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listening circles

what to know

listening circle is an inclusive and affirming space where people can come to talk about their struggles with, and journeys alongside, infertility, pregnancy loss, and other complex and challenging experiences of loss.  themes differ between groups, so you may be attending:

  • 40+ fertility listening circle:  a space where people ages 40 and over can talk about struggles with primary or secondary infertility and can process the experiences of trying and of treatment.

  • pregnancy loss listening circle:  a space where anyone who has ever lost a wanted pregnancy at any phase or time can come together to tell their stories and honor their babies.

  • abortion care listening circle:  a space where people can share their experiences, distant/recent, positive/negative, simple/complicated, elective/medical, and anything in between, with nonjudgmental listening peers.


regardless of which group or groups you are in, please familiarize yourself with all of the information below, including what to expect, how to care for yourself, our community guidelines, and zoom etiquette.  this is a non-optional step, so that we'll all be on the same page and can create as safe and functional a container as possible.

LINKS TO REGISTER FOR CIRCLE will always be found at the bottom of the home page on the hearth chaplain website, and you need to register each time a new circle is held.  there's a maximum participance of 50, and you will be put on a wait list if the event is already full.  it's important for me as a facilitator to be able to anticipate our group size, so be sure to register as early as you're able. 

during circles, we will:

  • begin with some breathing and a silent moment to "arrive"

  • set the tone and all check in

  • break into small groups of 3-5 to tell our stories or answer a posed question

  • come back into circle to share common themes that came up in our sharings

  • end with a guided meditation or other relaxing practice

please bring the following with you (optional):

  • a candle

  • something to light your candle with

  • an object (anything from your house or from nature) that represents something about where you are emotionally right now

  • a journal if you'd like to do any writing to process your experience afterward

  • tissues--this is emotional work!


self care

please consider the following about self-care before a circle:

  • as much as possible, carve out a small space of time to sit quietly and relax before circle.  if this isn't possible, please come anyway--all of you is welcome here!

  • hydrate. this one seems basic, but good hydration will help your body be more comfortable while doing emotional work.

  • have a meal/snack. see above.

  • consider getting into cozy clothes if you have the opportunity. your sweatpants are welcome here.

please consider the following about self-care during a circle:

  • remember that this work can be incredibly healing and simultaneously very triggering.  please consider this your trigger warning--people will talk about struggle, about loss, about joy, about success, about complicated family dynamics. it's all big stuff.

  • if you need to step away for a breath or leave at any time, you are welcome to do so.  sometimes we hit limits, and sometimes we have spacious capacity.  honor what your body is telling you.  entry will be closed 5 minutes after start to keep a safe container for participants, so if you do need to leave the room, we welcome you back next circle.

  • you can pop away at any point for creature comforts like food, drink, or bio break by simply turning your camera off and staying in the room.

please consider the following about self-care after a circle:

  • talking about deeply emotional experiences can be exhausting. if you're able, plan a quiet and contemplative rest of your evening after circle.

  • staring into faces on zoom can also be exhausting.  see above.

  • talking and listening to others often stirs up a lot in us that can kind of feel like it's dangling in the wind after a circle.  i highly recommend journalling after circle to get your thoughts organized.

  • sometimes circle doesn't feel like enough.  if you want to schedule a 1-on-1 chaplaincy listening session after your experience, don't hesitate to reach out to me through the "let's work together" form at the bottom of this page on the "book online" tab on the top menu.

a little about the work of deep listening

being listened to--being really, deeply listened to--is something that many of us lack in our lives.  right now, it feels like everything is overwhelming, so we might not want to bother others who are likely also overwhelmed. or others may seem unavailable to us.  when we share, others may interrupt and center themselves ("oh my gosh, i know what you mean!  me too!  i experienced..."), and while they most often do it out of a genuine desire to connect, it takes away from our sharing.  others may try, again out of care, to offer solutions to our situations ("you know, you need a vacation.  i bet if you'd just relax you'd get pregnant!").  if i had a dollar for every piece of unhelpful advice i've received, i could actually afford my own fertility treatment!

in circle, we're going to start a very important, and deceptively difficult practice:  we're just going to listen.  we aren't going to "me too...", we aren't going so try to fix it or make suggestions.  we aren't going to respond to other people's sharing with "cross talk" commentary.  we're just going to make a safe space where we can each put our stories.  don't worry--i'll be your guide in this work.

listening, not solutioning.

what we can do, especially in small groups, is let someone tell their complete story, without any interruption, and then if there's time left after they feel complete, we can, with their permission, ask them honest, open questions about their experiences.

honest questions:  these are questions that you can't already know the answer to and that aren't advice in disguise.  "have you thought about therapy?" is NOT an honest question because its suggesting a possible "right" solution.  "what's worked for you to heal through similar situations?" IS an honest question, because it isn't advice and you don't know what their answer will be.

open questions:  these are questions with big expansive answers rather than answers that shut down exploratory thinking.  "was that an awful experience?" is a closed question, because it can only have a yes/no answer (and it makes an assumption about what a person is feeling).  "how did you feel when your embryo transfer failed for the final time?" is an open question, because the person can then work through and narrate the complexities of their own emotions.

it's called "a practice" because it takes practice.  as you work on your skills simply listening to people's experiences, asking permission to ask questions, and then asking only honest/open questions, you'll make mistakes (i know i did and sometimes still do!).  in the spirit of learning and growing, if you're grouped with someone who asks you a question that doesn't fit those categories, ask them kindly if they can reframe it as an honest and open question.

talking about community care

by participating in listening circles, you are affirming that you agree to build a safe container for other people present.  that includes but is not limited to:

  • respecting the variety of cultures, nationalities, races, ethnicities, religious/spiritual beliefs, and language dialects or accents that might be part of our group.

