Workshop in March 2011

Hi friends,

I’m planning a workshop in London for March 2011 or the first weekend in April (April 3rd
is Mothering Sunday in the UK–which can be a tough holiday).

I’m looking for input on the date.
It depends in part on when the venue is available–but also which date works out best for all wishing to attend.

The workshop will start on Friday evening 6.30pm-9pm, and run on
Saturday and Sunday, 10am-5pm.

Cost: £200 (Bursaries possible)

If you are interested, please let me know.

Here is the other basic info:

Probable Venue: North Bank
28 Pages Lane
Muswell Hill, London
N10 1PP

Cost: £200

£350 for couples
(some bursaries for unwaged or low-income individuals)

This workshop is for anyone who has experienced infertility, failed
fertility treatment, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, premature
menopause, secondary infertility, stillbirth, neonatal death, sperm
problems or unwanted childlessness–whatever the cause.

Women, men and couples are welcome.
Partners are particularly encouraged to attend.

All sexual orientations welcome.

Men who find the courage to attend report great satisfaction from having done so.
Sometimes male partners are reluctant. Usually there are several women attending alone.

The outcome of this workshop varies:

  • Most people do some necessary grieving; they end up feeling lighter & calmer.
  • Most gain valuable insight & have a change of perspective, especially after hearing others speak; most participants have more clarity about what to do next–if anything.
  • Important links are often forged that lead to ongoing supportive relationships of depth & value. Isolation is broken. This is cited as one of the most significant positive outcomes.
  • Occasionally groups decide to do further work together.
  • Those who attend with partners report a much improved sense of rapport and connection with the partner.

The benefits take various forms:

  • Sometimes people come to terms with childlessness and decide to stop further treatment;
  • Sometimes individuals & couples decide to undertake treatment, but in a new spirit;
  • Sometimes the door opens to adoption, when it had seemed closed.

Some ‘ways in’ include:

  • visualisation
  • art/drawing
  • movement
  • meditation
  • plain old talking

No previous experience is expected. If you were terrible at art, it doesn’t matter! It’s not about that!

Great care is taken to create a safe, compassionate and healing atmosphere.

FACILITATOR: Meredith Wheeler

I’m a psychotherapist who has specialized in therapeutic group work around this issue
for 20 years and have experienced infertility myself. I’m a graduate of Stanford University
and live in southwestern France with my husband and far too many cats and hens.

To book on-line, email for a registration form–or see if my attempt to put it on this blog site worked….
Some bursaries are available to people who are unemployed or on low incomes.

Some people have to summon real courage to attend a workshop like this. Participants often tell me that they considered not showing up–having booked & paid! Please read the comments of people who have taken part. Many people find the workshop is an important turning point.

The need for ritual

I recently spoke in Rome at an international fertility conference (ESHRE=European Society of Human Reproduction & Embryology).

My topic was “Mourning Rituals for People Remaining Childless”. I thank my colleague, Petra Thorn (who was one of the organizers of the day), for inviting me to speak. It helped me organize my thinking.

I have been organizing rituals for fertility loss for 10 years now–starting conventionally (with fertility loss services) and moving toward more unconventional, creative rituals.
In preparing the talk, I realized that ritual can go to places that psychotherapy does not reach.

Even if psychotherapists and counsellors feel under-skilled to lead such rituals, they could encourage clients or patient support groups to develop their own rituals. They could ask chaplains and clergy to take up the issue.

[Elsewhere on this blog is the text of a fertility loss service developed in the UK by three women counsellors and psychotherapists (of which I was one).]
Every culture has rituals linked to loss & grieving–but high tech fertility treatment has created losses that never existed in previous eras (frozen embryos that die when defrosted, IVF that fails, surrogates who miscarry).
There were about 30 participants in the psychotherapy & counselling stream in Rome, from all around the world–the Ukraine, Slovenia, Ireland, the UK, Germany, South Africa and beyond. Most were women. It was heartening to see colleagues making the effort to attend this gathering in Italy.
I asked how many had experience with ritual. Only a very few hands went up. I was amazed!

Ceremonies for miscarriages are now quite common in the UK. They are run by hospital chaplains. Some churches have started to wake up to these losses too. I was intrigued when a former client told me recently that she had attended a “Sad Mother’s Day” service at her Church of England outpost in the Cotswolds. What a brilliant idea!

