Infertility is not something that most couples talk about during the early stages of a relationship, but for Stephanie and Brad Vos, the subject was a natural part of their courtship.
“I had known since I was young that I would have to build a family through adoption,” Stephanie Vos says. “And I wanted to talk about this with Brad before we married.”
Brad Vos, pastor at CrossWay Church in Battle Ground, remembers when Stephanie first brought up the subject of infertility.
“I found out about Stephanie’s infertility when we were dating,” Brad says. “It wasn’t a big conversation for me at the time, and it didn’t really change things at all. For me, I knew that I wanted to be a dad (but) it didn’t really matter to me how I became one.”
Even though Brad, a youth pastor at the time, wasn’t phased by the idea of adopting, he says he was impressed by the fact that Stephanie was able to bring up such a complicated, emotion-laden topic during the early stages of their relationship: “It shows her character that she felt like it was an important conversation to have early on.”
A couple years after they were married, Brad and Stephanie started the process of adopting a child. Today, the couple has two daughters – both adopted as infants through the Bethany Christian Services’ domestic infant adoption program – Anika, 6, and Amelia, 3.
Although the joy of parenthood is a central part of their lives, Stephanie and Brad say the pain of infertility is something that doesn’t fade away after the birth or adoption of a child.
“The struggle (of infertility) is painful, and babies aren’t magic erasers that make the pain go away,” Stephanie says.
Brad agrees, and says having other people to talk to, who understand the pain of infertility, helps ease the suffering: “Infertility is often this really secret struggle and is awkward to talk about for a variety of reasons. It amazes me how much of a difference having someone to talk to can make. You can’t remove the pain – they still have to go through their difficult journey – but they have someone to walk with them.”
About six years ago, right around the time that they were preparing to adopt their first daughter, Stephanie and Brad moved from their home in Wilsonville, Oregon, to Clark County, for Brad’s job as the pastor at CrossWay Church in Battle Ground.
“We were trying to meet people and get to know people,” Stephanie recalls. “And, at the same time, we were going through the adoption process, so we were open about that.”
Stephanie and Brad say that, the more they shared their own story of infertility, the more people came out of the woodwork with similar tales of infertility, miscarriage and infant loss.
“Because we are open with our story, we get the privilege of having people talk to us about the pain they are experiencing,” Brad says. “There are many people who are hurting and their family members and friends have no idea … Infertility is more prevalent than you realize. I think the stats are that one in ten couples will struggle with this.”
When they discovered few resources for couples struggling with infertility in the Clark County area, Stephanie and Brad decided to start their own support group. Club Hope meets from 7:30 to 9 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month in Conference Room B at the Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center in Vancouver.
Although CrossWay Church sponsors the group, Stephanie says the Legacy meeting space provides neutral territory and that few of the group members are affiliated with the church. The group is primarily for women who have experienced infertility, secondary infertility, miscarriage, infant loss and/or adoption loss and women come from all over the Portland/Vancouver metro areas, Stephanie says. The atmosphere inside the monthly Wednesday evening support group is relaxed, informal and, above all, empathetic.
“I think that, for many of the members, it is comforting to know that there are other women out there who understand the struggle of not being able to become a mom when and how you had planned to become a mom,” Stephanie says.
Sometimes the group will host speakers, but usually Club Hope is simply a space where women who are struggling with infertility – and even women who have had successful IVF procedures and/or adoptions – can come to talk about their journeys, meet other people who understand the pain of infertility and find resources about everything from miscarriage to adoption.
The group is for women, but Brad often talks to the men outside of the Club Hope atmosphere. Both he and Stephanie agree that women and men seem to grapple with infertility in much difference ways.
“The men I do talk to outside of the group, especially those who are biologically the source of the infertility, struggle with letting their wife down and feeling like less of a man,” Brad says. “I think the emotional rollercoaster of the ups and downs (of infertility) catch people off guard. They can underestimate the relational stress that infertility can put on a couple. The wife or husband can blame themself, so they deal with this guilt and shame … sex can become very regimented and stressful rather than this awesome, loving, bonding activity that it was created to be. I think men are probably more secretive about this than women. It is just really hard to talk about this topic and many struggle alone.”
Many couples that Brad and Stephanie meet through Club Hope are struggling with the reality that comes with fertility treatments and the lengthy, expensive and sometimes frustratingly lengthy process of adopting.
“The financial stress of paying for treatments or adoption can create division,” Brad says. “They can be caught off guard by some of the physical effects of treatments. Couples can be divided about what is the best course of action. Some want to pursue infertility treatments because the experiences are important to them. Others want to do adoption. This can cause conflict.”
Brad and Stephanie hope that, for couples who are struggling with infertility, having a neutral, open environment like Club Hope will provide a safe space and provide some degree of comfort.
Brad says that, for his family, the Club Hope group is “a reminder that his family isn’t alone.
“There are people who are willing to listen and know your pain,” Brad says. “There is this instant unspoken connection because you know they have a feeling of what you are going through.”
To find out more about the Club Hope infertility support group, visithttp://clubhopeinfertility.org. The Club Hope women meet from 7:30-9 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month in Conference Room B at the Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, at 2211 NE 139th St., Vancouver.
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