Assembly 2015 / Newsroom

Fertility grief workshop at CBF Assembly offers ministry resources with sensitivity, effectiveness

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June 18, 2015

By Elizabeth Starr

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Mary Elizabeth Hanchey leads workshop at 2015 CBF General Assembly.

DALLAS. — At the 2015 General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Mary Elizabeth Hanchey of Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, N.C., provided pastors, chaplains and other attendees with programming, resources and methods of ministry to congregants coping with fertility grief.

Hanchey helped her audience get inside the mind of those suffering a fertility-related loss, explaining that grieving church members aren’t always able to find comfort in the place where it should be the most readily available: their faith community.

“The story that is all of ours is a story of a young mother who became pregnant with a child without a family, without a husband, without resources,” Hanchey said. “That’s a very difficult story for people who want nothing more than to have a child but are trying again and again.”

A study performed by Hanchey found that many congregants felt unable to discuss their fertility grief with other members of their churches. Often, certain events celebrated in the church such as Advent and Mother’s Day brought excruciating pain, and even the experience of Sunday worship was difficult for some grieving congregants.

“We need to do some reframing,” Hanchey said. “Instead of making Advent a season of waiting for a baby, talk about waiting for a promise and the hope for a savior.”

Hanchey explained that many people avoid talking about their fertility struggles due to a fear of being perceived as unfaithful or void of God’s blessings.

“We need to work so that no one in our congregations has a false perception of being alone,” Hanchey said..

Attendees were encouraged to treat grief over a fertility-related loss as they would treat grief over any other loss. Hanchey stressed the need for congregants to feel validated in their grief emotions. She also addressed methods such as holding a memorial service, using validating language when counseling those in grief and avoiding any mention of miscarriage being part of God’s plan.

Having suffered from two of her own miscarriages, Hanchey was able to provide ample supporting evidence and personal anecdotes to back up her grief research.

“People just don’t bring a pot roast anymore when you have a fertility loss, but I would encourage that,” Hanchey said. “Bring food! The person who responded most quickly during my second miscarriage brought soup to my house, and that’s what you do when people are grieving.”

Hanchey is a co-founder of Project Pomegranate, a ministry that provides spiritual resources to those who have experienced infertility, miscarriage or loss of an infant, and seeks to create supportive faith communities for those grieving.

“We were aware that there were a lot of resources out there in the secular community, but there was a real lack of spiritual resources,” Hanchey said. “We’re looking to fill that void.”

Members of the audience who had experienced fertility grief commented in approval of points Hanchey made in her presentation.

“This was such a good session on grief,” said Laura Mannes, a hospital chaplain from San Antonio. “I work with many moms and dads who have had miscarriages and it was great to hear things that I can incorporate into my care.”

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