Normally on Mothering Sunday (as it is called in England), children present their mothers with daffodils during the church service.
But what about all the women who have lost children or are infertile?
A WOMAN priest in this English church who had herself experienced miscarriage organized a Sad Mother’s Day event in the evening after the morning “happy mummy” service. The service included prayers and music and an opportunity for each person to light a candle and name what it was that brought her to to the Sad Mother’s Day service. The isolation was broken.

If you have experienced a ritual linked to infertility or pregnancy loss, please post an account of it here. It could be something you created or something organized by some other entity.

Let’s share our information & experiences!

Thoughts on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day can be painful for women who were unable to have children–or who lost children. It’s worth remembering the core qualities of the Mother archetype: nurturing; creativity; respect for life. Our planet needs us all to cultivate the Mother within us, whether we have physical children or not.

Ambiguous Loss and Disenfranchised Grief

I have recently come across the concepts of complicated grief, ambiguous loss and disenfranchised grief.
They are all strongly linked to fertility losses.

Ambiguous loss refers to losses that are either hidden, secret or not socially sanctioned. This includes infertility, failed fertility treatment and miscarriage (although Miscarriage Services now exist). It includes unwanted childlessness whatever the cause, including lack of a partner. It would include grief over past terminations, even if they were wanted and deemed necessary at the time. (Another type of ambiguous loss would be the death of a beloved pet.)

The problem with ambiguous loss is that the person affected may not be sure herself if she has sustained a genuine loss–since it is not a loss that receives social validation. If you lose a newborn baby, people will write a condolence letter. If you lose a fetus, they probably won’t. Others may not realize that there has been a loss–or may not consider such a loss significant.

Ambiguous losses lead to disenfranchised grief.

Disenfranchised grief can be defined as the grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, publicly mourned, or socially supported.

Rituals do not exist for it or they are difficult to access. The lack of social support leads to increased isolation for the grieving person. This isolation is a hallmark, in my experience, of people with fertility problems.

To effectively mourn losses–including so-called ambiguous losses–human beings need suitable rituals (hence my earlier threat here on the Value of Ritual).

The failure of a society to validate such losses makes it far more difficult for the people mourning to work through their grief.

That can lead to chronic or complicated grief. (Grief is a messy business in any case–but so-called “normal grief” is generally thought to last roughly 2 years.)

Some people are considered “resilient mourners” and bounce back more quickly. On the other hand, those who have had difficult childhoods or a lot of loss and trauma in their lives might be considered “vulnerable” or “fragile mourners”.

If the bereavement of infertility, lost pregnancies, failed fertility treatment and unwanted childlessness is not addressed in a timely way, it may be “stored up” and triggered later in life by other losses–such as the death of a parent, spouse or sibling. That is why it is important to do griefwork as we accumulate our griefs! Shoving it under the carpet is a bad longterm strategy.

In complicated or chronic grief, the tasks of mourning are frustrated and there is no resolution. Life cannot move foreward. There is obsessive preoccupation with the losses and general stagnation.

Complicated grief is identified by the extended length of time of the symptoms, the interference in normal function caused by the symptoms, or by the intensity of the symptoms (for example, intense suicidal thoughts or self-harming).

Symptoms may include anxious moods, disturbed behaviour and/or major depression. Symptoms might also include obsessive-compulsive behaviours–such as working excessively, cleaning obsessively, overeating, drinking too much, over-medicating, sleeping too much–even obsessive use of the computer!

Substance abuse (drug use, smoking, alcoholism, abuse of prescription medications) is often an attempt to avoid painful feelings about the loss and treat symptoms (such as sleeplessness, tearfulness or restlessness).

For more on this topic, the best on-line material I found was here:

Please share your reactions to and thoughts about this material.

I have cross-posted this material on the Fertility Friends website forum:

Music used in fertility loss rituals

Memorial Service Music

1) The Cello Suites, Suite No. 1, Prelude by J. S. Bach, performed by Paul Tortelier (2.30)

2) Carmina Burana excerpt from Cours d’Amours, ‘In Truitina’ by Carl Orff, performed by soprano Gundula Janowitz (1.54)

3) Sometime We Cry by Van Morrison from the album, ‘The Healing Game’, sung by Van Morrison with backing vocals by Georgie Fame and Brian Kennedy

4) The Lamb by John Tavener, words by William Blake from the album, ‘Innocence’ (used in first service, 1999)

5) Song for Athene by John Tavener from the album, ‘Innocence’

6) Lean on Me by Bill Withers performed by Michael Bolton, on his album ‘The One Thing’

7) Hand it Over by Keb Mo from his album ‘Just Like You’

8) Feel Something Drawing Me On by Sweet Honey in the Rock from their album of the same name
9) Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton

10) Stand by Me (various artists)

Musical taste varies.

