruciatingly painful for those who are so tangled in fertility grief. There are men and women in our congregations that have been trying for years to start a family. There are women and men in our congregations who have lost pregnancies and grieved without a body to bury or a service to mark their loss. There are men and women in our congregations whose children were stillborn or who were never able to carry their children home from the hospital.

How can we minister to them in the weeks ahead?

Did our faith communities acknowledge these losses as we acknowledged other deaths on All Saints Sunday? How will we address these losses at Thanksgiving when so many focus on the gift of gathering with family? How will we shape the language we use during Advent so that the entire season is not about waiting for a baby?

Where will you be when you pass someone who is aching with the fear that the child inside of them is dying? Or someone whose fertility treatment has failed this week? Or someone who child has died? What will her face look like? What will his face look like?

Will we allow God to pull us back to sit and listen? Will we work to shape the language and practices of our worship services this season so that those who grieve are welcomed–and not injured–by what happens there?

We turn together. We turn toward the inbreaking of light into our darkness. We turn toward the promise of God with us.

We turn toward a call to sit in darkness with those for whom the light is yet to come. So may it be.

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Mary Elizabeth Hanchey is a Coordinator for Project Pomegranate (look for them on Facebook), which provides spiritual resources for those impacted by fertility grief. She lives in Durham, NC with her husband and three children. She is a member at Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, NC, where she serves as the Interim Director of Children’s Music Ministries. She has recently returned to Duke Divinity School where she is pursuing an MDiv as a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Scholar.

3 thoughts on “Mary Elizabeth Hill Hanchey: Fertility Grief: Turning Together

  1. Thank you for this. As a maternity chaplain and bereaved mother I too ask the question of once October and its focus as an awareness month is over there is the now what do we do with this awareness. Thank you for asking the question so publicly and starting the conversation.

  2. I am one of those whose loss of that childhood dream of parenting still feels the sting of childlessness. Fertility problems, losses, adoptions that fell through late in the process and the eventual decision to stop, get off that roller coaster all together, and sit with the Lord in that place of anguish for a while – these create scars that are deep and although we are called to learn from and move forward it is woven into who we are and how we are in the world. It is still one of the first questions i am asked – do you have children. The answer comes more easily now than it used to. My experiences were during the 1980-90 s. I value the opportunity to be available to others- I listen deeply, understand from a place of humility and experience, and i see from where I am now how God in His way permits us the freedom to use our pain and loss for good if we will. I would love to talk with you- i live in Durham, too

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