Sunday, May 5, 2013

church


If there's one thing I've done a lot of in my life, it's church. 

I’ve fidgeted through seemingly endless elementary school chapel services.

I’ve caught the short-lived fever of confession and spiritual renewal at youth rallies.

I’ve sung from my soul in the darkness at Vespers in college.

I’ve sweated through my sundress at four-hour gospel services.

I’ve joined my spiritual family to worship under a tent the week after our beautiful church burned to the ground.

I’ve worshiped in whispers with an underground church community in Turkey.

I’ve tucked my head around the thick curtain of a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Nepal and reveled in the intoxicating chants.

I’ve stood silently and breathed the wet, sacred air inside a ramshackle leper colony church outside Kathmandu.

I’ve visited the Vatican three times and have marveled at the mystery and majesty of that space.

I’ve spent many nights sleeping in the choir loft of a dear old London church.

I’ve been forever changed by witnessing Sabbath at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

And now…I attend a massive church with several campuses and thousands of attendees. A church where I couldn’t name more than fifteen friends and most weekends, I attend services without seeing a single one of them. A church with stadium seating and its own coffee shop.

It’s a far cry from some of the other places of worship I’ve visited, but I love it. I love taking Harriet there and entrusting her to the kind-faced grandmother in the nursery. I love the loud music and that irresistible urge to not only sing along, but to dance a little too. I love gleaning the wisdom of the Word and of those who faithfully study it.

But there have been times in my life when church is the very last place I want to be. When I was small, sunny days tempted me into praying that the pastor would forget his last few points and let us out early. But as an adult, I’ve dreaded church the most on Mother’s Day.

I’m not sure why but churches make a big deal out of these parent holidays. They give flowers to the moms, candy to the dads. They share messages about how wonderful mamas are and how men need to step up to the plate. (I’m not sure why this is, but it just is.) Women and their little daughters dress in coordinating outfits while guys don shirts declaring “#1 Dad” and “World’s Greatest.” And all the while, men and women who are in the throes of infertility sink deeper into their seats and hide their broken hearts behind bulletins and Bibles.

So the year after Ethan died, I sent an email to my church leadership. I got the main template off of the Resolve website and then altered it a bit to make it more personal. 

Dear Pastors and Staff,

My name is Em. My husband and I are church members and have been attending and volunteering for about four years now.

As you know, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are quickly approaching, and I’m sure you’re busy preparing your messages.
  
Please consider the fact that 1 in 8 couples of childbearing age are struggling with infertility. My husband and I have been personally touched by this issue. We became pregnant with our son, Ethan Andrew, as a result of infertility treatments. Sadly, we lost him at about five months gestation. We started treatments a few months after his death and ended up losing a second baby very early in the pregnancy. We are still undergoing infertility treatments and after much prayer, discussion, and research, we are currently in the middle of the in vitro fertilization process. I never would have guessed that nearly two years after we first started trying to conceive, we would have two babies in heaven, and none here on earth with us. Infertility takes an incredible toll on families - emotionally, financially, relationally, mentally, and spiritually.

Infertility has stolen so much from us - financial security, relationships, even aspects of our personalities. Infertility affects couples for years after their infertility journey, even if they are able to have children on their own. 

Unfortunately, church can be one of the most difficult places to be when you have lost a baby or are struggling with infertility. Walking by the nursery, listening to announcements about kids’ programming, seeing children everywhere, hearing pastors tell stories about kids, listening to a message series on raising children, attending parent/child dedications...it all can be painful and can make church feel like an emotionally dangerous place. Many religious and social events revolve around children, and couples without them sometimes feel uncomfortable or left out of activities altogether. Because the topic of infertility involves reproduction, it is an extremely personal problem that couples face. For this reason, it is often a very difficult topic to discuss, even with a trusted pastor.

Although infertility is rarely physically life threatening, it can be devastating to a person's sense of hope. Couples often endure monthly cycles of emotional roller coaster rides, ranging from optimism and excitement to despair and depression. Infertility sometimes lasts for years and people often go through this experience in isolation, as their desire for a larger family remains unfulfilled.

I ask that you keep these points in mind, particularly during worship services, and that you remember couples with infertility in your prayers just as you honor all the mothers and fathers in our congregation. Especially as you prepare your Mother's Day and Father's Day messages this year, please know that these particular holidays are two of the most painful days for those struggling to have children and those who have lost children. These days can also be incredibly painful for single people who have never had the opportunity to have children, parents who have lost grown children, and those who are estranged from their families.

One quick word about child dedications: Please always remember to announce them ahead of time so couples facing infertility and baby loss can either choose not to attend that service or can at least be prepared for it. Being surprised by a child dedication service is incredible painful. Our son Ethan would have been dedicated at the most recent child dedication service. Sitting in that service and seeing all of the other babies who would have been his peers brought me to tears. I am not sure if it would be possible to have flowers up front on child dedication days to recognize the babies who would have been dedicated that day if they would have lived, but I thought I'd throw the idea out there. I know that child dedication is a joyous time, and I do not want to take away from that. But up to 50% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, so chances are, there are many, many families in the audience who would be blessed by a simple gesture or recognition of their children in Heaven. My husband and I would be more than happy to contribute some money if that is an issue. 

