Fertility Loss Ritual–Text for a group ceremony

Fertility Loss Ritual–Text for a group ceremony

This service was originally put together in about 2000 by a three women counsellors–of whom I’m one (The two others were Judith Meredith and Althea Hayton). We found a service developed by a fertility support group in Canada and used it as our basis. It has grown and evolved over the years.

The text of a recent service is reproduced in its entirety here in hopes that others will be inspired to run such a service in your community.

It is not really enough to READ such a ritual. The healing comes in DOING it.

Feel free to adapt it to your needs.
We are trying to “seed” the idea of services like this around the world.

Elsewhere I will post a list of music we have used successfully and readings we have collected over the  years.

I have focalized this ceremony for groups as small as 8 to as many as 60 participants.

If you yourself have experienced fertility losses, you may find the service brings up difficult feelings. Please make sure you are in the right frame of mind before you read this service. If you are feeling especially low or vulnerable, you may wish to wait.

The ritual does not require an official celebrant–although you could invite a chaplain, therapist, minister, pastor or priest to assist.

We tried to create a service that would work for people of any spiritual path–or for those with no faith at all. (It wasn’t easy.) Depending on your spiritual perspective, you may wish to add or amend the text.

Music playing as everyone gathers (usually the Bach cello concerto)

The Welcome
Congratulations for getting yourself here for what is a somewhat unusual event–a ceremony we hope will be healing, although perhaps difficult at times.

My name is ___________and I welcome you to this event which is being sponsored/organized by_________.

The service is a mix of readings, music, time for reflection and participatory ritual.

You should have an order of service.

Tears are an important facet of grieving and release of feelings–so please don’t feel embarrassed if you are tearful.  Scientific studies show that tears of joy have a different chemical composition from tears of sadness–because they serve a different and an important function. You’ll notice boxes of tissues around the room.

Please turn off your mobile phone.

We will start with a minute of silence to still ourselves and bring ourselves fully present here in this room.
Then we will light and dedicate the central candle.

Silence

Dedication–Lighting the Candle
This service is dedicated to healing of mind, body and spirit.
[This may change, depending on who is doing the dedicating….]

We invite everyone to dedicate this service to something meaningful to you–perhaps a quality–such as peace, understanding or forgiveness–or to anyone or anything else that you wish to invoke.

There are baskets of small candles with labels on them and baskets of pens.
If you wish, you can write your dedication on your candle.

When you are ready, light your candle from the central flame and leave it on the central table. If you feel like sharing your dedication with the group, please do.

Candle lighting

Musical Interlude

First reading 

Thought Child
by Jackie Head

Today is your birthday
my thought child
you are two years old.
You are weaned
but I am not yet weaned of you.

It is a full moon
and I have watched
how silently
and beautifully
it shines tonight.
It is your present to me
and this is mine to you.

Grieved and not forgotten
in you I find myself
and in the moon
I find you
ever present
though set
to wax and wane
in my memory
or to shine out full
as you do
tonight.

Musical Interlude

Reading Number Two
Excerpt from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

And a woman spoke, saying, Tell us of Pain. And he said:

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the
sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life,
your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always
accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self-chosen. It is the bitter potion by which the
physicians within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and
tranquillity;
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the
Unseen. And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned
of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.

Statement of Purpose

To be unwillingly childless is to be bereaved.
We’ve come together today to recognize and honor certain painful losses that are usually hidden. These griefs are usually hidden from our friends and family.
Sometimes we try to hide the pain of these losses from our partners and our selves.

These losses are linked to missing children….to infertility; secondary infertility; miscarriage; failed fertility treatment–when hopes were raised and dashed; terminations–however necessary they may have been at the time; stillbirths; neonatal death; and unwanted childlessness, whatever the cause including lack of a partner.

Most of us gathered here today are acknowledging a loss of some kind, connected to our fertility, our unborn children, an unfulfilled dream. Some of these children were physically conceived, but are no longer alive. Others had a life on the inner plane, in our own hopes and imagination.

There are many losses connected to the absence of these offspring. Some of us are grieving the lost opportunity to be a parent or grandparent; to be woven into the fabric of our wider communities in the way being a parent, having a child, can do.

Others are disturbed about the invasion of our bodies by treatments which promised much, but haven’t worked, and were costly on all levels; some keenly feel  the damage done to relationships with others–with our families and friends who have children and with our partners (where much of the strain lands) often damaging our physical & emotional connections.

Naming these losses, honoring them and grieving here is a step towards healing.

This ritual is a chance to express grief about events that are past–in the hope we will not remain stuck–so that we can let go of some of the sadness, anger, blame and guilt that linger. By letting go, we open ourselves to new energies that help us to move forward with a lighter heart.

The candles in the centre illuminating this ritual connect us to other sources of compassion & healing.

Musical Interlude

Responsorial

[When participants arrive for the ceremony, we have greeters who ask whether they would be willing to read one line. Most people say yes. Hearing all the different voices in the room speaking these words is quite powerful.]

I feel sad.

I feel heart-broken.

Something is missing:

a baby,

a child,

my chance to mother,

my chance to father,

my grandchildren.

(silence–wait a few beats)

I feel empty.

ALL: We hoped to give love, to nurture our children.

Sometimes it feels like I’m being punished.

So sometimes I punish my partner,

my family,

my friends,

myself.

ALL: Help us be kind to each other and to ourselves.

I feel anger.

I feel pain.

I feel sorrow.

ALL: We pray for healing.

I feel guilty.

ALL: We offer forgiveness to each other.
We forgive ourselves. We pray for forgiveness from the Creator of all Life.

May our hearts  be opened with compassion, not closed in bitterness, by our experiences.

