the fertility chaplain
welcome! grab some tea and get cozy.
if you're looking for compassionate support through your fertility journey, whether you're just starting to try for pregnancy or you're on your 11th round of ivf, you're in the right place. read on for some helpful faqs about adding spiritual support to your fertility team as well as information on how the hearth can help with your healing and wholeness. if you'd rather just get started with chaplaincy care, click here to zoom past the faqs.
who is fertility chaplaincy care for?
you can read more generally about interfaith chaplaincy care here, but fertility chaplaincy is specifically for people who are trying to become pregnant, those who are struggling to become pregnant, and those who are considering or currently undergoing "assisted reproductive technology" (ART) modalities like medicated cycles, intrauterine insemination (IUI), or in vitro fertilization (IVF), whether as a treatment for infertility or as a care plan for single parent or same sex parent family-building.
the biggest question i'm asked as a chaplain is whether or not folks need to be religious to benefit from chaplaincy care. the answer is that interfaith chaplains serve the strictly secular, the devoutly religious, and everything in between. spiritual care can absolutely include religion, but our spirits encompass a much wider range of aspects of self. our systems of meaning-making, our thoughts about life purpose, our conceptions of reality, our values and morals, and our desires to be part of community--each of these, in addition to any religious or spiritual practices, make up the larger "spiritual" part of ourselves, and each touches or is touched by our journeys toward hopeful parenthood.
what does a fertility chaplain do?
fertility chaplains listen deeply, compassionately, and non-judgmentally to the stories and experiences that people share, they reflect back what they're hearing, they ask clarifying and deepening questions, and they make space for people to find their own right answers in complex or difficult situations. as part of a care team, they help you tend to the aspects of spirit listed in the previous section, in the same way that a reproductive endocrinologist might tend to your body or a therapist might tend to your mind.
is it the same as coaching, therapy, clergy counseling, or talking to a friend?
while each type of person or practitioner listed above has some role in caring for the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of a person, chaplains function pretty distinctly separately from coaches, therapists, clergy/pastors, and friends.
fertility coaches and doulas assist people with planning and visioning. they generally provide access to evidence-based medical information to assist people with crafting their care plans, the pro-actively assist in setting care goals and with outcomes visioning, and they often serve as connection points to supplementary care options like mind-body medicine and relaxation techniques. coaches and doulas are the sherpas and guides of the fertility world.
counselors and therapists tend to the mental wellbeing of patients undergoing fertility treatment. they may utilize listening, mental diagnostics, treatment plans, and sometimes pharmaceutical therapies to help people achieve a degree of mental wellness most aligned with either a "successful" outcome or with healthy coping in case treatment does not produce the desired effect of pregnancy.
clergy and pastors are church leaders and teachers who are rooted in and share from a very specific religious tradition. pastors are shepherds to their congregations and help people understand their circumstances and available options through a very specific spiritual lens. they instruct and guide in conjunction with the teachings relevant to their particular faith tradition.
friends and peers are invaluable companions along the way as they know you better and more deeply than most care providers do, but one common frustration that people express is receiving a barrage of silver linings ("at least you have all that freedom without kids..."), a paralleling of similar personal stories ("oh my gosh, something similar happened to me..."), a free offering of unsolicited personal opinions ("are you even financially stable enough to start a family?"), or a voluminous library unhelpful advice ("have you tried just taking a vacation to relax?") when what people really need is just to be seen and heard.
unlike these other categories of supporters, chaplains listen, actively reflect back, and hold warm and non-judgmental space when clients are invited to explore their own personal truths. they serve as mirrors for clients rather than centering themselves and their own wisdom. the goal of chaplaincy is not to direct, diagnose, fix, or teach; chaplaincy rests on the foundational knowing that people are their own best sources of wisdom, and that through invitation to share their stories and identify relevant spiritual practice, people can experience healing no matter the outcome of treatment. perhaps most crucially, chaplains help people focus on "finding their ok" no matter the outcome of care.
my position as a companioning provider is that people are best supported when they're able to take advantage of any and all of these types of providers who might be helpful to them. the more well-rounded the team, the better!
what kinds of things do people talk about in fertility chaplaincy sessions?
in my years of sharing space with people along their fertility and infertility journeys, i've noticed some common themes. people often need to talk about:
feeling lost. infertility patients often feel completely adrift in a sea of choices, and navigating these choices both as individuals and as (sometimes) one half of a couple can leave people feeling utterly uncertain of how they'd like to proceed.
feeling isolated. as with other realities like miscarriage, the common experience of fertility struggle is something we simply don't talk about as a society, despite the large number of people affected. many of my clients feel like they have no one to turn to and no one who understands what they're going through, so they simply suffer in silence.
feeling hopelessness and despair. whether because of a loss, a lack of clear answers, treatment failure, or any of countless other hardships along the path, fertility patients can spiral into dark places that leave them without much will to continue and with no anchor for themselves within their own systems of meaning and purpose.
feeling uncertain of life meaning and purpose. most people of the path towards fertility success are walking that way because they envision themselves as parents. for some people this is personal, for some it's based in family expectation, and for others, it's part of a divine plan or expectation shared by a religious or spiritual tradition. when this vision is unable to be realized, many people can become existentially adrift and unable to envision life without the crucial and defining characteristic of biological parenthood.
feeling angry--at everybody. people may notice anger at a higher power for not providing, anger at their friends and families for not knowing how to be supportive, anger at partners who may not assign the same importance to family building, anger at friends and acquaintances who send what seem like an unending stream of baby shower invitations, or anger at the people in their social media feed who seem to get pregnant quickly and easily. and they may feel anger at themselves, or even shame, just for feeling angry in the first place. often, there isn't safe and productive place to express these strong emotions and to have them witnessed and validated.
people also share joys, small concerns, introspective questions, and every other manner of experience and emotion, but the big heavy ones are often the feelings that most desperately need to be shared--not fixed or changed, just spoken aloud and acknowledged.
how can i add a fertility chaplain to my team?
you have two options for adding a fertility chaplain to your care team: continuity or single visits. either option is completely virtual, and we meet via zoom.
continuity means that i am available to you on an ongoing basis as part of your primary care team. i'll stay abreast of your care plan, we'll meet monthly to process what you're experiencing, we'll check in weekly via email, and you'll have access to additional resources. to sign on for continuity care, click here.
single visits are stand-alone sessions for people who prefer just to have the occasional check in. they don't include care tracking, email check-ins, or additional resources, but single visits are a great way to get support when you find that you need it. you can book a visit on an equity-based sliding scale here.
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