How to start an in-person infertility group or ministry
When putting together this blog post, we asked our followers over on Instagram (or “Fruitful Followers, as we like to call them!) whether they had ever tried to start an in-person infertility support group or ministry in their area. Most of you (94%) said you have never tried; 3% said you had tried but it didn’t work out, and 3% said you had tried and it worked well. We asked what prevented you from trying or what went wrong, and your responses fell into these main areas:
I’m not sure my parish/diocese would support it
I’m not sure where to start or how to find people to join
I don’t know if there is enough demand for it in the parish (I don’t know of other infertile couples, infertility isn’t talked about in my parish, I feel like I’m alone etc)
I’m nervous about leading (I’m too introverted, I’m not ready to be that vulnerable, I’m still processing my own journey, I’m not a natural leader etc)
I don’t want to be the only one responsible for keeping it going
I don’t have the time or mental energy to plan it alone
The initial attempt went well but then the leader got pregnant or left
Not many people showed up
Our intention with this blog post is to address some of the common obstacles women face when discerning whether to begin a group or thinking about where to start. We also want to share the lessons that other ladies have learnt in the process of attending or establishing a group or ministry. With that in mind, here is what the rest of this blog post will include:
What I learnt when I attended a group. A short account from a Fruitful Follower who attended a group which came up against difficulties;
How we started an in-person spiritual support group. An account from Chelsea (our Theological Editor) who collaboratively established an in-person support group;
How I hosted an in-person retreat. An account from Marie, who organized a weekend retreat, about what she learnt from the challenges she faced;
How I founded an in-person ministry. An account from Danielle, who founded a ministry which now serves two areas as well as offering online participation;
Where to start. Five ideas for where to start if you’re unsure.
But what if… Some helpful guidance to address common concerns.
An invitation. Chance to tell us about a group you host or attend.
What I learnt when I attended a group
An account from a Fruitful Follower about attending a parish group
I wanted to share a few words about the infertility ministry at our church. It was started by a priest who has a heart for couples struggling with infertility and miscarriage. He was such a help to us personally as we were going through the thick of it. The group met monthly on Saturday mornings after Mass. It was a very small group but we found it helpful to connect with other couples going through what we were. Unfortunately, the priest was moved to another parish and the pastor of our church and new priest (both awesome priests and very holy men) did not share the same gifts in walking with couples like us. The diocese has tried to start a ministry but it doesn’t seem to be getting any traction unfortunately. We met to share experiences and ideas but there hasn’t really been any follow through.
How we started an in-person spiritual support group
An account by Chelsea Voboril about Ladies in Waiting, a spiritual support group in Kansas City.
Formed in 2019, Ladies in Waiting, as we came to call ourselves, started with 5 women meeting in one of our apartments, most of us meeting for the first time. Most of us were connected through a mutual acquaintance who encouraged us to meet and share our hearts with each other. So while we did have to figure out the fine details ourselves—where we’d be meeting, how often, how we’d structure our time—it was really an outside encouragement that spurred us to get started. It took several months to figure out our groove and exactly what we were needing from such a group.
After spilling our stories of pain and grief and emptiness, we quickly realized that letting each gathering become a vent session would not be helpful. We had other places to go for medical advice; we needed this to be a spiritual haven. And so while we give new members time to divulge their stories, and give a brief time each meeting to update each other on what’s happening in regards to our infertility—our medical provider’s plans, health issues we’re coming across, surgery updates, marriage issues—we really strive to keep the bulk of the meeting prayerfully minded.
We also realized we didn’t necessarily want one person to be in charge of the group. The group could (hopefully) be temporary for any one of us, and so with the understanding that getting pregnant, going through an adoption, or any other life event could happen which could cause us to take a break or leave, we quickly fell into a routine of rotating who was in charge of developing content for the evening. And that has really been beautiful to experience in our group.
Each person’s spiritual life is so unique and complex, so the variety of spiritual exercises has also been diverse: we’ve colored pictures, we’ve prayed the stations, listened to podcast episodes, clung onto Scriptural verses…even gave ourselves a break with our own spa night. The way we’ve been able to pull spiritual themes out of infertility has also been fascinating to behold; this cross is very multifaceted.
Our group has stayed fairly consistently small, between 2-5 members at any given point. For the most part, people who have joined have been invited by word of mouth. Some discussion has been had about advertising ourselves. While we appreciate the intimate nature, we also want other women to know we exist and we’re happy to accompany them. The future is very open as far as what topics, books, and revelations we’ll have as a group and who will pass through our doors.
