National Infertility Awareness Week #NIAW2021

April 18-24 April 2021
(April 24-30, 2022; April 23-29, 2023; April 21-27, 2024; April 20-26, 2025)

Infertility affects 1 in 6 people of reproductive age, which can be a real struggle for many families longing to begin their journey of having a family. There are many in our churches and community on the long road they hope leads to parenthood via IVF, adoption etc.

You might consider hosting a service, or including this in prayers. Preparing this I must confess I felt disappointed at some of the prayers on offer – condescending, patronising, dismissive, and even the ‘magic’ fertility prayers that offer a miracle. Prayers offered to people living with infertility need to show compassion, solidarity, lament. I’ll keep looking for prayers…

Lord, hear my prayer this day:
Wind in the Wilderness, guide us through
the tangled brush and the darkened paths.
May we feel You when we are lonely;
may we know Your presence when we are afraid.
Guide us across the great barriers,
through the deep valleys, and
over the mountains of difficulty.
Wind in the Wilderness, may we feel You
when we need strength and courage.
Wind in the Wilderness, guide us safely through. Amen.
(Source: Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell)

Facebook: Of Womb and Tomb

So Elise Erikson Barrett: “An essential hallmark of Christian community is to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. It takes permission and practice to be with – to patiently accompany and walk alongside – people with wisdom and love incarnate in a particular way. Our culture is extremely uncomfortable with this way of being.
“But many of our strongest congregational songs give us permission to voice fear and lament as well as praise and delight. Our Psalms, the songbook of the church, hold for us the whole range of human emotion. They model for us a raw vulnerability to God and one another, alongside communal expression of remembrance, praise, and trust. It all belongs. But if we only publicly share the bright, positive, encouraging side of the life of faith, then we stifle the voices of lament and suffering.” Your church can use books and liturgies to raise awareness about common yet often hidden losses such as infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death.

Interesting article here.
“Be fruitful and multiply”—these are the first words God speaks to humanity in the Bible (Genesis 1:28). For many interpreters and religious communities, ancient and modern, they have been taken as a command to procreate, and procreation has been understood as a primary divine directive. But these words can read very differently to those who are unable to have children. Are they somehow in violation of the divine directive – or are they somehow cursed with infertility? This is a common view both in faith communities and in critical scholarship: that, in the Bible, infertility, like other physical impairments, is somehow a punishment for sin. In the book Reconceiving Infertility: Biblical Perspectives on Procreation and Childlessness, the authors Baden and Moss push back against this reading, and the prevailing view of fertility as blessing.

In the very first chapter of the first book of the Bible, the command is given to humankind to “be fruitful and multiply.” Genesis 1:28 reads: “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’” Yet despite this blessing, there are numerous instances of infertility (barrenness) in the Bible. Many of the women in the Bible described as being barren, such as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Hannah (Samuel’s mother), Samson’s mother and Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s mother), later conceive. However, there are other Biblical women, including Michal (David’s wife), who remain barren for their entire lives. For still others, like Dinah, Miriam and Deborah, the Bible records no offspring, which suggests they may have been barren. Although some ancient interpreters tried to identify some rationale for these women’s infertility, the Bible itself attributes no faults to them. They are, simply, barren – and blameless. Baden and Moss further explain that in those times, every birth was seen as a miracle: [I]n the ancient Near East, there was a broader understanding that every successful procreation was the result of divine intervention: The deity had to “open the womb” in order for conception to occur. … [T]he opening of the womb was miraculous, despite its frequency. The absence of this miracle could hardly be a reflection of some human sin – and, in the case of the barren matriarchs, it is never described as such.
(Source: What does the Bible say about infertility?)

Article: Prayers of the Infertile: Longing, Hope, and Solidarity
At what point do we give up this hope – and grieve the loss of our hope – for a biological child? At times it seems easier to stop hoping than to live with the heartache of repeated disappointment. But it’s hard to know how to mourn when you don’t have definitive answers. Years ago, Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche communities for people with intellectual disabilities, visited a psychiatric hospital filled with orphans. Once inside, he was confronted by the eerie silence of hundreds of children lying neglected on their cots. There was no crying or commotion. “When they realize that nobody cares, that nobody will answer them,” wrote Vanier in Becoming Human (Paulist Press, 1998), “children no longer cry. It takes too much energy. We cry out only when there is hope that someone will hear us.” Dare We Speak of Hope? How does our Christian faith enable us to carry on when hope seems lost? How do we encourage one another in the context of Christian community? My answer is simple: We dare not speak of hope if we do not practice solidarity and lament.
The problem in many churches is that we largely speak in words of pithy optimism with theology about as deep as a Hallmark sympathy card. We cannot stomach the fragility of the hope we encounter in the face of people’s ongoing suffering, preferring to fortify ourselves against their pain with theological platitudes that keep us at arms’ length. Something about a suffering person unsettles the “safe” world of would-be comforters.
Biblical hope should lead us to be more attentive to present suffering, not less. Hope is not an opiate; rather, it keeps us crying out to God. Hope should lead us to groan laments because things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be (Rom. 8:18-27) – even the silent suffering of infertility. Hope is fragile, sometimes even dangerous. And yet we cannot live long without hope.

Jeff Cavanaugh: Infertility is a private issue, fraught with embarrassment and shame. Because fertility is so bound up with issues of intimacy and sex (taboo subjects in their own right), people are reluctant to talk about it publicly, especially in the church. When baby making machinery doesn’t work correctly, we’re even less inclined to talk about it – after all, the ability of men to father children and of women to carry them is a cultural touchstone of manhood and womanhood. We’re afraid that if we admit something is wrong, it will reflect on us negatively.

