One of the questions I am frequently asked is, “How do you start an infertility support group?” It’s an excellent question. And honestly? A question I am often asking others as well. So if you came here looking for “expert” advice, you came to the wrong place. I am not an expert, and I would never pretend to have all the answers. I haven’t taken any courses to lead a group–especially a group of women traveling on one of life’s most devastating journeys called infertility. But what I do have and what I hope to offer you are a few tips, tricks, and nuggets of advice that I have discovered make an infertility support group fun, encouraging, and successful. And not only successful in having people attend, but also successful in having them leave feeling better than when they first arrived.
I know that one of my top goals for the infertility support group I facilitate called “The Nest” is not to have the highest attendance, but rather have every person leaving the steps of my front porch feeling empowered, energized, and filled with hope, and strengthened in their faith to keep fighting. To keep believing. And to keep going. Much like a child would feel on their last day of summer church camp. And for those of you who were never able to attend church camp? Just know that it was one of the most amazing feelings in the world. A feeling that if given the opportunity today, you wouldn’t want to miss. Trust me! Even if you decide starting a support group isn’t for you after reading this post, please consider joining one because everyone needs a group of people who understand their deepest hurts and can pick them back up when they fall and carry them when they are weak.
I hope this post is a resource that you can use to help you and your group become everything you want it to be and everything those who attend need it to be as well. But before you hit the ground running, it’s important to get your ducks in a row first. Because there is nothing worse than getting an idea and then running with it without having a plan of action. I would know because years ago, I had the grand ol’ idea of starting an infertility support group (I called it HOPE), and literally, two weeks later, I opened my home to those I knew who were also struggling. The group was successful in the first two months, but then it started to flop. In fact, by month eight, hardly anyone was returning, and I was stressed. So I quit. I decided it was time to take a break and reevaluate the situation. And it was during the break that I asked myself some tough questions (questions I am going to ask you), and it was also during that time that I began doing what I should have done originally, which was to pray and seek the Lord for direction, wisdom, and creativity. I believe that if I had done this from the beginning, I wouldn’t have experienced the failure I did in the end.
So without further ado, let’s ask some of those tough yet important questions, shall we?
1. Are you willing to devote time and energy to the group?
Make no mistake, unless your group is small and just a couple of close (or semi-close) friends, you will have to devote time and energy to get your group started and running smoothly. Basically, support groups don’t just happen. It’s a big commitment and one that you must decide now if you are willing to make.
2. Are you ready to encourage and provide support to others?
Do I believe you need to have your infertility issues resolved before you start a support group? No. I know that I don’t have it all together. But I do believe that you need to be at the point where you are ready to minister to others in addition to meeting your own needs. So if you are in the midst of your own tests, treatments and struggling to cope, then perhaps your focus needs to be on your own situation right now. And you know? That’s okay! Because honestly, you don’t want to exhort all of your energy trying to help others when you need that energy for yourself.
3. Do you have at least one person who is willing to help you?
In my first infertility support group (the one that flopped), I started alone. As a result, I felt alone. I also felt overwhelmed because everyone needs a partner in crime. Everyone needs a cheerleader. And everyone needs someone to rally around them who shares the same passions and visions so that they can help you dream, plan, and organize.
4. Do you have the resources (Time, Location, and Money)?
Do you have a place to meet? Do you have the financial resources to provide snacks and drinks? And once again, do you have the time to not only plan but also promote and prepare? For a successful meeting, you can’t just show up when everyone else does and expect it to run smoothly. I wish you could, but from experience, it just won’t work. Or at least work well.
Now that the tough questions are out of the way let’s move on to making a plan. As a type-A organizer, my motto is this, failing to plan is planning to fail. And who wants to plan on failing? NO ONE! So instead, let’s plan!
Plan #1: Decide on who you want to help you.
I couldn’t do this without my encouraging team of volunteers. Before I began this small group, I recruited three of my all-time biggest supporters and enlisted them to help me. Since then, I have added one more to my team. She is a regular attendee to my current support group and is just all-around fabulous! These girls not only support and encourage me through their words, but they help me provide refreshments and welcome those who are new to the group when they enter my home. Without them, I don’t know how I could do this every month.
Plan #2: Decide what type of group you want.
There are informal groups, bible study groups, and book discussion groups. Every group is different, and every group brings its own flavor. So it’s up to you and your preference. Informal groups are obviously less formal than the other groups and require less planning. The conversation within this type of group is free-flowing, spontaneous, and unstructured. All that is really set beforehand is a time, place, and the person’s commitment to be there. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is. But for me? This type of group is not my style. I prefer to have more structure. Therefore if you were to attend my support group meeting (The Nest), you would find that the first half of our meeting is spent with others mingling while eating some yummy snacks. But after that time, I move on to a more structured setting in which I share an encouraging message based upon God’s word. I do it this way because it is what works best for me. When it comes to your group, you have to do what works best for you.
