God Never Wastes the Space Between

“I’m sorry to tell you it didn’t work,” the doctor said gently, then exhaled: “We didn’t get any embryos.”

And with her sigh, my dream of motherhood disintegrated.

It had been a long haul to reach this point. Tests, medications, surgeries. Unsure diagnoses, ineffective treatments, bills upon bills. And all for what? One tiny, pink, glaring negative line, month after month, year after year.

So much invested in fulfilling this deeply rooted longing, only to produce nothing but tears and prolonged ache.

What a waste.

God led me through this place of defeat so that I had nowhere else to turn but to Him.

Read full post at incourage.

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God Remembers the Barren, and So Should the Church

I walked in the door to a foyer teeming with children. My husband and I entered the sanctuary and sat down in the back, where I began counting the number of pregnant women in the pews around us.

We had just moved to a new town and were trying out a church. My husband had to drag me there, because I didn’t want to go. I thought it would be painful to be surrounded by what I wanted desperately, but God had not yet given.

My assumptions proved correct. As I flipped through the bulletin, I saw listed several ministries the church offered various adults: singles, newly marrieds, families with kids, empty nesters. Nothing for childless, not-wedded-yesterday couples.

I was already feeling rejected by God. Now, I felt left out of His church.

The truth of His promise

Though I was impatient with His timing, God was patient with me during my years of infertility. Even before He brought us our two sons, He granted abundant grace and revealed more of His character to me in a personal way.

During and after this season, God grew my compassion for others facing these trials and my desire to search His Word for true comfort, discovering how God interacted with women in the Bible who struggled to bear children.

One of the most prominent examples is Hannah, who is so distraught over her childlessness that she pours out her soul to the Lord in the temple and is mistaken by the priest as a drunk. She leaves with “her face no longer downcast,” and once she returns home, God answers her cry.

“And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her.” (1 Samuel 1:19)

The word “remembered,” when used with God as the subject doing the “remembering,” appears elsewhere in Scripture when He delivers His people: Noah from the flood (Genesis 8:1), Abraham and Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:29), the Israelites from Egypt (Exodus 2:24), and the Israelites from the desert (Psalm 105:42).

In all these examples, God doesn’t forget His people as if they slipped His mind. That would be impossible – it would go against His omniscient character.

Instead, God “remembers” His children by bringing His promises to pass.

He saved Noah, like He said He would. He saved Abraham and the people of Israel, like He said He would.

He enabled women like Hannah to miraculously conceive because He made a covenant (promise) to provide a lineage that would eventually produce a miraculously conceived Savior.

The Bible doesn’t guarantee that every couple will bear children. But it does confirm a powerful promise that God is committed to redeem the sorrows in our lives through the death and resurrection of His Son.

Left out of the club

Even with this biblical comfort, couples that struggle with infertility can feel forgotten and isolated – especially in environments like church that emphasize families and childrearing.

As the leader of an infertility support ministry, I’ve heard from women describing upsetting circumstances when someone at church made a comment implying that their infertility was caused by sin. This assumption adds to the shame those dealing with infertility already face, making them feel excluded from fellowship in the body of Christ.

One woman in an online support group describes her loneliness:

“I find church the hardest place to be at the moment. The lack of understanding has floored me. I can’t bear more hurt by other believers.”

In my experience, it seems most insensitive comments about infertility stem from ignorance about the subject. It’s hard to understand what you haven’t personally suffered.

As with other rarely discussed health issues, many people aren’t aware of the ramifications of infertility.

They don’t know that it’s a disease affecting one in eight couples. They haven’t felt the embarrassment of being the only couple in church without kids to send to Sunday school. They aren’t experiencing the month-to-month roller coaster of emotional and sometimes physical pain, only to be told by someone in Bible study the well-meaning but hurtful advice: “You just need to trust God and relax.”

Instead of perpetuating unwitting insensitivity, the church can seek better understanding about infertility to build one another up in unity of faith.

Bearing one another’s burdens

Armed with greater knowledge and empathy, those of us who lead or even just attend church can, by God’s grace, help carry the burdens of those who are suffering this type of disappointment. Working together, we can create an environment of compassion, rather than exclusion from the baby club.

