By EmmaLee Italia | Contributing Editor
Stefanie Riehl and her husband, Louis, parishioners of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, knew that their struggle with infertility and pregnancy loss could be something to which others could relate.
“As a Catholic getting married in the Church, you agree to accept children willingly,” Riehl said. “But what about when you can’t? I said to my husband, ‘Whatever happens, we need to do something with this.’”
For the past year, that something has been Bearing Hope, begun by Riehl through the parish’s pro-life Elizabeth Ministry. Bearing Hope is a free, peer-led support group that fosters healing, hope and prayer for women struggling with infertility and pregnancy loss, and others who wish to share their own experiences. The group meets at the parish the first Tuesday of every month at 7:30 p.m.; it’s open to anyone.
“It’s an open forum where people can talk, whatever they need, [made up of] women who want to help other women,” Riehl said. “Unfortunately, I experienced both [infertility and pregnancy loss,] and despite having a compassionate Catholic doctor, I felt that there was little support for me in my journey … My own experience in working through this group has helped bring me back to faith.”
Riehl and her husband tried for seven years to have two healthy children, a struggle that included infertility and the loss of an unborn child midway through her second pregnancy, and the eventual diagnosis of a rare vein malformation condition.
Her personal experience inspired her to help make support available to other women.
“In the year the group has been running, we’ve heard about some very tough losses, spoken with women who have lost and regained faith, and provided resources,” Riehl said. “One of the reasons why I wanted to have a group and venue is so that women understand that if you are struggling with infertility, there are Church-approved methods of medicine,” such as Natural Procreative Technology, or NaPro, and the Creighton Model of Natural Family Planning, which tracks fertility during a woman’s menstrual cycle.
The latter, Riehl noted, many people don’t even realize exist – and has the advantage of being both less invasive and more natural than in-vitro fertilization, which is not sanctioned by the Church. But “we never judge anyone, [including] those who have had IVF – we just try to educate about other options,” she said.
The support group is filling a marked need – peer support and conversation – at a time when women can feel hopeless and alone. Riehl discovered during her personal struggles that the only recommendation her doctor had was to see a therapist; what she really wanted was someone who could to relate to what she was going through.
“We have a policy that we are part of the journey – as much a part you want us to be,” Riehl pointed out. “Women have come for several meetings, and some have come for one meeting.” She recalled one woman who, at the end of her infertility struggles, ended up adopting, and now talks to other women in the group about that option.
“Some women come who have experienced multiple profound losses, giving birth to stillborn children,” Riehl continued. “They come to help other women who have experienced profound loss.”
“There can be so many different reasons for infertility,” she said. “And there are doctors in this area that can be a resource, as opposed to going to a traditional infertility practice.”
For her part, Riehl is simply focused on getting the word out about Bearing Hope, knowing there are women in need of the peer support it offers.
“That’s one of our challenges, letting other parishes know about it as well,” she said. “A lot of good comes out of our struggles.”
For more information about Bearing Hope, email Stefanie Riehl, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit stgregorythegreatchurch.org/elizabeth-ministry.