LIZZIE LOWRIE and her husband, Dave, have been trying to have a
child for seven years. They have had six miscarriages. Of the last
baby that they lost, Mrs Lowrie recalls: "At eight weeks, the scan
was really good, and showed a heartbeat. But the baby died at ten
weeks." Having been booked in to hospital for a medically managed
miscarriage, Mrs Lowrie found herself sharing a ward with women
having early abortions.
Of all the women who are investigated at the Recurrent
Miscarriages Clinic, at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, 50 per cent
will not have a cause identified even after detailed
investigations. "We're in that 50 per cent," Mrs Lowrie says about
her and her husband'ssituation. "There's nothing wrong with either
of us medically, and there's no answer. Sometimes you wish there
was a pill you could take, or something you could do."
Mrs Lowrie has found going to church hard during her struggle
with childlessness. "It feels as though the family unit is
something that is celebrated a lot, and it makes you feel as though
you're lacking in some way.
"I found secular environments so much easier to be in. At work,
I felt quite normal: a lot of people get married later, and don't
have children. Work was often like a retreat; church was
Her experience led her to set up a blog in 2013, Saltwater and
Honey, with a friend, Sheila Matthews, while their husbands were
training as ordinands at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. Mrs Matthews and
her husband, Elis, have struggled to conceive owing to azoospermia
(a lack of sperm in the semen).
In setting up the blog, the friends imagined creating a space
where they could "grieve for the losses of hopes and dreams, but
also gain new hope, new dreams, and new encouragement," Mrs
Matthews says. "We didn't want to live negatively; we feel like
we're people of hope. But, also, that doesn't negate the legitimacy
of our grief. We didn't want to hide that."
The blog provides a safe place for those going through
infertility to tell their stories. Contributors, both male and
female, can submit short blog entries about their experiences of
infertility and childlessness; and they can remain anonymous -
although some choose not to. So far, nearly 28,000 people have
visited. Poignantly, their Mother's Day post this year had more
than 1000 unique hits.
"The thing we pin Saltwater and Honey on is: 'Rejoice with those
who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.' As a Church, we're
really good at rejoicing; but can you mourn?" Mrs Matthews
Church leaders can do a great deal to help, she says. "It's in
your rhetoric, in the illustrations you use in sermons. It's
talking about brokenness - not just calling it brokenness, but
naming the ways we [can be] broken."
ABOUT one in seven couples in the UK - approximately 3.5 million
people - will have difficulty conceiving, according to the NHS
website. In response, Alex and Rebecca Stewart, from Holy Trinity,
Brompton, have been running a five-week course, now called "Waiting
for Children: Living fruitfully with infertility," since 2011.
Next week, the first pilot of an adapted course will take place
at Liverpool Cathedral. The course, starting on 6 May, will include
modules on ethical issues of fertility treatment, and adoption, and
it is hoped that the course may then be rolled out to other areas
of the country.
The Revd Sonya Doragh, a Curate at St Peter's, in Woolton,
Liverpool, who is heading up the Liverpool course, knows how
painful infertility can be.
Mrs Doragh knew when she got married that she may struggle to
have children. When she was 17, she was raped on two separate
occasions, and, by the time she had the courage to see a doctor,
she discovered that she had chlamydia. By then, it had spread, and
affected her fallopian tubes.
After nine years of trying for children, the Doraghs fostered.
They now have three adopted children.
Adoption is often seen as a next logical step for infertile
couples, Mrs Doragh says, but she goes on to say that it does not
resolve infertility: "I've got three children; I'd still love to
get pregnant, and breastfeed, and all of that."
Stories about female infertility in the Bible need to be read
carefully, she says. "Sarah and Abraham had a unique promise of
children - which means there isn't a global promise that everyone
will. . . Yet our culture, and sometimes our Church, colludes with
it, and acts as though somehow it is a right."
So what happens when the dream dies, once and for all? The
writer, speaker, and broadcaster Sheridan Voysey calls the ten
years that he and his wife, Merryn, spent trying to have a child,
their "wilderness journey". Having pursued adoption, and after
multiple failed rounds of IVF, the couple finally gave up, "simply
because psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally we couldn't
live in that limbo space any more," he says.