Teaching

We know from Scripture that children are a blessing (Psalm 127:3-5), and are familiar with the command to “be fruitful and multiply,” though some miss the Old Covenant context within which God delivered this mandate and construe it as an assurance of reproductive ability. But how many churches have spent time expounding upon the many accounts of delayed fertility recorded in the Bible?

In miraculous displays backing up His declaration in Genesis 18:14, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”, God enables seven women whom the Bible describes as “barren” to conceive for His divine purposes: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Samson’s mother, Hannah, the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings, and Elizabeth.

If you’re a pastor or other ministry leader, you can preach sermons and offer Bible studies examining these stories, not as a prescription for fertility success, but rather to demonstrate God’s attentiveness to His children who are longing for a blessing, corresponding to the gospel truth of our longing for a Savior.

Recognition

Mother’s Day is difficult to endure for women experiencing infertility and miscarriage. Having to stay seated while most every other woman in the congregation stands for applause or receives a rose shoots like a dagger to the heart of a woman who desires but hasn’t yet been given children.

While it’s appropriate for pastors and churches to honor moms on that Sunday, you can also acknowledge the sorrow this day stirs for those who’ve lost a baby or haven’t been able to conceive. Rather than making an ostentatious display showing the haves and have-nots, make it a point from the pulpit to commend all women who do important work “mothering” others in practical and spiritual ways and affirm the value of every believing woman as a daughter of Christ.

Apart from Mother’s Day, consider planning an annual service honoring the losses associated with miscarriage and infertility, such as the Service of Memorial and Lament priest and author Tish Warren offered at her church this January. Similarly, just as churches hold infant dedications or baptism services, provide prayer times for couples waiting for children, petitioning the Lord for healing, peace, and wisdom on behalf of those undergoing medical tests and treatments or who are pursuing adoption.

Focus adjustment

Churches have traditionally emphasized marriage and motherhood as worthy aspirations, and for good reasons. Yet somewhere along the way, the role of mother got propped up as the ultimate calling for all women, to the point that some women’s ministries are structured solely around mom life activities and events.

Though well-intended, this emphasis can become so overblown that it devalues women who don’t have the label of “mother,” and dismisses the vital role all women play in the church.

To better serve and utilize the giftings of women, those who are in church leadership can broaden its focus on the Kingdom callings of women to include motherhood AND other areas of service, such as administration, outreach, teaching, organization, communication, and many other facets that are all needed to keep a church alive and thriving as one body growing up in Christ (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Support

Infertility is a life crisis that entails a grieving process. To help people in the congregation as well as reach out to your community, you can host and/or help individuals start support groups, providing safe places for people to share their struggles and comfort one another with the comfort God supplies (2 Corinthians 1:4). If you offer a resource library, keep on hand books specifically written for those facing infertility, infant loss, and childlessness. Thanks to increasing awareness, we have more faith-based resources addressing these issues at our disposal today than we did 10 years ago, and we need more still.

God “remembers” couples experiencing infertility by keeping His promise to work for the good of all His children. Everyone in the church, from pastor to parishioner, can love those who are suffering in our midst by encouraging those who are aching for a child and pointing to Christ as our ultimate hope for a fulfilling life.

[Featured image: Ben White on Unsplash]

Infertility wrecked me and made me stronger

For a woman who is struggling with infertility, a pregnancy announcement has the equivalent effect of a kick in a man’s groin. It knocks the wind out of you, pierces your heart, and accentuates the weight of your empty arms.

You’d think this reaction would disappear once you became a mother. When you’re almost 10 years out from those dismal days of waiting and enduring pointless treatments, and now have two remarkable boys who fill your life with joy and bedlam, you’d think it wouldn’t get to you anymore. You’d think you had moved past this pain.

I thought wrong. It still stings, even if just for a quick moment of recalled anguish.

Read full post at Her View From Home.

How my love for my son who is adopted and my son who is biological is the same, yet different

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Only one person has had the chutzpah to ask me if I love my son whom we adopted less than I love my son whom I carried and birthed.

She didn’t phrase it that bluntly, of course. And I knew she was inquiring out of genuine curiosity, as she was contemplating adoption after having two biological children. It was good for me to recognize her naiveté; otherwise, I might’ve snapped back something less than cordial in response to what is, in fact, a thoughtful and weighty question.