Plan #3: Decide on who you are going to invite.
Is it going to be women only? Couples only? Will you open the invitation to women who have overcome infertility and can now offer hope and encouragement through their testimonies and advice? I have a woman’s only group because I have found that women will typically share more openly about their thoughts, feelings, and struggles than a couple’s group. I also invite all women who are in all stages of their infertility struggle. There is just something wonderful and uplifting about hearing the testimony of someone who has reached “the other side.”
Plan #4: Decide where your group should meet.
Are you going to meet in a church? A home? Maybe a restaurant? Or community center? There is no “right” place to meet, but please be advised there are pros and cons to each, and you will need to weigh them out. For instance, churches are usually a “safe” option; however, a church may not be a positive option for everyone. So perhaps a restaurant? This is a very low-key and informal option, but many might not attend due to not wanting others who might show up to eat at the restaurant to know of their struggles. Not to mention, there are many distractions within this type of setting, and it might be hard to offer them the encouragement and support you want to bring. This leaves your home as another option. And a good option because they are more inviting and homier than a church, but the downside is that maybe your home is difficult to locate (especially in the dark). Not to mention the obvious fact that some people might feel uncomfortable going to a stranger’s house, but then again, maybe not. I personally hold my support group in my home, and so far, I have had nothing but a positive response. But I know this will not work for everyone and in every community. It just simply works best for me. Therefore if a church, a home, and a restaurant are not good ideas for your group, perhaps you can meet in a community center or the conference room of a library. The possibilities for such a “neutral” location are endless.
Plan #5: Decide when and how long your meetings will last.
I believe that a two-hour meeting, once a month, on a weeknight works best. With my first infertility support group (the one that flopped), I tried once a week but learned that was just too much of a commitment for both me and those attending. So I reduced it to bi-monthly. This worked well for a short period of time, but I learned that if someone could not attend a meeting, they were less likely to attend the next. Their reasoning? They said that by the time the next meeting rolled around two weeks later, they had already missed a month and feared the group had either moved on or formed bonds without them. And so for them, it was just easier to skip or stop coming altogether. However, since starting my new infertility support group (The Nest), I have chosen to meet once a month. And so far, it has worked perfectly. I love having a month to plan, advertise, and get everything prepared for the next meeting. And from those who attend, they love it too! Most have commented that coming to a one time a month meeting is not too time-consuming, nor does it interfere with their busy work week.
Plan #6: Decide on a name.
I am not going to lie, coming up with a name for my support group was tough! It took a lot of brainstorming with my husband, my friends, and God. And so I don’t have any advice on how to think of a name other than making sure it’s something you like and something catchy, friendly, and encouraging.
Plan #7: Decide how you want to promote
Once you have all the logistics nailed down and a name for your group that makes you smile, it’s time to start promoting. I suggest advertising AT LEAST one month before your first meeting. And the best way to advertise (and cheapest) is through social media (Facebook, Instagram, Blogging, Twitter, etc.) flyers at local restaurants, community centers, and in your church bulletin.
Up until now, I have provided you with the basics to get your group started. But now, I will give you a few “tricks” that I have learned along the way that can make your support group meeting “extra special” to all those who attend. Keep in mind these are only suggestions. Having them or not having them will not make or break your group. Instead, they will enhance the enjoyment and fun of each person’s experience.
Extra #1: Resource Table
On my resource table, I provide the following:
- Free handouts of scriptures and written prayers for healing, conception, and threatened miscarriage.
- Extra items to offer hope and healing (keychains, bangles, essential oils, etc.)
- Books and devotionals to check out like a Library
- Prayer Board (Many women are uncomfortable with sharing their needs with everyone in the group. Therefore, I provide a place for them to anonymously write their prayer requests and then place them on the tree. I then commit to praying over each one during my quiet time every morning.)
Extra #2: Refreshments
I have to admit; I love food. And shamefully, I decide whether or not I will attend an event based upon if there will be any served. Terrible, isn’t it? But it’s my reality. This is why I always ensure that I have food and drinks available at all of my meetings. In fact, the first 45 minutes of my meeting time is devoted to eating. I love this time together because I believe it gives a great opportunity for new people to get comfortable with the other ladies. Not to mention, it gives everyone a chance to catch up with where they are in their journey and how they have been doing since the last meeting.
Extra #3: Giveaways
I love to give gifts; therefore, at each meeting, I give a gift (through a raffle) that coordinates with whatever topic I am speaking on that evening. Sometimes it’s as fancy as a necklace or as practical as a coffee mug.
Extra #4: “First Time” Gift Bags
This is something that, once again, goes with my love to give. At each meeting, I provide a “First Time” bag to those who are…well…attending for the first time. Within each bag, I provide a small faith-based gift (under $5), handouts to scriptures and prayers, a bookmark, essential oils for anxiety and stress, homemade sugar scrub (we all need pampering), chocolate candy, and a simple thank you card for coming. It’s nothing special, but my goal is to make sure that person leaves feeling special.
