Each week I interview someone who has experienced infertility firsthand. You may remember Lesli Westfall, founder of Dancing Upon Barren Land, from her first interview where she shared her story. Today she’s giving us some advice on starting a church-based infertility support group. Enjoy!
Q. What led you to run an infertility support group at your church?
What led me to start a Christian based infertility support group were two things: first, recognizing my own pain through infertility and second, if I hurt this bad, then there are other women out there hurting so therefore there was (is) an intense desire to reach out to those hurting like myself. As I dealt with all of the painful emotions that come with infertility I realized I found very little resources and support that was Christ-centered. As Providence would have it God answered the desire of my heart as I was asked by my Pastor’s wife to start the infertility support group at our church (Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas). HOPE – Hearts Of Promise & Expectation for women began in 2006 and has expanded to three support groups meeting at various churches across the city of Houston.
Q. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in running your group?
The challenges I’ve faced running the group came at the initial start up. I thought I had the format of the meeting all figured out. But I was wrong. Initially, I would have the women share in a LARGE group their needs, disappointments, desires or grief and then we’d break into a lesson and a time of prayer. The collective sharing of others created such a heaviness and burden, not only to myself but those within the group. The women grieve from disappointment of a failed treatment or adoption, the loss of life in their womb or just the sheer loss of a dream to be a Mommy. It’s tough and it is hard. So, eventually I had to reverse the way I conducted the meeting by bringing an encouraging scripture or lesson first, then let the women break up into SMALLER groups to share their needs. This change helped tremendously! Another challenge I face is getting the ‘word out’ about our support group, not only within our church walls, but city-wide as well.
Q. How have you seen God work through and within your group?
Oh! I have seen God work in so many ways! Women come into our groups with their marriage on the rocks, their finances depleted from treatments, or they are cloaked in grief because of a loss or their self-worth at its lowest due to infertility. But God! I’ve seen the restoration of women’s sense of purpose restored, finances have to come to those who once had no funds for treatment or adoption and I’ve seen love rekindled amongst husband’s and wives. Truly amazing! Even for those women who are still waiting…they’ve learned how to wait with joy and expectancy. They’ve learned that life hasn’t stopped due to the inability to conceive for the moment. Only God can do that! But what’s the neatest thing to me is what I call holding answered prayer. There’s nothing like seeing a woman holding her newborn babe or newly adopted child when she was told ‘there’s no hope for you to conceive’ or knowing she didn’t have the funds to adopt. Within our HOPE support group we seen over 80 babies born or adopted into families where hope was once lost due to infertility. Praise the Lord!
Q. Can you recommend some resources for other individuals who want to start their own group?
I would encourage those who are wanting to start their own support group to get educated about conducting support or small groups and educate yourself, especially in the area of grief. Also, to find a good Christian resource book about infertility to use within your group. These books are the ones I have used: Hannah’s Hope by Jennifer Saake, Baby Hunger by Beth Forbus and my own book 🙂Dancing Upon Barren Land – Prayer Scripture Reflection and Hope for Infertility. The newly-published book Plus or Minus by Matt and Cheri Appling would be good if you are conducting a support group for couples. For learning about grief, any book by H. Norman Wright is a great resource, especially his booklet, Experiencing Grief.
Q. Is there anything else you think my readers should know about starting an infertility support group?
If you plan on starting a Christian Infertility Support group gather a team of volunteers to help you, not only to prepare the room for the meeting, administrative tasks but to keep a connection among those attending your group as well.
Meeting once a month seems to work best.
If you are planning on starting a group for couples then have a couple be a group leader. Then when there’s time for prayer or sharing divide the group up into males and females. I find women will not open up as much if it is a mixed group, nor will men either!
Gather around you women who like to pray, ask them to pray for you and your group. This doesn’t have to be women within your group, but women within your church.
As a leader remember not to take everyone’s burden upon yourself. It’s great to listen to each need, but then turn over their need to the Lord.
Educate yourself about how different ethnic groups view barrenness and how different religious denominations very fertility treatments or adoption. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll discover, but this information will better suit you to minister to the needs of the group.
Be aware these days there are many different ways to have a child. Realize, as a group leader, you may not necessarily agree with the path your group member is choosing, but this is when it’s up to you to pray for them. It’s important not to judge or put your opinions on them about their fertility journey and / or how they are doing their fertility treatments. Our job as a leader is to point them to Christ through prayer who can shine a light on their perfect path to parenthood.
Special thanks to Lesli for sharing her wisdom with us today. Please leave a comment below to let her know you appreciate her. Also, if you are part of an existing infertility support group, please consider adding your group to Lesli’s list of groups across the country. You can add your list and see a list of groups on her Support Page.
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