This mama asked me what I think countless people wonder, but don’t have either the courage or guilelessness to speak to my face:

“I know you love both your boys. But do you, you know, feel differently about them? Do you feel as close to Calvin as you do to Linus, since Linus is the one you actually gave birth to?”

Somehow, by the grace of God most likely, this didn’t shock or fluster me. I simply stated that yes, I love them both tremendously. No, I don’t feel differently about them because they’re both my children. Yes, I feel close to both of them and believe we’re securely attached through the bonding that takes place over time not just in the womb, but also in and throughout the hours of feeding them, changing their diapers, reading to them, tickling their feet, kissing their wounds, holding them in my arms however long it takes for them to feel safe.

This incident occurred about four years ago, and I don’t think I’d answer any other way if someone else would dare ask me the same question today.

Yet this concept of different feelings lodged in my head, where it was treated to days of rumination as I considered how I truly felt about each of my sons.

And when I sifted through my sentiments toward either one, and realized how all of it is so precious beyond what I could’ve ever imagined to experience, I felt moved to share how my love for Calvin and for Linus manifests in both similar and unique ways because of the two different and surprising ways God brought them into my life.

My love for both sons

My oldest son, Calvin, was the sudden surge of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel of struggling to grow our family.

After years of aching over my empty womb and paying a good fortune on fertility treatments that amounted to nothing but tears, I had almost given up my lifelong desire to be a mother.

Then, only two months after enduring the devastation of a failed IVF cycle, we got the call from the adoption agency that changed our lives.

I was a mom. I had a baby – the most adorable, perfect, happy little boy – and he was my son, from the moment I first held him.

This baby filled my heart with joy, relief, and overwhelming gratitude. Those words people spoke with good intention but in reality drove a dagger right through me – “everything happens for a reason” – actually made sense now.

I see him today – a lively, smart-as-a-whip 6-year-old – and I burst with affection for my cheerful little mister. He looks so much like his kind-hearted birthmother, and takes after her nurturing, creative personality. His appearance and character remind me of her love, her sacrifice, and the fact that he belongs to two families who care for him immensely.

He is a long-awaited miracle, the fulfillment of oft-uttered prayers, a testament to God’s faithfulness and delight in astonishing His children with blessings beyond expectation.

He is the baby I’d longed for, delivered to me via another remarkable woman’s womb, and I love him dearly.

My youngest son, Linus, was the realization of a dream that had nearly died.

When Calvin turned 1, we began talking about our options to expand our family again, and cautiously proceeded with finding a new doctor and re-starting the whole miserable process of fertility testing and evaluation.

Then came the day I was stunned to find two pink lines I had never seen before, and I have never seen since.

I was pregnant. I had a baby growing inside my body, and I loved him the moment I discovered that blessed little plus sign.

From hearing the thrum of his heartbeat to feeling him tumble around my belly, I got to experience the sensations of my son developing within me, as well as endure the fatigue and pain of carrying and delivering a baby.

I see him today – a sweet, social, wears-his-heart-on-his-sleeve 4-year-old, and I smile with amusement at my expressive little bud. He looks like me, as well as my husband, and displays some aspects of both our personalities. This combination of physical traits resulting from the mixture of our genes reminds me that nothing is impossible with Him who loves me.

He is a long-awaited miracle, the fulfillment of oft-uttered prayers, a testament to God’s faithfulness and delight in astonishing His children with blessings beyond expectation.

He is the baby I’d longed for, delivered to me via my womb, and I love him dearly.

My love for both my boys is equally deep and wonderfully multifaceted. I feel close to both because I’m their mom, and they’re my sons. Neither relationship is greater than the other, but each has its exceptional qualities.

My son who is adopted made me a mother, gave me a fuller life and larger extended family through his birthmother, and demonstrated God’s redemption of my broken heart.

My son who is biological made me a mother of two, granted me the amazing experience of pregnancy, and demonstrated God’s redemption of my broken body.

Both my babies are undeserved blessings, and I will forever thank God for the vast and varied joy they bring into my life.

