Publication:The Columbian; Date:Mar 7, 2010; Section:Life; Page Number:D1

People battling infertility find Hope

Church support group led by couple who know pain

By ERIN MIDDLEWOOD Columbian staff writer

    Stephanie and Brad Vos gazed lovingly at their cherubic 3-month-old baby, Anika, as she dozed. “She couldn’t be any more precious,” Stephanie said. The couple’s path to parenthood was sometimes painful. Stephanie, 31, was diagnosed with Turner’s Syndrome before she hit puberty. The disorder affects growth and development, and Stephanie knew from a young age she probably wouldn’t be able to conceive. She shared this with Brad during the courtship that led to their 2006 marriage.

    As happy as they are now that Anika is part of their family, dealing with infertility was distressing. That’s why they started a monthly support group called Club Hope.

    “Infertility is kind of an awkward subject,” said Brad, 34, pastor of the nascent CrossWay Church in Salmon Creek. “People don’t acknowledge that it’s painful. For people who desperately want to have kids and can’t, they feel broken.”

    Infertility affects one in eight couples in the United States, according to RESOLVE, a national infertility association. About one-third of infertility is due to women, one-third due to men, with the remaining cases due to a combination of factors or unexplained.

    Club Hope so far has drawn only women. CrossWay launched the group in the fall as part of its ministry. The women sit around a table in a conference room at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center. Stephanie
leads the meetings, and each woman shares how her month has been going, whether she’s undertaken a new medical test or procedure, or taken a new step in building her family.

    “When you get together with other people who are going through the same thing you are, you realize you never know how things are going to turn out,” Stephanie said. “It gives you hope.”

    Although the group isn’t closed to men, “it’s a tougher thing for guys to talk about,” Brad said.

    He felt a rush of sadness when he saw a father with a child who looked like him. Brad had to learn to let himself experience those feelings.

    “Don’t beat yourself up for having certain things be important to you, like having a biological kid. It’s OK to process through that,” Brad said. “For some women, just having a baby develop inside them is an experience they want. They have to grieve that.”

‘Invisible disability’

    Stephanie found herself wondering if she was less of a woman because she couldn’t bear children.

    “That’s what a woman does, right? You have kids,” she said.

    People with good intentions would tell them, “Just relax, it’ll happen.” Those comments, however, wounded the couple because they knew relaxation wouldn’t make a bit of difference.

    “It’s an invisible disability,” said Paula Acker, a Portland therapist who specializes in infertility counseling. “You look at someone who has infertility, and they look great. They’re often beautiful and young.”

    But the inability to conceive brings sadness, anger, confusion, envy, among other feelings.

    “There’s lots of mixed emotions around loss of fertility,” Acker said. “It makes a lifelong impact.”

    Couples go through the cycle of hope and disappointment with each month that goes by without a pregnancy. It affects their intimacy, their finances, their choices in houses, cars and jobs, Acker said.

    Most couples go through some level of medical intervention before choosing to build their family in another way, she said. Support groups and individual therapy help with coping, Acker said.

    Because Stephanie had years to accept that she couldn’t conceive, the couple’s deliberations were less extensive than they might have been otherwise.

    “We made a decision that, rather than go down a rather extreme medical journey, we’d rather put our time, finances and emotional energy into adopting,” Stephanie said.

    Some of the women in the support group, however, are pursuing medical intervention.

    “We have a lot of respect for couples who do go down that road. There’s lots of ups and downs. It’s a big financial risk, not to mention an emotional and relational risk,” Stephanie said.

    Adoption isn’t without its own costs and risks, the Voses said. They feel blessed that their adoption process through Bethany Christian Services went smoothly.

    Whatever the cause of infertility, or the way it’s overcome, “there’s a common denominator,” Stephanie said. “We have all been going down this path toward being a mom, and somewhere down the path it didn’t happen the way we wanted.”

Only in The Columbian print edition

Photos by ANDREA J. WRIGHT/for The Columbian Brad and Stephanie Vos, here with 15-week-old adopted daughter, Anika, started a support group called Club Hope for couples who have impaired fertility.

Vos adopted Anika through Brad Bethany process and , Christian S they tephanie say, Services went smoothly . The adoption .