Embryo Adoption – My Story

My people.

Updated on January 29, 2018

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:

11  years ago I was 23 and overwhelmed with a mortgage, two naturally-conceived children, postpartum depression and a husband with a fresh vasectomy scar.  9 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 selfless, courageous birthmother as well as his compassionate adoptive mother. Jesus, was adopted by Joseph, who became his earthly 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.  Though I did not entirely understand that dream or whether it was even much more than my rambling subconscious, 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.

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This is the journal entry I created in anguished longing for a child almost 3 months before we adopted embryos for the first time.

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 grown 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.

I was astonished that such a thing was possible, and I remembered my dream from years earlier about the cold, blue baby that became warm and pink and mine when I tucked her into my shirt!  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.  I was able to do an unmedicated cycle with just the support of some supplements and we transferred (a procedure where they place the thawed embryo into the uterus) 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.

Our first embryo transfer. Even though this little one and one other embryo didn’t make it, I know that they were unique individuals with genetic codes that never existed before and will never be repeated. I believe that I will see them again someday and I will always be grateful for the honor of having a role in giving them a chance at life.
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Our daughter Rosemary as an embryo.
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The big kids were so excited! Jocelynn wrote “It’s Alive” on the pregnancy test!
Pregnant with Rosemary.

About a year after adopting the embryos, and after a total of 6 years of waiting, our daughter Rosemary Elizabeth was born.  She recently turned 3 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.

Moments after Rosemary’s birth.
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Daddy and Baby Rose.

When Rosie was about 6 months old we started looking for more embryos to adopt.  There is a large age gap between our genetically conceived kids and Rosie and it has been very important to us that she has a sibling close in age that comes to us through adoption, like she did.  After a year of searching for another private embryo adoption match we were chosen to adopt 4 embryos from a wonderful family with whom we have another open adoption.  After the first single embryo transfer I became pregnant and Noah Sage is now 8 months old. 

Laboring with Noah.
This is the Tiffany infinity necklace that Rosemary’s genetic mother gave me to represent our eternal connection and love through adoption. Now she, I and Noah’s genetic mom all have a piece of jewelry from this collection.
Just after the birth of Noah.

We were prepared for some bonding challenges when we were pursuing infant adoption, but we have not experienced any with embryo adoption.  It has actually been easier to bond with our younger two children initially, I imagine because we’d waited so long and worked so hard to get them, I wasn’t experiencing postpartum depression and were were just overall in a different place in life.  We are currently in the process of placing our remaining embryos with two families who have become our friends and will also share in open adoptions. 

Some of our children came to us in an unusual way.  We are blessed beyond description to have these kids in our family 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.

Rosemary Elizabeth on her third birthday.
Noah Sage at about 7 months old.

*Legally the process described above is considered “donation” rather than adoption, as governments tend not recognize the personhood of embryos in this context (though in others such as inheritance and certain violent crimes some seem to) and therefore  generally it is legally deemed a transfer of property.  I define it as very early adoption because to our family and to the families we have adopted from that’s what it is, even without a law to validate that for us.  Thoughts and beliefs about when life begins, the motivations of families involved and other factors may influence whether a person distinguishes this process as adoption or donation.  

All my babies.

More on Adoption:

Adopted For Life, by Russell D. Moore

More on Embryo Adoption:

Informational Resources:

Embryo Adoption Awareness Center

Platforms for Private Embryo Adoption Matches:

National Registry for Adoption

Miracles Waiting

Embryo Adoption and Donation Facebook Group

Facilitated Embryo Adoptions:

Snowflakes Adoptions

Embryo Adoption Services of Cedar Park

National Embryo Donation Center

Embryos Alive

More:

Pregnancy and Parenting After Embryo Adoption Facebook Group

*Some fertility clinics offer embryo donation programs.  These are usually anonymous.

*Photographs by Cristina Howell, Brandon Howell and Danielle Mason-Hogan

 

Caprese Sticks

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While it’s still summer I want to post one of my favorite easy appetizers.  I call them Caprese Sticks and they are just a portable twist on Caprese salad.  They make great snacks too!

Ingredients:

  1.   Grape or cherry tomatoes

2.  Fresh basil

3.  Fresh or smoked mozzarella cheese, cubed (smoked mozzarella is what’s pictured here but you can also get fresh, convenient marble-sized balls)

4.  Extra virgin olive oil

5.  Sea salt (Himalayan is my favorite but smoked sea salt is also a nice option)

6.  Freshly cracked black pepper

7.  Red pepper flakes and/or Bird’s Eye Chili powder (optional)

8.  Toothpicks

Directions:

  1.  On each toothpick alternate skewering a cube or ball of mozzarella, a whole basil leaf and a tomato.

2.  Arrange the Caprese Sticks on a platter.

3.  Drizzle all over with olive oil until each stick is lightly coated.

4.  Sprinkle sea salt to taste.

5.  Add freshly cracked black pepper and red chili, if desired.

*Avocado chunks can be used as a substitution for the cheese as a satisfying, dairy-free option.

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*Photographs by Cristina Howell