Infertility Index: Blogs, books, podcasts, and more

encourage infertility resource list blogs books podcasts

Blogs

WARNING: The following blogs may contain some crass language/content.

Books

Podcasts

App series

Vlogs/videos

Shops

Listen up: Let’s make the world less crappy for those struggling to have a baby

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The world is a lonely place for couples having trouble getting pregnant. It’s hard to feel like you fit into a society where everyone and their giraffe is knocked up, posting pics of their bumps like they’re the universal outfit of the day.

Instead of further isolating those who are struggling to grow their families, you can support them by following this advice: shut yo mouth and open yo ears.

That’s my snappy adaption of the theme for this year’s National Infertility Awareness Week, an initiative to inform the public about the 1 in 8 couples of childbearing age affected by the disease of infertility. RESOLVE, the organization sponsoring this movement, is throwing back to the old school catchphrase – “Listen Up!” – to help people understand the infertility community’s needs and promote access to a wide variety of family-building options.

During the long and grueling process it took to expand my family, I appreciated those who asked me thoughtful questions and stuck around as I spilled my guts about my screwy lady parts. On the flip side, those who didn’t give me the time of day to listen to my frustrations made my misery and feelings of being an outcast that much worse.

To educate others how they can “listen up,” I wanted to call out specific groups of people who – armed with knowledge and a better grasp on tactfulness – can support someone facing the devastation of infertility in important and distinct ways. And, because this topic is near and dear to me, I’ma preach. So all who have ears, let ’em hear:

Listen up, preggo ladies: The child you’re carrying is a blessing, and a miracle. All babies are, really. While you should celebrate this little life, remember there are many people out there (15 percent of U.S. couples, according to the CDC) who are still waiting on their miracle. If you know a loved one is struggling in this way, don’t dump salt on her wound by talking excessively about your pregnancy. Focus your conversations around non-baby-related subjects you both enjoy, and extend her the courtesy of an invitation to your shower, as well as the grace to bow out of it. And, for the love of Mark Zuckerberg, don’t post your announcement on social media until you’ve shared it with your loved one privately ahead of time.

Listen up, OB/GYNs: As hard as your job is, reaching up uteruses all day long, consider how degrading and defeating it is for a woman who can’t get pregnant to visit your office. She first must wait interminably long in a room surrounded by ballooning bellies, submit to the stirrups for various uncomfortable exams, and talk about her sex life plus other embarrassing topics with a physician who might not even know how to help. Please treat your patients with respect. Don’t downplay the problem – acting as though her irregular periods or ovarian cysts are run-of-the-mill female troubles rather than sources of extreme anguish. And, for Hippocrates’s sake, switch out the clocks in your rooms to ones that don’t tick so damn loud.

Listen up, fertility specialists: Don’t take this personally, but no one wants to see you. Couples who are facing the crushing disappointment of not being able to conceive naturally must reach a level of desperation to seek your help. Don’t make this humiliation worse by either speaking in a condescending tone or behaving in a dismissive manner. One in eight couples are humans – not just a number that could boost or tank your success rates. Show some compassion as you communicate, and treat your patients’ minds and spirits as well as their bodies by supplying resources and contact info for local support groups, psychiatrists, and counselors.

Listen up, alternative therapy providers: You guys are weird. You should probably own up to that. While couples who pursue your line of treatment would do almost anything to have a baby, they don’t need you pushing various get-fertile-fast items that would further bust their budgets or making unfounded promises that could further dash their dreams. Be honest about the strengths and limitations of your services, and don’t look shocked if a client asks you to turn off your hippie background music.

Listen up, adoption caseworkers: While you get the joy of helping bring parents and children together through the beautiful and redemptive process of adoption, you also have the task of drawing out the pain that might have motivated both the adoptive and birthparent(s) to seek this option. Please do NOT tell your prospective parents they must “get over” the disappointment of infertility before they can adopt – as if that grief is different than any other loss that takes time to process and perhaps continues to hurt even after resolution has been reached. You must know that all the adoption paperwork is exhausting, and the undertaking of preparing for a home study feels like a Fixer Upper reno, minus the assistance from Chip and Joanna. So handle your clients with care, and give them continuous status reports as they wait on pins and needles for the call that will change their lives.