If you would like more information about infertility, please visit the RESOLVE website at www.resolve.org.  

Before I close, I want to mention that one of the pastors contacted us the day after we lost Ethan, and two pastors came to our house with flowers and prayers. I have also sought prayer about this issue after services from the prayer volunteers and have been incredibly blessed by them. I am now an after-service prayer helper because I want to offer others the same encouragement the prayer volunteers have offered me. We love this church and have no complaints. But because we have been so deeply touched by this issue, I want to be an advocate for other childless moms and dads and those who want children but have yet to become pregnant. Even if you decide not to say anything from the stage or make any changes to the way child and parenting matters are handled, I think I speak for all of us dealing with infertility when I say that we will be very grateful if you keep us in your minds, hearts, and prayers.

Thank you in advance for your consideration in this matter.

Sincerely,
Em

Both times I sent versions of this email, it went unanswered. But a few weeks later, our senior pastor spent some time in his sermon talking about the many years he and his wife struggled to get pregnant. And since then, I have noticed infertility mentioned many times. I’m not in any way saying that this was a result of my email. In fact, they may have always been sensitive to this issue. Perhaps I just missed it when it didn’t yet seem to apply to me. At the time, I questioned whether I sounded whiny or self-focused, but in retrospect, I’m glad that I spoke up.

Feel free to cut and paste portions of the above email if you’d like to share it with your church leadership. But you might be better off visiting the RESOLVE website and using the templates they have written.

To all of my infertile friends out there, may peace follow you on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. May you find a way to honor yourself and your struggle. And may church someday feel like the safe spiritual home it was meant to be…for all of us.

38 comments:

  1. What a powerful email. Your pastors, and ESPECIALLY your congregation is very lucky to have you. It really warms my heart to know that people are speaking up about things like this. I truly hope you're being heard.

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  2. girlfriend.
    i started reading this and i was like WHOA i LOVED vespers in college on sunday nights!
    then was like... this church sounds like mine!
    and soon i was like... EBC?! WHAT WHAT!
    i go there too!
    i wrote in the pamphlet EVERY.SINGLE.SUNDAY asking for prayer about our infertility struggles. these things weigh so heavy on our hearts.
    i love that you spoke up and reached out to those at the EBC office. i know God hears you too and i pray that hes working on your miracle right now. you deserve it, so so much.
    xxo

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    1. That's crazy! How cool that we go to the same church!

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  3. This brought tears to my eyes.

    As Mother's Day and Father's Day fast approach, it's hard not to look around and wonder who else in my midst is hurting silently during these holidays. Though it's never done melciously, the painful reminder of what was lost and empty arms is hard to bear in places where so many go to seek community and support. Your letter is a beautiful reminder to all communities how important it is to be mindful during these holidays of those who are struggling. Thank you for having the courage and the strength to advocate for those who feel they cannot at this time. It gives me hope.

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    1. You brought up a really good point - those of us who can advocate need to, because there are so many of us who aren't at the place in their fight yet.

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  4. How wonderful that you sent that letter. People need to speak up for those 1 in 8 and you did. I am sure it meant a lot to those families without them even realizing it... and I am sure your letter really did make a difference. Good for you for doing it and for speaking up. Really, you should be very proud.

    Also, wow, the places you have been and worshiped! I am in awe.

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Fiona!

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  5. This is amazing! I am so impressed that you sent them this letter! My personal MD strategy is just to skip church. I know. It's terrible, but I really just can't handle it. Even though everyone at my church (I go to a REALLY small church) is wonderful and kind and thoughtful about our situation, it doesn't change the fact that it's still MD and even if no one said ANYTHING about it, I'd still be a wreck. So I just save us all from that awkwardness by staying home. Escapism at its finest!! The strategy of champions!!

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    1. Good for you. I think it's an excellent idea to skip church on MD. It's a healthy boundary to protect your heart. Glad to hear that you belong to a supportive church community.

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  6. That letter was beautifully written. I also reached out to my pastor as well after our losses. For me, after our losses I felt so transparent, especially at church. Yet it was my church family who helped me cope and brought me a sense of peace.

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    1. Good for you for speaking up! And also, I'm so glad that your church family has been so wonderful. That's so important.

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  7. That is so beautiful :-) I guess even though we are going through IF I didn't really think of Mother's Day that way, I'm not sure why. It seems to me things like watching people with kids in every day life like parks or out by the beach that get to me. Our church is more on the smaller side and most know what we are going through and have offered their prayers for us. Thank you for letting me see if from another view :)

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    1. I'm glad that mother's day isn't a problem for you, but I definitely hear you about the parks/beach!