"Proverbs 13.12 is very true: hope deferred makes the heart
sick. And when it goes on for years and years, your heart does get
sick." The couple moved from Australia to the UK for a fresh start;
their story is told in Mr Voysey's book Resurrection Year
(Thomas Nelson, 2013).
What does hope for the childless look like? "The Christian faith
says that my identity is primarily as a child of God," Mr Voysey
says, "[which is] much deeper and more enduring than any of the
roles that we can fulfil, including parenthood. Not that these
roles aren't important, but they're secondary".
Jesus presented an alternative model of family, he says. "He was
teaching a whole bunch of disciples, and he said, 'Who are my
mother and my sisters and brothers - aren't these?' He expands the
concept of family to take it beyond the bloodline to the faith
"We've lived in four major cities now; it's been the Church that
has provided community and foundation for us to find our feet in a
new place. We're very grateful that that Christian family is
CHILDLESSNESS can be especially hard to cope with in the church if
you are single. Kerry Thomas is 38. She was engaged, but the
relationship broke down because her fiancé had two children
already, and did not want more. She also underwent a full
hysterectomy last year, owing to severe endometriosis.
Events at church, such as women's breakfasts, she says, can be
painful if they seem geared only to mothers. "Why do these things
have to start at a quarter to nine?" she asks. "The answer given
is: women with children, that suits them better.
"At a recent breakfast, the speaker said: 'Those of you with
young children, this is such a sacred time away.' I work really
hard all week, and I'm really tired, and this is a sacred time for
me [too]. It's just an assumption in church that everyone has
children. It's not [one] I see anywhere else in my life."
Mother's Day can be especially hard. "Nearly every childless
woman I know who goes to church, they don't want to be given
flowers on Mother's Day. They're like 'pity flowers'. You're
sitting there, waiting for someone to nudge their kid and say 'Go
and get that lady flowers'," Ms Thomas says.
She is grateful for the church community, however; when she had
urgent surgery, some of them looked after her - visiting her in
hospital, texting her, and bringing her meals. "It's the older
people in the church, mainly, but I have got a few people who are
very much family for me, which is great."
Sue Jones* was 38 when she discovered that she had
endometriosis. It has affected her ability to conceive, although
there is a small chance that she could have a child with IVF.
She feels that she has paid a price for not having sex before
marriage. If she had, she would have experienced pain, and been
diagnosed sooner, and the damage from the disease would have been
less severe. "I wasn't ready for a relationship, probably, and
chose other things. . . It just didn't happen. Is that my fault?
Have I been punished?"
She worries about ageing without children, and feels that
relationships at church need to be strong enough for her to rely
on. "I have to trust that church is going to be there, if I end up
in a nursing home."
The director of singlechristians.co.uk, Dr David Pullinger, says
that there are twice as many ABC1 (educated and professional) women
than men in the Church in the UK. This is causing a crisis of
singleness, and, by extension, involuntary childlessness. The
disproportion between single men and women in churches across the
UK is not that great, he says; the key is the difference between
education and social status.
In addition, three recent pieces of research about singleness in
UK churches (a survey of 3000 single Christians run by the dating
website Christian Connection, a survey by Christian Research Ltd,
and a YouGov survey) all reveal that the Church is often failing
singles in terms of being the "new family" of which Jesus spoke, Dr
Pullinger says. "The attitudes we actually receive mostly in church
[are about] the old kind of family - inheritance through offspring,
and 'You're doing all right if you can own a nice house' - all the
old values that the prophets and Jesus came to overturn. That's one
of the main issues really to address as a Church."
IN RESPONSE, many involuntarily childless men and women are forced
to look outside the Church for a real or virtual community in which
they can feel truly at home.
Four years ago Jody Day set up a non-religious global
friendship-and-support network, Gateway Women, after her own
experience of childlessness. "It's quite hard to even hear that
things like Gateway Women exist until you're ready," she says.
"It's more taboo than AA. It's the club no one wants to join, and
which no one'll tell anyone they're a member of."
In 2012, one in five women born in 1967 in England and Wales
were childless, compared with one in nine women born in 1940.
Gateway Women is responding to this demographic shift.
Its website has had nearly 623,000 views worldwide, and its
private Google+ community has 617 approved members. Social events
facilitated via the app Meetup take place in Britain, the United
States, and Australia. Ms Day says that Christians, including
clergy, are part of the community.