Listen up, pastors: If you’ve already preached on the topic of barrenness in the Bible, well done! (There are at least six women in Scripture who struggled getting pregnant – including three of the founding mothers of Israel – so the odds are in your favor here.) You play a critical role in comforting those who have to muster the courage every Sunday to gather in a place dominated by families with children. Lift up the “least of these” in your congregation by researching good books and blogs that you could recommend, and support the efforts of those who facilitate infertility support groups in your community. On Mother’s Day, consider marking the occasion in less ostentatious ways than doing standing ovations or flower presentations, and/or mention the need to appreciate ALL the important women in our lives. And lastly, I beseech you, quit cracking procreation jokes from the pulpit. Not everyone in your church is “good at making babies,” and saying so will ostracize those who might already feel like church is a place where they don’t belong.

In whatever context you encounter those who are facing infertility, the way you handle your interactions can either uplift them or drag them down. We can make the world more compassionate through the simple gesture of listening to those who are hurting.

And all God’s people who are tired of hearing “just relax and you’ll get pregnant” said: “Amen.”

20 questions to ask a friend facing infertility

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Have you ever asked a dumb question? If you answered no, congratulations! You are the smartest person ever – and a big, fat liar.

Posing ignorant inquiries isn’t a practice limited to those whose names end in Kardashian. We all have asked someone a question that was irrational, tactless, ill-advised, or utterly asinine. Circumstances that involve sadness and grief especially trip us up, as we fumble around with insufficient expressions of sympathy and summon common platitudes, meaning well to provide the other person comfort, but perhaps more earnestly trying our darndest to ease our own discomfort.

The situation of a loved one experiencing difficulty getting pregnant provides ample opportunity for insensitive questions and overall awkward conversations. Example: responding to your mom’s courteous inquiry if you’ve tried standing on your head after intercourse.

Aside from the embarrassment factor, part of what makes dialogue with a friend facing infertility so challenging is the helplessness of it all; neither you nor she can ultimately change the situation. And, in your attempt to find ways you could help, you run the risk of sounding trite, nosy, or rude.

Talking with your friend who is longing to be a mother is unquestionably complicated, but it is not futile. When I was despairing over my failure to conceive month after month, one of the things I appreciated most about friends who tried to support me was their willingness to ask me questions and their patience listening to me vent. Having the guts to go deep into your friend’s personal struggles and the tolerance to hear her gripe about her jacked-up ovaries? That’s love.

For this year’s National Infertility Awareness Week – an initiative aiming to educate the public about the disease of infertility and the 1 in 8 couples of reproductive age who are affected by it – the sponsoring organization, RESOLVE, is urging people to #StartAsking how they can support the infertility community and promote better, more affordable access to treatment and various family-building options. I thought I’d chip in to this worthwhile effort and chime in a few questions of my own – 20, plus a few extra – to provide a handy list for those who want to show interest in the infertility issues their loved one is experiencing but don’t know what to ask.

This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive list, as if you should ask all of these questions at once. No need to go all Jack Bauer Interrogation Mode on her. These are simply a mix of open-ended, insight-seeking, emotion-emancipating questions that can help her process her grief, increase your understanding of her situation, and strengthen your relationship.

Before you launch into any query, be sure to affirm your affection:

I love you. I’m so sorry you’re hurting right now. I’d like to help, but I’m not sure what the best way is to do that. Know that I’m here for you, willing to listen, if or when you want to talk about it.

This sets the tone for grace-extending dialogue, demonstrating your heart to support her and giving her space to share hers when she’s ready.

First, a few questions to avoid like [name your food allergy/intolerance.]

1) So, how’s the “not having a baby” thing going?
Seriously?

2) Whose fault is it?
Totes innaprops. Infertility is a medical condition, not a moral consequence, and asking this type of question heaps shame upon your friend who is likely already burdened by guilt. Plus, your friend’s and/or her spouse’s specific diagnosis is private information that only she can decide whether or not to disclose.

3) How did the appointment go?
If your friend has just been disappointed by a discouraging prognosis or yet another negative pregnancy test, she may not be eager to report back and disappoint you, too. Instead of pressuring her to respond, shoot her a text/email/snapchat(?) saying you’re thinking about her and then wait until she wants to talk about it.

