Heard and Seen
How to hold a Hannah Service for those grieving pregnancy and loss.
Infertility, Miscarriage and Infant Loss
It’s not something we often talk about. In North America, 15-20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage and one in eight couples have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. The tendency to wait until the second trimester to announce a pregnancy—just in case—speaks of a culture ill-equipped or unwilling to address this significant loss. The result is that many people grieve alone.
While infertility, pregnancy and infant loss are often ignored by our culture, they are not ignored by God. The pages of Scripture preserve the stories of many women who experienced such loss: Hannah, Sarah, Leah and Bathsheba. That their experiences have been included in the story of our faith, and shared throughout history, reminds us that all who experience infertility and infant loss are worthy of being heard and seen.
Communities of faith are uniquely positioned to come alongside individuals, couples and families who mourn infertility and pregnancy and infant loss. In doing so, we can break the silence about this common yet hidden grief.
What is a Hannah Service?
Churches all around the world have begun hosting candlelight vigils on October 15 for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Some also observe this day on the Sunday closest to October 15. While this international observance focuses specifically on miscarriage, stillbirth and the death of a child in their first year, many include any type of reproductive loss in these times of lament and mourning.
In The Salvation Army, Lieutenant Sarah Micula, an officer from the U.S.A. Central Territory, has created the framework for a “Hannah Service,” which she describes as “a gathering time and space for women who have experienced infertility, pregnancy loss, infant loss and medical diagnoses that prevent future pregnancies.” Lieutenant Micula affirms that these intentional gatherings, named after the Hannah written about in 1 Samuel 1, who was desperate for a child and poured out her grief before God, provide a space to grieve and lament, to memorialize these significant losses and to offer hope. Indeed, Hannah Services have been growing in popularity around the world.
Steps to Organize a Hannah Service
If you are interested in hosting a Hannah Service, begin by asking the Holy Spirit to guide you, and to grant you wisdom, discernment and sensitivity. There is often a felt absence of language in our theology to respond to these types of losses, and empty platitudes are not helpful. Stacey L. Edwards-Dunn, an ordained minister and fertility coach, says, “We feel even worse when people use ‘God language’ from a theological perspective that is antithetical to who God is. People glibly say, ‘God will make a way’ or ‘Maybe it’s a curse’ or ‘Maybe God doesn’t want you to have a baby.’ These statements don’t acknowledge our sovereign God as an inclusive God of love. These statements are also simply bad theology.”
The next step is to connect with those in your community who are experiencing loss to let them know about your Hannah Service. You could gather health-care workers or social workers who are part of your ministry unit to help make connections with hospitals. If that is not an option, you could reach out to hospital chaplains or parent support groups to get the word out. Connecting with your local community and family services unit and other churches in the area are all ways to establish innovative partnerships and ensure that those who would benefit from this type of remembrance service are included.
It’s important to keep in mind that miscarriage and similar issues aren’t just women’s matters. They are human, couple, marriage and family matters. Despite the service being named after a biblical woman, these should be communal spaces to bring healing to everyone who is grieving.
As you determine what to include in your Hannah Service, you may want to involve someone who has experienced a reproductive loss in your planning. Options for a service could include worship songs, prayer stations, candle-lighting, sharing circles, prayer walks or flower-laying.
Finally, you may wish to follow up your Hannah Service by hosting or offering support groups about infertility or pregnancy loss or directing those in attendance to other similar supports in the community. Do some research before your Hannah Service, and have that information available for people to take with them.