  • understanding that gender identity is broad and individual, and that each person's shared identity is to be defined by them and respected by the rest of us. 

  • understanding that socioeconomic status, privilege, marginalization, systemic oppression, access to healthcare, and access to health insurance are different for all of us and each contribute to how we can access safe and effective and equitable care.

  • examining with openness and curiosity how the various facets of our own identities shape how we think, what we believe, what we experience, and how we encounter the world.

  • knowing that is is not your job or mine to give medical advice to participants in circle.

  • knowing that neither you nor i should ask participants for medical advice in circle.

  • committing to seeing the wholeness and validity of the experience of others and resisting the urge to compare pain.  a 4-week pregnancy loss is a pregnancy loss, as is a 39-week loss, and while the physical experiences entail very different things, both are painful emotionally and spiritually.  a person who has never been able to get/stay pregnant (primary infertility) grieves this situation, as does a person who has given birth before but can't get/stay pregnant now (secondary infertility)--both of these people struggle alongside infertility.  a person who terminates a pregnancy for logistical reasons has as much right to complex feelings as does someone faced with fetal non-viability.  this is big work, and you need to be in a place in your own long and winding healing process where you can accept and empathize with others' pain without comparing it to your own.  whew.  big breath.  

  • committing with grizzly-bear-fierceness to double confidentiality meaning that:  1) you don't share anyone's personal details from circle with anyone else for any reason (not ever), and 2) that you do not discuss what is shared in circle on social media or in future circles, even with the person who shared unless specifically invited to do so.

some of these community care commitments sound easier than they actually are, but the one thing we can all do is strive to show up and do our best, to acknowledge when mistakes are made, and to move and grow along.  your participation in circle is your commitment to do your best.


life in the zoomiverse

if you are not familiar with the online meeting platform zoom, please carve out some time before the day of circle to check it out.  in your registration confirmation email, you will be given a link to our meeting and a password.  when it's time for circle, simply click on the link, enter the password when prompted, and i will let you into the room.

if order to keep a predictable and closed container, the room will open five minutes before start time and will be closed to arrivals five minutes after start time.  if you are late, leave, or get booted off line, you will need to join us at our next meeting time.  there's only one of me, and it isn't possible for me to be present for participants and "working the door".  thanks for your understanding!

other things to know about zoom etiquette:

  • if at all possible, please use a computer rather than a smartphone for circle.  you can absolutely use your phone if needed, but large groups can be easier to navigate from a computer. 

  • if you've never used zoom before, please consider trying a practice round before circle day with someone who has, and be sure to sign on 5-10 minutes early so that software can install on your computer if you've never accessed zoom from that device.

  • you will be muted when you join.  in order to cut down on background noise, please stay muted at all times unless you're speaking, otherwise the night will be all barking dogs and doorbells.  when you finish speaking, please re-mute yourself.  if you notice that you become unmuted moving to and from small groups (breakout rooms), please remember to re-mute.

  • try your best to find a quiet place to participate in circle, and use headphones if someone in your immediate area is within earshot of our confidential circle sharing.

  • as soon as you sign in, you can rename yourself by clicking the three dots in the upper right of your image.  please rename yourself your first name and last initial, your pronouns, and your home state or country.  I would be "Abby L (she/her) Maine".

  • in the far top-right of your computer screen, you can toggle between "speaker view", which centers the person speaking in a large frame, or "gallery view", which gives you the mega "brady bunch" frames.  studies show that it's more fatiguing to look at tons and tons of faces, so you may prefer speaker view.

  • you can also hide your camera from yourself by clicking the three dots where you renamed yourself, and selecting "hide self view".  some people find it very distracting to see their own faces during sessions, so if that's you, rather than turning your camera off, please just select "hide self view".

  • please do not use the chat function unless there's a prompt to share information there.  i'm not able to facilitate a large group and read chat messages regularly.  if you urgently need to get my attention in the large group setting, please use the "raise hand" function so i can see you.

  • in order to keep our space private from prying eyes, please do not share the zoom link and passcode directly with anyone.  please do invite friends who fit the group description, but do so by sending them the link to the hearth chaplain website and having them register there.

final thoughts

this is a large download of information, but it all boils down to this:  always be kind, when in doubt mute on zoom, and i'm so glad you're here.  i'll review details at the beginning of our time together, and we should have plenty of spaciousness to share our stories.

want to work together?

get in touch here, or click "book online" at the top menu bar, to schedule private chaplaincy time.

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