In honor of National Adoption Month, here’s another guest post on another (though little-known) form of adoption…Frozen Embryo Adoption. Did you know that there are over 500,000 frozen embryo babies in the US waiting to be adopted? These are tiny frozen babies, usually left over from an IVF cycle and put up for adoption, waiting for a chance at life. A friend of mine, Becky Saenz, has two children that she adopted as embryos, and today she shares her story.
“Snow in July”
In July 2006, it snowed in Flowood, MS. You don’t remember that? It didn’t make the news? That’s because it was a very private snowstorm. That was the day that our first “Snowflake Adopted Baby” was born.
A Snowflake Adoption is one in which the baby being adopted is still an embryo. The term was coined by the original agency to establish procedures for embryo adoption, Nightlight Christian Adoptions in California, because snowflakes are individual – no two are alike – and frozen.
When Joe and I decided it was again time to grow our family for the third time, I was nearly 40, and we decided that it might be good to “walk our talk” on being pro-life by adopting. While considering and praying about the usual adoption issues – domestic vs. international, infant vs. older child, etc., we “happened” to hear a Christian Medical Society audio cast on Snowflake Adoption. Its intended audience was actually Ob-Gyns who might be aware of possible donor couples. We looked at each other and nearly simultaneously said, “We could do that!” I’d already had two full-term uncomplicated pregnancies and deliveries. We prayed some more, and decided that our “fleece” would be my next regular Gyn checkup, already scheduled for the next month.
At that checkup, I told my doctor what we were considering, and asked her to consider this a pre-pregnancy check-up. At the end she pronounced that I was healthier than the typical 39-year-old, and she saw no reason not to proceed. Next day, we called and requested an application packet from Nightlight. We filled out the initial pre-application, which was accepted, then proceeded with the real application and home study. After that was completed, which included social worker visit, everything was submitted, and we were informed that our packet was now in the “matching pool.”
Ultimately, we were matched with the “surrendered” (given up for adoption) embryos from two different couples – two from one couple and four from another. Embryos are generally adopted in “sets” of five or six. Statistically, half of frozen embryos die during the thawing process for reasons not fully understood. Only one in three embryos that are transferred to a prospective mother’s uterus will actually implant. So statistically, any given set of five or six embryos will yield one viable pregnancy.
We were sent detailed medical and family histories of each of the genetic parents, in case there might be anything about which we were uncomfortable. After giving our OK, arrangements were made to ship the embryos to our local infertility clinic, which was named “temporary guardians” of our six embryonic children. I made an appointment for the initial visit to begin the hormonal process of preparing for a controlled cycle transfer.
First cycle: of the first two embryos thawed, one died in the thaw process, and the one that survived was transferred. It failed to implant. Although I never actually had a positive pregnancy test, that experience felt very much like a miscarriage. Joe and I were starting to wonder what we’d set ourselves up for.
A few nights later, God gave me a dream that allowed us to have His peace that we had indeed, done the right thing;
I had died (years later, apparently) and arrived in heaven. I was walking down the streets of gold, enjoying the sheer beauty and majesty of my new surroundings. Birds were singing, choirs were singing, flowers were fragrant, the sun was shining, the Son was shining. My parents were there, as were various other relatives and Biblical heroes.
I saw two handsome young men (looked to be in their early twenties, by earthy standards) walking toward me. One of them pointed at me, and they were talking. As they approached, I wondered who they were. The dark-haired one said, “Oh here you are. We’ve been waiting to meet you. We want to thank you.”
‘Um, do I know y’all?”
He chuckled. “I guess we do look a little different now. I’m that embryo that got to spend a few days in your womb on my way here. Thank you for the chance for an earthly life, even though God had other plans for me.”
Finally, the blond one spoke up. “I’m his brother that had to come straight here, but I wanted to thank you for the offer.”
The remaining four embryos were from the other couple, and were therefore all siblings, fertilized at the same time, in the same petri dish. When I returned to the infertility specialist to begin the second attempt, he re-evaluated everything and said, “I don’t know what happened last time, but it wasn’t anything wrong with you.” Healing words. So we proceeded with the process.
Both of the two embryos thawed the second time survived the thawing process, and were transferred. Within a week, I began to feel pregnant. Not surprisingly, the test was positive this time. However, the six-week ultrasound showed only one baby. He looked healthy and in a good position, but this was bittersweet news because he was alone. Jacob (a twin, “the supplanter”) was born on July 21, 2006, the day after then-president George W. Bush’s famous Snowflake press conference at the White House. We had actually watched that press conference on TV while I was in labor! I felt like I’d been God’s handmaiden in a miracle. A couple of months later, we had our “post-placement” social worker visit. Life was good.
About a month after that, we got a phone call from Nightlight, inquiring whether we wanted to return the other two embryos, or if we would be keeping custody in hopes of bringing Jacob’s younger siblings to term. More prayer, and we called them back to say, we’d keep the other two, since we’d been committed from the beginning to bringing the whole set to whatever destiny God had already ordained.
When Jacob turned 18 months, we began planning for a final attempt at pregnancy, knowing that we already had our “one in six” success rate, and that since I was now 43, that might lessened our chances. We were both surprised and thrilled when that next pregnancy test was positive! Again, the six-week ultrasound was bittersweet: only one healthy-appearing baby.
This pregnancy, however, was not without a few complications. Samuel (“For this child I have prayed, and You have heard me and granted my request.”) was born six weeks early by emergency cesarean section on November 16, 2008. Another miracle. After 11 days in neonatal intensive care, he came home on Thanksgiving Day. He is now the most rambunctious 3-year-old boy I know. Our family is complete: two girls and two boys.
Our boys are genetic brothers as well as adopted brothers. We have pictures of their genetic older brothers, taken at about 3 years of age. If you saw them all in the same room, you could pick them out as four brothers. Some day, I hope we can meet their genetic parents in person to thank them. We are blessed.
Drs. Becky and Joe Saenz have been married 23 years and have 4 kids ages 15, 13, 5, and 2. She’s a homeschooling, mini-van driving, ballet mom. Oh, and she practices a little medicine on the side! In July 2003, She opened the Mississippi Breastfeeding Medicine Clinic, to serve breastfeeding mothers and their babies who are having problems. It is her sincere belief that the most cost-effective preventive medicine for both mother and child, both short-term and lifelong, is breastfeeding.
If you would like to email Becky to ask her more about her story, please let me know and I’ll put you in touch with her! And if you are interested in pursuing this form of adoption, the resources below are a great place to start.
- Nightlight Christian Adoption – Embryo Services
- Bethany Christian Services – Embryo Services
- Mississippi Fertility Institute – Donor Egg Therapy Info
- More personal stories from Frozen Embryo Adopters
- FAQ for those interested