Some families plan pregnancies and their bodies cooperate flawlessly. Others struggle for years to have children and the sadness, frustration and financial considerations that often go along with infertility can be burdensome and relentless. Then there are also mothers and families who find themselves having babies before they’re prepared and they may feel afraid, lost or even angry. Pain hurts regardless of the circumstances surrounding our unique situations and I think it’s good to know that whatever your story is, you are not alone.
Here is a bit about my own journey:
10 years ago I was 23 and overwhelmed with a mortgage, two naturally-conceived children, postpartum depression and a husband with a fresh vasectomy scar. 8 years ago, after I began to catch my breath with life and I’d learned to support the hormones that had sent me into a downward emotional spiral, I began to regret our decision to stop having babies.
I began to learn about adoption in the bible and in modern times, and of how the bible describes God adopting Gentiles and grafting them into his family through salvation. Moses was adopted and Exodus tells of his courageous birthmother as well as his compassionate adoptive mother. Joseph adopted Jesus as an earthy father. Earthly adoption is not for everyone, but the story of earthly and spiritual adoption is woven throughout scripture and it’s beautiful.
One night, in what turned out to be a long season of yearning for more children, I dreamed that I found a baby near the woods in a carseat. She was cold and blueish, as if dead. I instinctively took her out of the carseat, unbuttoned my shirt and placed her skin to skin against my chest. Gradually she turned pink and warm. She was alive! And somehow I knew that she was mine. Big men with a darkness about them were angry that she was alive and they strode forcefully toward us. I felt vulnerable and helpless but only a moment later, big men full of light crossed in front of us and I knew implicitly that they would take care of the bad men, and the baby and I would be okay. I walked to my car and took her home. Though I did not entirely understand the dream, I woke up with a powerful desire to adopt. Years later when I was still waiting and aching for a baby I made an “art journal” entry about the dream.
It was 2 years from the time I first began to desire more children that my husband agreed, and for a variety of reasons we decided it was best to adopt rather than pursue a vasectomy reversal. We wanted to be part of an open domestic adoption where we could love a child as well as his or her birth mother. We were honored to have the opportunity for a child to come into our family through the love and sacrifice of a birth mother who had decided that adoption was the best choice for her baby. And we waited. We waited for 3 years with an agency that we chose very carefully because it not only placed babies into adoptive families, but respected and genuinely cared for birth families as well. But the agency was small and the fact that we already had two children did not make us desirable in the eyes of the average birth mother.
Then one day our social worker mentioned something called “embryo adoption”. When families do IVF (in vitro fertilization), usually because they have trouble conceiving naturally, they often have excess embryos after they’ve decided for whatever reason that their families are complete. These embryos can be frozen at slightly different times, but freezing usually occurs after the egg and sperm have been fertilized and the embryos have cultured in a petri dish for 5 days. Every embryo is unique and genetically complete (besides epigenetic factors that will come into play in the womb and throughout life) and at 5 days post-conception they are generally known as blastocysts. When a family has extra frozen embryos their options are to discard them, donate them to science where they will be destroyed, freeze them indefinitely or allow/choose a family to adopt them. In embryo adoption the embryo is transferred into the adoptive mother’s womb and she is able to carry and give birth to her child.
Our daughter Rosemary as an embryo
I was blown away that such a thing was possible! After publishing a profile on an embryo adoption matching site, we were quickly contacted by several families. We found a family that was a great match and they actually saw the fact that we already had children as a benefit, since we were experienced as parents and the babies would have parents and siblings to love them! Several months later we adopted 3 embryos from them in an open adoption. We transferred one embryo that was lost early on in a chemical pregnancy. Another died in the thawing process. The third embryo implanted, thrived and, after the shock wore off, I treasured that pregnancy like I never knew was possible before.
The big kids were so excited!
About a year after adopting the embryos, and after a total of 6 years of waiting, our daughter Rosemary Elizabeth was born. She will be 2 years old soon and she still takes my breath away. I am just so humbled and honored that that her genetic family chose us and that God allowed us to be her parents. We just could not love her more and we believe that her story is unique, special and to be celebrated. I could sob right where I sit just thinking about it all.
Just over a year ago we started looking for more embryos to adopt. There is a large age gap between our genetically conceived kids and Rosie. It has been very important to us that she has a sibling close in age that comes to us through adoption, like she did.
Today we signed the legal paperwork to adopt 4 embryos from a wonderful family with whom we will have another open adoption and I am overwhelmed at this new blessing. We plan to have an embryo transfer soon and hopefully I’ll be pregnant within a few months!
Some of our children came to us in an unusual way. We are blessed beyond measure that we get to be these kids’ parents and that we are able to stay connected with their genetic families – the souls who gave them their genetic heritage, did everything in their power to give them a chance at life and who love them endlessly. I am so incredibly thankful that I can tell our children where their eye colors came from, laugh at the resemblance of certain facial expressions (so far there’s a lot of “nature and nurture” influence here!) and most of all, see them assured in a unique way that they are cherished by all of the people who took part in their origins. There are many types of adoption arrangements out there from completely anonymous to every shade of semi-open and open. People cite various pros and cons for each option and it is a very personal choice. Adoption is not for everyone. Open adoption is not for everyone. But I am so glad that it’s part of our story. I do not feel threatened by or in competition with the families we are connected with through adoption. My husband and I are mom and dad. But I consider our kids’ genetic moms my sisters and their families our extended families. I just feel that we all have more love and support in our lives now, and my heart is radiant with joy and gratitude.
*Legally the process described above is considered “donation” rather than adoption, as the government does not recognize the personhood of embryos in this context (though in others such as inheritance and certain violent crimes it seems to) and therefore it is technically deemed a transfer of property. I refer to it as adoption because to our family and to the families we have adopted from that’s what it is. Thoughts and beliefs about when life begins, the motivations and intentions of families involved and other factors influence whether a person distinguishes this process as adoption or donation. For us, donation is simply not an accurate description of our journey and experience; very early adoption better defines our situation regardless of whether or not there’s a law to validate that for us.
More on Adoption:
Adopted For Life, by Russell D. Moore
More on Embryo Adoption:
Embryo Adoption Awareness Center
Platforms for Private Embryo Adoption Matches:
National Registry for Adoption
Embryo Adoption and Donation Facebook Group
Facilitated Embryo Adoptions:
Embryo Adoption Services of Cedar Park
National Embryo Donation Center
Pregnancy and Parenting After Embryo Adoption Facebook Group
*Some fertility clinics offer embryo donation programs. These are usually anonymous.
*Photographs by Cristina Howell