How I hosted an in-person retreat
An account by Marie Justin about Fullness of Life, a weekend retreat.
I had the idea to host a retreat for women experiencing infertility and/or pregnancy loss back in 2019. The dream finally came to fruition in October 2022! Planning the weekend did come with its challenges, but it was an incredibly beautiful weekend, with lots of rejuvenating activities and conversations with those who understand these crosses.
For many going through infertility/pregnancy loss, there is the additional cross of financial strain. I wanted to avoid impacting the quality of the retreat and really make it special, so I raised money to help relieve some of that strain for others. I highly recommend fundraising and asking your diocese or parish to help by sponsoring retreatants.
Another major hurdle I faced was finding a priest to say Mass for us. I started looking 3 months before the retreat and the priests I contacted were already fully booked. I probably should have done that before even booking the center because I was never able to find a priest who was available. We had to drive into town which wasn't a problem, but it would have been special to have a private Mass with a special homily. I would recommend finding a priest 6 months in advance.
The other challenge I faced was women being nervous to come and so not signing up. I think I could have done a better job of explaining up front exactly what we would be talking about so that the fear of having to open up too much would lessen. I left so much choice and space for the women over the weekend. They didn't have to share, they didn't have to attend everything, they didn't have to do anything they were not comfortable with unless they wanted to push themselves.
Overall, I'm very happy with how the weekend turned out. It was very Holy Spirit-led and I'm so thankful for the opportunity to love those who came through this retreat which really was an outpouring of my heart.
How I founded an in-person ministry
An account by Danielle Thompson, founder of Favor Fertility Ministry (@favorfertilityministry on Instagram).
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the word of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that IN ALL THINGS God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:10-11)
When the Holy Spirit gifted me the ministry of Favor, I was at such a low point in my journey towards motherhood. Desperate, God deposited a longing to give to others what I needed in that very moment of my season. Six years in, He anointed me within the heartache for the appointing He was calling me to. Firstly, my dear sister, do you feel the call? This is where the discerning, the laboring and the birthing begins. My biggest desire and mission that the Holy Spirit was calling me to was to use the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit to heal, to mend, to encourage, to save and to set people free from the bondage of infertility within the Catholic community and beyond. I desired for others’ hearts to be radically changed and truly know the reckless love of the Father. Even here, in the desolate. Because of the community I have so humbly been part of through social media circles and through sharing my testimony and faith there, I was able to cultivate a growing group of women alike and unique to join Favor Fertility Ministry.
In March of 2021, I hosted my very first in-person Favor gathering in my living room. One of the most important aspects that I desired Favor to radiate was intimacy and safety. The first gathering was a success. However, the Lord had bigger plans for my “yes” and made a way for me to host Favor in the same safe and intimate way at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in St. Amant, Louisiana in July 2021. When I visited our new meeting place for the first time, to my surprise, Favor was written all along the walls. Covered in our founding scriptures, Luke 1:24-45, “The Visitation.” The Father is so intentional. I thank you, Father, for choosing me as your vessel in this vocation and being Jehovah Jireh every step of the journey! From July 2021 until present, we have met once a month in the Ark of the Covenant room every third Thursday of the month. Since the birth of Favor, we have grown in service and in ministry in the most beautiful ways. We now have an additional in-person gathering in Atlanta, Georgia, led by Maria Lange, that meets on the last Monday of every month, as well as an online gathering that meets the first Tuesday of each month.
Understand that the Holy Spirit doesn’t call the equipped, but He equips the called. If He, our Lord, has placed this unique calling on your life, rejoice my sister! Just as Mary gave her fiat and just as Elizabeth trusted in the Father for the miraculous in her womb, you, too, have a harvest that will bounty greater things. He has much purpose for you! I encourage you to pray, to fast and to be in the Spirit as He edifies and equips you. The Father will give you His vision and plans for your ministry. He will make way. He will give life! I want to close with an invitation. If you feel called to begin a fertility ministry at your church and want support, leadership and mentorship, I want to extend the invitation to you to help establish Favor Fertility Ministry at your church. We can pray, discern and discuss what the Holy Spirit may have in store for you in this new way! Come Holy Spirit! Nevertheless, know this: “And we know that IN ALL THINGS God works together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Where to start
If you are considering starting an in-person group or ministry but don’t know where to start, here are some options to choose from.