4) Have you tried _____?
It’s 2016, people. If your friend wants to learn more about various supposed fertility-enhancing techniques, she can Google it.

5) Why don’t you just adopt?
The ultimate cringeworthy inquiry. Because a) “why” puts her on the defensive, b) she may not be prepared to think about adoption yet, and c) there is no “just” about adoption; it takes time and demands significant financial and emotional investment. As an adoptive mother, I can absolutely attest that adoption is a tremendous blessing, but it is also a lot of work and a major decision that cannot be rushed.

Put your good intentions to better use than displaying your own ignorance by floating a few of these kinder, more gently phrased questions.

1) How are you doing?
Open the door to deeper conversation.

2) Do you want to talk about it?
Extend the invitation to talk while giving her an out.

3) What options are you considering?
Offer her the opportunity to explain the paths she’s pondering and to weigh her inclinations and reservations about them. WITHHOLD JUDGMENT.

4) Can you tell me more about _____? (fertility test/treatment, adoption, etc.)
Seek information and find a friend grateful for your interest.

5) How are you feeling about _____? (fertility test/treatment, adoption, etc.)
Let her let it all out.

6) How are you feeling physically?
Reproductive problems can be painful, and fertility treatments can take a huge toll on a person’s body. Recognize the physical ramifications of what she’s going through and allow her to discuss her health if she wants.

7) How is your spouse doing?
Infertility can rock a marriage. Show concern for her spouse and the well-being of their relationship.

8) What is helping you get through this difficult time?
Find out how she is coping and learn if/how you can aid those efforts.

9) What is adding to your hurt at this time?
Discover her triggers.

10) Who else have you talked to about this issue?
To respect her privacy and deter gossip.

11) Would you consider participating in a support group?
Suggest – but don’t push – the thought of finding a community of women who understand what she’s going through.

12) Are you open to hearing from others who’ve experienced similar issues?
Personal referrals and book or blog recommendations are great, but be careful how you pitch them. Hearing about “success” stories might piss her off more than inspire her, depending on her feelings about prolonging hope.

13) How do you like to be encouraged?
You may be your own Master Self-Esteem Builder, but you can’t assume that role for your friend. Acknowledge that she is the authority on what she needs and take note of her preferences.

14) What do you like to eat [or drink]?
Provide a little consumable consolation.

15) Do you want to build a snowman?
Sorry, couldn’t resist. For reals, though, see if she wants to catch a movie, get a pedicure, go for a hike, or join you in some other fun, stress-relieving activity.

16) How do you like to express your creativity?
The woman who yearns to nurture life within her can nurture life through her by engaging in creative endeavors such as cooking, blogging, gardening, DIYing, etc. Cheer her on in those activities that bring her joy and enrich the world around her.

17) How can I show you I value our friendship?
#somuchsap, yet it reaffirms your care for her and her importance to you.

18) Where are you at with God?
Yeah, I know. This is the one that’ll get me – er, you – into trouble. Here are the caveats: a) if you are close friends, and b) if the conversation is private and already at a deep level, and c) if she is even open to talking about spiritual issues at all, then go ahead and go there. Stripped of Christian clichés, conveyed from a place of grace, this question gives her a chance to process her feelings toward the most important Person in her life and possibly give you a chance to reassure her of the truth of His love.

19) How is [any other aspect of her life] going?
Your friend isn’t defined by her infertility; it is a major part of her life right now, but it isn’t WHO she is. By bringing up other areas of interest, you can validate her worth as a person – not just a person who wants to but can’t yet be a mom – and emphasize the importance of her contributions in other meaningful pursuits.

20) Can I pray for you? [or, better yet] How can I pray for you?
Hands-down, the best question to ask and the best action to take. As much as you love your friend, God loves her infinitely more. And whereas you cannot offer her the one thing she so desperately desires, the Creator of all life can – in His timing, according to His plan. So, once you are done asking her how you can help, ask Him to give her the blessing of a child and grant her strength to wait in the meantime.

Resources:
RESOLVE Infertility Etiquette page
RESOLVE Family and Friends: How They Can Help fact sheet
The Carry Camp For Family and Friends page
Mayo Clinic “Social support: Tap this tool to beat stress” article

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