If you have suggestions for other music that might be effective, please post them!
Live music is always especially nice, but recorded music will do.

An easy way to organize the music is on an iPod (making a playlist).

For the ceremony, the iPod can be plugged into an existing sound system (requires a simple cord) or if no sound system exists in the venue, use an iPod amplifer. These are not expensive and some give a good sound. Buy or borrow one. Some are battery powered, so work outside without electrical current.
Errors in music cues can be disturbing–so they need to be rehearsed ahead of time by the person who will be responsible for the audio. It’s not always easy to work out the right volume–so rehearsal in the place where the ritual will take place is essential.

Fertility Loss Ritual–Text for a group ceremony

I just posted the complete text of a typical fertility loss ceremony as a permanent file under the CONTENTS heading.

Mothering Sunday

Today is Mothering Sunday in the UK.

For women who have not been able to have the children that they’d wanted, it can be a particularly painful day.

I happened to hear the broadcast of the “Morning Service” on BBC radio today, which was focused on motherhood. This week’s broadcast came from a Catholic Church and they dedicated their service to the Virgin Mary. I was pleased to hear the woman speaker specifically including women who had not been able to have children–or women who had lost babies.
When I lived in London, we used to run a Fertility Loss Ceremony for all those people who were grieving the absence of a child in their lives.

The text of that service is available, free, by internet–should you wish to organize a similar ceremony in your community.

There is also a collection of readings that we used during the service over the years.

The archetype of the Mother is made up of various qualities: Abundance; Dignity; Respect for Life. Loving and Nurturing impulses towards all creation and the Human Family–not just our own genetic children.
Like Gaia–Mother Earth–CREATIVITY is a hallmark–but on ALL levels–not just biological. Artists who bring forth art in all manifestations; creative cooks, gardeners who nurture plants; keepers of the hearth who tend the fire and make the home a refuge of beauty, peace and support.

Mothering Sunday is also a good moment to consider who mothered us–nurtured us–so that we could become our fullest, most highly-developed selves–and to THANK those people (female or male).

For me, this includes Mabel–a wonderful American black woman who was a second mother to me. I would also include my grandmother, my therapists over the years and a few special friends who have stuck with me through thick and thin.

Who nurtured you?

The Value of Mourning Rituals? What’s YOUR view?

I’ve been invited to speak at a conference of in/fertility in Rome this June  (ESHRE Special Interest Group Psychology & Counselling) concerning the value of mourning rituals for the unwillingly childless.

I am interested in hearing from you.
Have you taken part in any such rituals–private or public?
If so, what were they like?

Were they helpful?

I have facilitated such ceremonies myself.

If you’ve attended one of those, did you find it worthwhile?

Did anything “stick”? Change?

The service we developed (two other women counsellors were involved) is meant to feel equally suitable for those who have no spiritual beliefs as for those who folllow some faith or spiritual path. No clergy officiate.

Our service was also designed to be as participatory as possible.  There were activities that everyone could participate in (or NOT) as they wished.  We felt that this would make the ritual more meaningful for participants.

I’m interested in any kind of feedback.

It’s not often that the profession of fertility doctors, nurses and counsellors have an opportunity to hear anything about this–and I’d like to represent a wide scope of experiences and views.

With thanks!


Holidays and childlessness

The holidays can be a particularly painful time for the unwillingly childless.

Some people still have a vibrant inner child who enjoys the festivities.

Some enjoy taking neices, nephews, godchildren or other youngsters to do special activities (ice-skating, plays, pantos, visiting Santa’s grotto).

Some devote themselves to needy families who will have NO Christmas unless outside angels step in and help.

I wonder if anyone has any strategies or suggestions to offer?

Still Places on Oct. 31/Nov. 1 London workshop

There are still a couple of places available on the workshop taking place

in London (Muswell Hill) on Sat/Sun Oct. 31/Nov. 1, 2009.

At the moment, all the participants are women attending alone (i.e. not with partners).

This will be the last such workshop for 2009.

Sometimes people find the idea of this workshop scary–but by lunch time they are

so glad they found the courage to attend.

Please read the comments of women who have attended previous groups to see what they say….