Start small. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the thought of starting a new group or ministry… don’t start it as a ministry! Consider starting with meeting with one other person in your parish or diocese who shares the cross of infertility (see the suggestions below for how to find another person with whom to meet). Commit what time you want to meet for prayer and reflection on your circumstances. If, together, you feel you are making progress and would like to slowly start inviting more people into a regular meeting time, then you can build from there. The perks of starting small are: the two or three of you who start meeting together will more likely share the responsibilities of leading things together rather than one person taking on all aspects of starting a ministry; creating more personal relationships from the get-go helps you ease into more vulnerable faith-sharing moments; and it is easily customizable – you can either keep things small (2-5 members) or grow it as large as your group discerns it should grow.
Put out some feelers in your parish or diocese, keeping it confidential if you wish. Ask your parish priest or diocesan family life office to include a note in their bulletin or on their website along the lines of: “A parishioner at St Peter’s Church is interested in starting an informal support group for women/couples experiencing infertility. If you are interested in taking part, please let [parish priest or diocesan representative] know and they will put you in touch.” You can then wait and see if there is a demand for this sort of group and take it from there.
Use Facebook groups to ask around. If you are a member of any Facebook groups for Catholic women experiencing infertility, try posting to ask if there are any other women in your wider area who would be interested in getting together to form a group and sharing the responsibility.
Be bold and jump right in. If you already feel ready to host a group meeting or gathering, pick a time and a place for your first session and ask your parish priest and diocesan family life office to advertise it in the bulletin and website. Once your first gathering has taken place, you can decide with the women who attended whether that is the best time and place to proceed with.
Host a local branch of an existing ministry. If you love the sound of Favor Fertility Ministry (described above by founder Danielle) you could work with them to establish a Favor group at your church.
Put your ideas and desires to prayer. Ask others (friends, family members, your parish priest) to pray for this group or ministry, asking that the Holy Spirit will bring people together for this purpose. Discern the best way to begin and be open to things turning out differently to how you expected!
But what if…
What if I’m nervous about taking the lead?
Identify what your strengths are and use those strengths to inspire the format. If you are gifted in speaking and leading, offer this. If you prefer cooking and connecting, offer to host a social-based group with a side of prayer. If you are creative, musical or artistic, try an activity-based gathering which will encourage fruitfulness.
In Danielle’s words: “Understand that the Holy Spirit doesn’t call the equipped, but He equips the called.”
Find a way to share the responsibility of leading or hosting the group with others if you are nervous about taking charge.
What if I’m unsure whether there is enough demand for a group?
Begin by taking steps to find fellowship and community in order to meet the initial need for connection. If this results in just 2 women or couples accompanying each other on their journey, this alone will be fruitful.
Try a few different ways to get the word out on a parish level, diocesan level, in your local area or amongst friends of friends.
What if I don’t think I have the time or capacity to establish a group?
You may feel able to attend a group but not lead it. Try to find out if there are others who would also like to attend it and begin with a format which wouldn’t require prior planning - such as a simple monthly coffee get-together.
Be open to starting small and simple and building on that if and when your season of life allows.
What if I’m unsure of what content to use for my group or ministry?
There are as many ways to pray as there are people who live. Start with some basic group prayer activities such as praying the rosary, the Divine Mercy chaplet, Stations of the Cross such as our Infertility Stations, or part of an adoration hour.
Build up to different types of prayer experiences. Consider allowing different people to contribute and plan out the prayer. You can write your own prayers, listen to songs together, use imaginative prayer… the possibilities are endless.
If you are looking for something more structured, consider starting with a book and/or podcast as your launching point. Some good materials can be found in this blog post or amongst our free audio meditations on the Hallow app. Read part of a chapter together each time you meet and discuss. You can also incorporate other spiritual reading which has pertinent themes about God’s will, spiritual warfare, patience, family, etc.
We would like to collect details of in-person Catholic infertility groups/ministries around the world to share with our readers who are looking for fellowship. If you already host or attend an in-person infertility support group or ministry that is open to new members, we want to hear from you! Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following details:
Name of group or ministry (if it has one)
What it consists of (eg. talks from speakers, group discussion, prayer events, spiritual exercises)
When and how often you meet
Contact details if someone wishes to find out more