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  8. Beautiful, Em. Chris and I have decided, out of our own protection, that we will be taking a road trip to his parents house, stay in a hotel, and in general, escape this holiday. It's so tough and especially now, 4 years into infertility and facing IVF, we have to guard our hearts. I love this letter, but I still know this Mother's day will be too painful to go to church. Thank you for writing this.

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    1. Good call. I hope you have a wonderful trip. I'm glad you're taking steps to protect your heart from unnecessary pain.

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  9. Wow! I LOVE that you emailed your church. What a powerful thing for you to do not only for yourself, but for all the other women/men in the congregation who probably wish they had the courage to do so. I have a wonderful friend who always acknowledges the pain those struggling to conceive are facing on those holidays and I only wish more people did so too.

    Thanks for the idea!!

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    1. What a great friend you have! I love that she does that!

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  10. I love this. I love that you spoke up, and I love that you've noticed it being addressed, regardless of whether it was directly related to the email.

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    1. I'm really happy that I've noticed it addressed lately as well. It's so important.

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  11. Very well written e-mail for your pastors. We love attending our church as well, but you are so right. Mother's and Father's day are very painful. We are taking a trip this year and skipping out, should be lots of fun. Sorry to hear of your loss, I have endured that same pain and it is something a woman can never get over.
    Hugs to you for standing up and speaking out!

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    1. So sorry about your loss as well. You're right about it being something that sticks with you.

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  12. Good for you writing this powerful letter! There is such power in standing up and saying something, for yourself and for others. I loved it, just loved it. I do not attend church, but remember the Mother's Days where impatiens were given out to all the mothers. Now I wonder how many people were sitting in the pews, fresh off a loss or a failed treatment, made sadder by the fact that there was no flower to commemorate their potential parenthood. You are an inspiring leader!

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    1. That's exactly it...all those people sitting in the pews who don't get flowers. And sometimes they have all the moms stand up to be acknowledged. I often wonder how many childless moms who have lost their children to miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss stay in their seats. It breaks my heart.

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  13. This is perfect. Thank you!

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  14. What an amazing advocate you are for yourself and others. That letter was so on point and so full of grace and class. I hope that more churches and organizations begin to realize the effects of infertility, how many women it effects and the emotional impact that something what seems like a simple holiday can have on women like us. Kudos to you. I'll be thinking of you and all of my other blog buddies that have lost and are longing to have babies this Mothers Day. xo

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    1. How kind you are, Suzanne! I will absolutely be thinking about you too.

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  15. You're so awesome! That is so great that you are educating people about the effects of infertility. It is a small steps in increasing awareness so that others can be more sensitive to those facing this terrible fate.

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    1. Thanks so much Jessah! I hope that others catch the fire and send letters of their own!

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  16. Great post Em! I agree it is important to try to educate others, when we can, in effort to try to open minds, raise awareness and help people who want to be parents, have more children and/or have experienced loss to feel included, especially around holidays like Mother's and Father's Day.

    Last year my friend Lori from LavenderLuz.com wrote this awesome post:

    http://lavenderluz.com/2012/05/outliers.html

    I ended up sharing it with my pastor on the night before Mother's Day, whom emailed me the blessing they were planning to use the next day/that Sunday at church (which was Mother's Day). He asked for my feedback and edits to make it more inclusive. Then he proceeded to use it on Sunday with my edits! This year on Mother's Day they used the same version, including my inclusive edits, which made me smile. One of our Associate Pastors who preached on Mother's Day also mentioned mother's who have lost children during his sermon, which I appreciated.

    Here are some posts that I have written over the years on similar topics:

    http://bereavedandblessed.com/2011/06/unusual-fathers-day-blessing/

    http://bereavedandblessed.com/2012/06/fathers-day-blessing/

    http://bereavedandblessed.com/2012/05/happy-day/

    Anyway, kudos to you for doing this and keeping the conversation going in your church and community! :)

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    1. I loved reading all this stuff! Thanks so much!

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  17. You should listen to the sermon our Student Ministries Pastor, Will Peycke, shared on Mother's Day. I think you'll find it to be very encouraging.

    Follow this link: http://www.prbchurch.org/sermons.php

    Click on: "Mother's Day: Stay in the Story"
    Luke 1:5-14
    Sunday, May 12, 2013
    Student Ministries Pastor, William Peycke

    His PowerPoint in also available for you to view.

    Enjoy!!

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    1. Thanks Karolyn! I loved your post on mother's day too.

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  18. Em, you are an amazing individual. I am so glad I found you in this blogosphere because you inspire me to be a better person. I'm not exactly quiet about our infertility, but I'm also not so outspoken about it, as it makes my husband uncomfortable. What a wonderful thing you did, advocating for all those couples in your church struggling on those special occasion days.

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    1. Oh, thanks Amber! I'm so glad I found you too!

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