Books (sourced from here)

Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility, by Elizabeth Hagan. Infertility affects one in eight couples in the United States, including American Baptist pastor Elizabeth Hagan and her husband, Kevin. This memoir describes infertility’s medical, marital, and spiritual challenges, including how husbands feel. It explains how friends and counselors can accompany people without making things worse.

Free to Grieve: Healing and Encouragement for Those Who Have Suffered Miscarriage and Stillbirth, by Maureen Rank. First published in 1985, this is among the first books to explore how husbands and wives process pregnancy losses. Rank says that pregnancy loss is frequent, yet too often “an experience for which only minimal grieving is considered acceptable. Nevertheless, thousands of women know that the pain of miscarriage or stillbirth does not ‘just go away.’”

Hold Onto Hope: Stories of Black Women’s Fertility, Faith, and Fight to Become Mothers,by Stacey L. Edwards-Dunn, a United Church of Christ pastor. African Americans experience more infertility than other racial groups. Edwards-Dunn shares how she and her husband overcame infertility and includes nearly thirty accounts from health professionals and couples about therapies, surrogacy, adoption, and pastoral care.

Naming the Child: Hope-Filled Reflections on Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Death, by Jenny Schroedel, who is married to an Orthodox priest. This book is especially helpful for people who have experienced stillbirth or infant death. The author lays out what all on this journey need to tell, hear, and understand. She interviewed many families, has tips to involve other family members at stillbirth, and affirms the value of keeping materials that have touched the baby’s body. Each chapter ends with tips on how to implement ideas.

Of Womb and Tomb: Prayer in Time of Infertility, Miscarriage, and Stillbirth, edited by Kate Williams.

One review says, “Once in a great while we encounter a resource that fundamentally changes the way we do ministry. We are so moved and formed and challenged that it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to forget the sacred treasures contained within. GIA’s Of Womb and Tomb is exactly that resource.” This resource for individuals, couples, and parishes starts with five stories from women and men who have experienced reproductive loss and infertility. Most of the book is devoted to comforting songs, scripture, prayers, and rites for both personal reflection and liturgical use. GIA also sells a companion CD and music collection to supplement this book.

Our Heaven Baby, by Leah Vis, is a picture book for children. This sensitive book can help young children process sadness when their mom miscarries and they realize they won’t be welcoming a new sister or brother.

Though the Darkness Gather Round: Devotions about Infertility, Miscarriage, and Infant Loss, edited by Mary Elizabeth Hill Hanchey and Erin McClain. More than thirty lay leaders, chaplains, and pastors (including Chris Barrett and Elise Erikson Barrett) contributed devotions and prayers that move from raw grief to assurance that we are not alone. The book was produced by Project Pomegranate, which provides non-directive, spiritual resources to help faith communities support those who experience infertility, pregnancy loss, or infant death.

What Was Lost: A Christian Journey Through Miscarriage, by Elise Erikson Barrett. “When we lost that first pregnancy, I had rarely heard anyone else talking about miscarriage, yet approximately one in four pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Why didn’t these two things match up?” Barrett writes. Churches can use this book to offer a book study or miscarriage support group. What Was Lost combines personal stories from many couples, practical research, and theological reflection. Each chapter ends with reflection questions and an exercise. The book ends with prayers, songs, suggested scripture lessons, a complete sermon, and service outlines for an annual church service, a service in a home, and a worship pilgrimage.

Music

By the Babylonian Rivers,” by Ewald J. Bash. This hymn, based on Psalm 137, gives permission to grieve.

Children of the Heavenly Father” is by Carolina Sandell, known as “the Fanny Crosby of Sweden.” Ernst W. Olson translated the song into English.

Does Jesus Care?,” by Frank E. Graeff. This classic song comforts people who wonder where God was during their loss. It’s been a heart song for many African American Christians.

Give Thanks for God Is Gracious,” by Filipino composer Norman Agatep, is also known as “Praise the Lord Who Heals.” Ali Figueroa sings it in this YouTube video.

Held” was popularized by singer Natalie Grant, but Christa Wells wrote it based on experiences of people whose infants died. You can see the lyrics here. This is a song for a soloist, not a congregation.

Healer of Our Every III” and “Turn My Heart, O God” by Marty Haugen help communities affirm God’s presence even when mourners feel numb.

Of Womb and Tomb, a CD to accompany the book edited by Kate Williams, has 16 songs by Tony Alonso, John L. Bell, Liam Lawton, and other contemporary songwriters.

Precious Lord, Take My Hand” is by Thomas A. Dorsey, known as the father of black gospel music. Dorsey wrote this song after his wife and infant son died of childbirth complications.

Visitor from Heaven,” by Twila Paris, is another solo song sometimes used at memorial services for infants. You can buy sheet music here.

Iona Community members John L. Bell and Graham Maule wrote and gathered songs about grieving, sorrow, and dying in two collections: When Grief Is Raw, which includes “The Cradling Song,” and The Last Journey, which includes “How Long, O Lord.”

Taizé Community songs that express God’s presence despite despair include “I Am Sure I Shall See the Goodness of the Lord” (Spanish version: “Tengo Que Fe Veré”) and “Within Our Darkest Night/Dans nos obscurités” (Spanish version: “En nuestra obscuridad”).

About admin

Rev Sandy Boyce is a Uniting Church in Australia Minister (Deacon) in placement at Pilgrim Uniting Church, in Adelaide CBD (12 Flinders St). This blog is mainly to resource worship planners for our services, but of course may be useful for others. We have some great writers of music, words for hymns and liturgy at Pilgrim, so this blog also includes their words.
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