Ms Day also set up workshops based on her experience of
peer-to-peer support from Al-Anon, which helps the friends and
family of addicts. "This was the beginning of being able to have a
dialogue with other women about what I was going through . . .
which, up until that point, nobody had let me have: not within a
therapeutic setting, not with my friends, not with my family.
Whenever I would try to talk about it I would be closed down . . .
with 'helpful' statements like 'Have you tried IVF?' or 'Why don't
The workshops continue today: "That's been the biggest
experience for me, and many others, of experiencing deep healing
and connection around childlessness."
Ms Day, a training psychotherapist, also runs one-to-one
support, and assembled the steps she went through towards healing
her grief in a book, Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to
your plan B for a meaningful and fulfilling life without
Currently, there is no equivalent to Gateway Women for men, but
Ms Day says that one is likely to appear soon. While no forum
currently exists exclusively for men, there is the website Mensfe,
with information for men pre-, during, or post-infertility; and
More To Life is an online support group for childless men and
women, which also runs social events.
ALTHOUGH there is currently a lack of ritual in the Church for men
and women who are experiencing infertility, or involuntary
childlessness, others, outside the Church, are harnessing ritual as
a way to express grief.
"Give Sorrow Words" is a free, non-religious ceremony for people
of all faiths and none, married or single, that has been developed
to help men and women grieve for their childlessness. Run by a
counsellor, Gill Tunstall, at the Bonnington Centre, Vauxhall, the
services are based on a model developed by the transpersonal
psychotherapist Meredith Wheeler.
Participants send suggestions for readings and music to Ms
Tunstall, who plans an order of service. Others can choose to
participate by just reading out one line of a poem on the day.
"It's like a funeral," she says. "The whole thing is very, very
moving to be involved in."
Speaking about grief has a powerful healing effect, she says:
"There's something about being in a room with a group of people who
are all sharing a similar experience. . . Just feeling accepted and
The "Saying Goodbye" services for baby- and child-loss, and
miscarriage and stillbirth, held in UK cathedrals, have helped some
Gateway Women members, Ms Day says. Similar services could be held
in churches to include the involuntarily childless, to mourn the
loss of something hoped for that was never physically realised, she
"I think it would be an amazing way to empower Christian
childless women. [To create] a template for running those groups,
those rituals - it's not about being an expert, but it is about
creating a safe space."
The next "Give Sorrow Words" service will be held at the
Bonnington Centre, Vauxhall, London, on 28 June at 4.30 p.m. For
Rachel Giles can be contacted by email on firstname.lastname@example.org
"WE [were not able to] have children naturally. We deferred
fertility treatment, and then, [when] we did it, it was a bit later
in life, and it wasn't successful. We did consider, at one stage,
[that] we might adopt, but we weren't of a common mind on that.
"In some ways, there is no end. There is no public point [to
mark] that something that happened is no longer. It's not like you
had a broken leg, or you even had a stillbirth . . . you're
grieving what you haven't got. You put it behind you, and move on,
which [makes it] harder to get over in a deep way.
"Underneath, there's quite a lot of loss, which can be
triggered, in our case, in small ways. If someone's talking about
the challenges and joys of their family, or [they] reach various
family milestones, you realise [that] you won't have that
milestone, because you haven't got a family.
"At conferences, they'll say how many children a speaker has.
Quite often, clergy will have three, four, or five. . . It's
almost, 'What a blessed person this speaker must be.' What's it
telling us? It's just a little poke to the heart when I read
"WE WERE about to start trying for a family - I was
32 - when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I lost both ovaries,
but the hospital was able to save egg cells, which were
successfully fertilised. So we had eight frozen embryos.
"After I'd recovered, I had three separate embryo
transfers. They all failed, [the fourth] embryo didn't survive
being thawed. We found a known egg-donor, and three embryos were
created last summer. One was put back, but I miscarried at nine
"My priest has said some unbelievably clumsy things,
like, 'Gosh, isn't it a shame you didn't just get pregnant by
someone when you were in your early twenties.' I met my husband
when I was 30.
"I had tea with the priest's wife, and told her I'd
just had my fourth IVF fail. She whipped out her mobile phone, and
said: 'My daughter has three under three! Look, her twins were born
"We left that church because we know that other
clergy can get this. Our new church has an older demographic, and
we're the youngest there. I feel what's happened to me, it's broken
me open, and made me more open to God."