Extra #5: Visual Aides
In school, I always learned faster when there was a visual aide. Therefore, it’s no surprise that I provide a demonstration, short video, or some eye-catching prop at every meeting. In fact, last month, I asked my husband to build me a boat out of duct tape and cardboard boxes to demonstrate my lesson. It might have been cheesetastic, but I bet no one will ever forget the time I had a gigantic boat sitting in my living room and the encouraging story I shared to go with it. What do you think? Could you ever forget this?
Extra #6: Decorate
My support group’s name is called “The Nest,” so I center my decorations around birds, birdhouses, and bird nests. Below are pictures of my dining room table that I believe help make the environment feel more cozy and relaxing. Also, I have a chalkboard sign placed at my front door to greet those attending.
Whew! This is a lot of information. But unfortunately, I am not done. As I said, this is my second infertility group, and because the first one flopped, I know what will make it work, but I also know what will make it not work. And so this section is devoted to just that…MISTAKES you don’t want to make. Trust me!
Mistake #1: Pushing your opinion and beliefs about treatments, medicines, and religion to others.
Do not push your own opinions or religious beliefs on to others. Sometimes the most important thing is not to prove you are right or share your opinion (especially when not asked), but rather to show them love.
Mistake #2: Having everyone “reshare” their stories to new members during every meeting.
Unless your group is small (five or less), do not go around the room and have everyone “reshare” their infertility story every time a new member arrives. This can be time-consuming and make the group monotonous (and perhaps boring) for those who attend regularly. Instead, encourage new members to share their stories with others during the first half of the meeting while everyone is eating, mixing, and mingling. Or perhaps allow some extra time in the end during your question, discussion, and prayer time.
Mistake #3: Putting others on the spot.
Do not put anyone on the spot by going around the room and asking them to share their thoughts, opinions, or prayer requests. It can make an already awkward situation for some really awkward. And as a result, you won’t ever see them again. Or at least not at your next support group meeting.
Mistake #4: Overstepping your boundaries.
Do not openly share the support group meeting on a person’s Facebook wall or any other public forum. Infertility is a very sensitive issue for many couples. As a result, they are not always open to the public about their struggles, let alone going to a support group because of it. Therefore advertising, or talking to them about coming (or maybe why they missed it) for everyone to see in cyberspace land is never a good idea. I suggest keeping those types of invites and questions to private messages only.
Mistake #5: Getting so busy that you neglect to keep the main thing…the main thing.
Don’t get so busy trying to accomplish your to-do list to make your group successful that you forget the MAIN task, which is to bathe your ministry in prayer. I have noticed that the months I neglect to pray diligently for my meeting to go well and seek His wisdom, guidance, and direction, the group that month isn’t as successful. I find that I am not only more flustered and more overwhelmed, but fewer people come. He is your source of power, and without Him, your group will not be successful.
Mistake #6: Trying to please everyone.
I used to make the mistake of trying to be a people pleaser. At every meeting, I would get extremely nervous. I am not a public speaker, and in the past, I have tended to constantly wonder what others were thinking of me as I was sharing my encouraging message. But over time, I have realized that it doesn’t matter if they like me. It doesn’t matter if they find me funny, or interesting, or encouraging, or likable. Because ultimately, I am not facilitating this group for them. Or even for me. I am doing it all for Him. He has called me to minister to other hurting women, and as long as I am sharing His truth, I know that I am putting a smile on His face. And it’s only His opinion that matters. So please don’t get caught up in trying to make everyone happy because you can’t.
Mistake #7: Putting too much of your focus on the number in attendance.
Do not concentrate on the number of women who attend. I repeat, DO NOT concentrate on the number of women who attend. If you allow yourself to focus on the numbers, you will feel defeated and discouraged. Instead, judge your success on whether or not you obeyed God and gave Him your all. I guarantee He isn’t looking at your attendance record but rather your heart to love and serve others.
Dancing Upon Barren Land (A leader’s guide for support groups)
God’s Plan for Pregnancy (Excellent for a book study support group)
Pregnant with Hope (Book was written to be used in a support group setting)
Seed of Hope Devotional (Each entry could be used to help facilitate discussion)
I know what you are thinking. SO. MUCH. INFORMATION. But I wanted to provide you with more than enough so that you can make a plan and get started. Don’t panic or worry about whether you can do this. I am confident that as long as you keep God as your source of strength, wisdom, and guidance, you will do great!
If you would like more information or have any questions or suggestions, please do not hesitate to email me at email@example.com. I would love to hear from you and offer any support and as much encouragement I can to you and your group. Because honestly, I want you to be fruitful in every area of your life.
I would love to connect with you personally, so if you liked this post, pass it on. Then click Waiting for Baby Bird on the public Facebook page or join me on Instagram @waitingforbabybird. I can’t wait to “meet” you!
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