We pray for the well-being of all children, everywhere, including those who came and went so soon.

ALL: May we all find healing. May we all find peace.

Silent meditation

Reading Number 3
The Pastoral Visitor
by Harry Fosdick

I have watched people start  out in life, handling it with vigor. Then they run into experiences where something deeper than vigour is needed. Sometime in life nearly everyone encounters disappointment or failure. To come through such an experience a person needs deep resources. But it is not just in facing experiences such as sorrow and discouragement and tragedy–it also has to do with a person’s search for inner peace, some serenity in the soul
to come home to at night and go out from in the morning. Who does not need that? But no one can get inner peace by pouncing on it, or by vigorously willing to have it. Peace is an awareness of reserves beyond ourselves, so
that our power is not so much in us as through us.

Music Interlude

Participatory Group Ritual
Shakespeare wrote: ‘Give Sorry words. The grief that does not speak, whispers the o’erfraught heart and bids it break.’

So we invite you to write–perhaps a message to the child who isn’t here. Perhaps some other message to yourself or a loved one.

Or, you may draw something. There are art materials here which you are welcome to use.

You have your candle (and there are more to hand).
You may want to dedicate a candle to the child or children who are not ‘in life’, for whatever reason….
[The candles have labels on them so the can be written upon.]
You will have noticed the basket of stones.
The stones are symbols of whatever burdens we have picked up on our fertility paths. There may be some weight in the heart or your stomach connected to your journey that you would like to release or leave here today. Perhaps you are able to name it–or draw something on the stone that represents your loss. (Take as many stones as you need.)

We’ll have a period of music and silence, to reflect, to write, to draw.

Musical Interlude–Song for Athene by John Tavener

Whenever you feel ready, come to the centre to light your candle and place it here.
If you’ve written something that you wish to read aloud, feel free to do so.
Otherwise leave your message in the basket.
(These messages will be ritually burned after the ceremony here–and you’re invited to stay and participate if you wish.)  You may release your stone to the center too.

If you have brought anything special with you today connected to your loss, you are invited to place it in the circle. [In the confirmation letter sent out to those who reserve a place at the ceremony, we suggest that they may want to bring some item connected to their loss. It can be an artifact or something they make for the occasion. Sometimes people have brought teddy bears, scans, the top of a wedding cake, etc.]

You’ll notice a scissors and secateurs here. You are invited to cut off a flower head from the bouquet and float that blossom in the water in the central bowl.

In another basket we have fallen leaves and petals that you may wish to scatter on the table, in memory of your losses.

And finally, you may choose an Angel Card. For those unfamiliar with them, each card has a positive quality written on it–such as courage, wisdom or compassion.
The idea is that this quality may be trying to be born within us. Feel free to draw an Angel card and place it on the table with your candle.

There are many ways to participate–use what is meaningful to you.

Whenever you feel ready, in your own time, feel free to take part in whatever way feels appropriate & comfortable to you.

Core Ritual

Reading Number 4
Excerpt from a speech by Bel Mooney

In a speech to bereaved parents at Liverpool Cathedral in 1997, Bel Mooney, a writer and broadcaster, wife of the journalist, Jonathan Dimbleby, spoke of her grief over the stillbirth of their second son, Tom.

She says at one point she threw away the tranquillisers she’d been given and thought:

‘It’s no good trying to blunt pain. You have to let it kick in, and kick in really hard. You have to walk through the valley of the shadow, even though the cliff walls each side are high, and there’s no way through but straight
ahead, when it seems that the darkness will never end.’

She goes on to say, ‘Bereavement can leave you bleak and bitter, it can make some people cry abuse at the Universe, or at God; it can strengthen others in their faith or
acceptance…. There are no rules. When we come together here he know one thing–that we are not alone. Holding hands in our imaginations or actually holding hands, what we do is we make a circle ‘round our own, private grief,
and share, even if briefly, the pain of others. That is being a part of humanity. …I celebrate the power of the sympathy and love we feel for each other. ’

Musical Interlude–Lean on Me

Prayer

Creator of all Life, we believe your love for all children is strong and enduring.
We were not able to know our children as we’d hoped.

May our hearts be opened by our experiences, not closed.

We offer thanks for family, friends and counsellors who have supported and encouraged us in times of need. We remember all who suffer losses similar to ours, who haven’t had the same opportunity for support.

We pray for the staff at hospitals and clinics. Help them to learn and advance in all their work.

We offer thanks for all children in life and pray for their well-being.

Give us courage to face the future, whatever it holds. Help us transform our experiences into wisdom and compassion for everything that lives. Hear us now in silent prayer.

Silent Prayer/Meditation

Blessing
May our renewing Creator, Birth-Giver, Pain-bearer and Spirit of Life and Love fill you with peace, encompass you with love and be your hope today and every day.


Music

Concluding Remarks

You are welcome stay in this room for a time, if you wish. If you do stay, we ask that you do so in silence. Otherwise refreshments are being served in an adjacent room. [We ask participants to bring food to share after the ceremony.]

After a pause, we will be burning the messages in the basket in a short ceremony outside.
You are welcome to take part.

Although this event is free, we have incurred some costs for supplies, programmes and room rental. If you feel able to contribute, you’ll notice baskets outside the door.

Music

[Following refreshments and time to recover, a ceremony is held outside where the written messages are committed to the fire. Other objects may also be burned.]
Invocation at the Fire
[while holding the basket with the written messages]

Today we have given sorrow words in these messages.

Now we gather them together

and here–under the trees,

earth beneath our feet,

sky above,

We commit these messages of love & remembrance

Gently and reverently

to the Fire

[the basket with folded messages is passed around the circle and everyone who wishes to participate take a message and pushes it into the flames.]