June 12, 2009
This is written to share our story of struggling with infertility and ultimately our positive experience with Embryo Adoption, to offer hope to those also dealing with infertility, and to encourage couples to consider Embryo Adoption which gives the chance for a child to be born that otherwise would never be given the opportunity to live.
My wife and I were married at the relatively late age of 40. We immediately started trying to have a child but to no avail. We tried for two to three years without success. In retrospect, God was getting us ready for Embryo Adoption. I was a person who really never would have considered adoption. I didn't want to raise someone else's child for many reasons. I didn't want to have to be responsible for any of the environmental effects from a year or two of influence that another set of parents would have had on my child, and I really had doubts as to whether I could love a child that was not biologically mine.
We also had a desire to have our own child and find out what our own unique creation would look like. Additionally, being a mixed race couple (Caucasian and Southeast Asian), if we were going to consider adoption we were torn over whether to adopt a Caucasian or Asian baby.
We sought the help of an infertility specialist in early 2005 and shortly after, at his recommendation Valarie was treated for Endometriosis. Our doctor told us that each unassisted attempt at pregnancy after that had a single digit chance of success at our age and suggested that we try Inter Uterine Insemination (IUI) in which the wife is given hormones to stimulate her egg development and release, and then the husband's sperm is introduced into her uterus at the right time in a 24 hour window to try to increase the chances of fertilization. We made several unsuccessful attempts at getting pregnant through IUI all of which takes you on an emotional rollercoaster ride of hope and disappointment.
Our next option was In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) which involves giving the wife drugs to increase egg development, harvesting the eggs, fertilizing them in a dish with the husband's sperm, grading the embryos after a day, implanting the ones that grade the best, and freezing the ones that don't grade as well (i.e. the remaining embryos).
We never got comfortable trying the traditional IVF approach because of the grading and the option of destroying (incinerating) or donating the remaining embryos to science (i.e. Stem Cell Research). We decided that if we did try IVF that we would only fertilize as many eggs as we intended to transfer (i.e. not more than 3-4 eggs) as opposed to harvesting and fertilizing all the eggs that develop which most people do. However, we never had adequate egg production to try IVF so it turned out to be a moot point. Toward the end of these trials the doctor looked at Valarie and said, “Everything looks good except egg quality, and we can't do anything about that. I wish you had come to see me before you were 38.” That's when it really set in just how hopeless the situation was. We were incredibly sad. Our lack of success weighed heavy on both of us, but more so on Valarie.
Somewhere in the middle of this Valarie took a job at the preschool at our church. In her classroom she had children age 1-1 ½ years old. This only made her want children all that much more. I somehow felt that if God wanted me to be a father he would work it out. However, I was somewhat resigned to the fact that it might not happen. Maybe this was going to be the punishment for the sins of my past.
We considered a Donor Egg procedure whereby a female donor is given drugs to stimulate egg development. The eggs are then harvested and would be fertilized by me in an IVF procedure. That just never felt right. In selecting who the donor would be and what a child that was biologically half mine and half theirs might look like the whole thing felt wrong. And it did not seem right to pay a fee for that service. We also had to consider the impact on Valarie of raising a child that would be biologically mine with another woman. It seemed like scientific adultery.
The whole time we were trying the IUI procedures and wrestling with IVF/Donor Egg options we kept getting signs about Adoption. Whether it was that small still voice that was speaking to us, or a billboard about adoption that never had been there before, or a friend mentioning out of the blue that his sister was adopted, we felt like God was leading us to adoption.
We pursued International and Domestic adoption but for whatever reasons God kept closing doors in that area. Whether it was age limitations, US Citizenship issues, or length of time married there seemed to always be a reason that precluded us from those options.
Had it not been for all of these trials we would never have been ready for Embryo Adoption. I truly believe this was God's plan all along but he had to get us to a place where we were ready to consider Embryo Adoption. We never would have been prepared for Embryo Adoption had we not been through all the trials and closed doors mentioned above.
We first heard about Embryo Adoption from our fertility doctor. Valarie found some information about it on the internet on an adoption website. As we learned more about Embryo Adoption it looked like a good option for us. Here is how it works:
Couples who have been through an IVF procedure transfer some of the embryos created in a dish. These embryos are 1-3 days old at the time and are a cluster of cells about the size of a pin head. Those couples have four options for handling the leftover embryos: They can leave them in a frozen state indefinitely in which case they will eventually expire; they can thaw them and have them destroyed (incinerated); they can donate them to be used for stem cell research (in which case they are destroyed); or they can donate them for adoption.
There are approximately 500,000 frozen embryos in the U.S. that can be adopted if the biological parents choose that life giving option [EDITORIAL NOTE: According to 2002 Rand study 88% of embryos in frozen storage are still being considered for use in family building by the people who created them. It is estimated that no more than one-fifth of the remaining embryos are potentially available for donation to another family]. Of course like other adoptions you have to go through a home study by an adoption agency to be approved to adopt, and in the case of an open adoption, you have to prepare a brief personal profile to let the biological parents know enough about you to approve the adoption. Unlike a traditional adoption it is not legally considered an adoption. It is currently considered by the courts as a transfer of property with the biological parents surrendering all legal rights to the child.
Naturally we had several concerns: We were concerned that the child would not look like us because we would have to choose between a Caucasian and Asian baby. That was overcome when we contacted our agency and found out that they had several mixed race couples who had donated embryos. We were concerned that we would not love the child like we would our own. That was overcome by talking to other couples who had adopted. We were concerned about the rights of the biological parents. That was overcome by learning that there were no rights and no direct contact was necessary if we chose only contact through the agency. We were concerned that we might be buying a baby and encouraging others to make more embryos just to make a profit. That was overcome when we learned that the donating couple does not make any money at all.
We also believed that it was a best option considering all the alternatives (IUI, donor egg, traditional adoption) for the following reasons:
- It saves a life that has already been created instead of creating another life
- The adoptive Mother carries the child and has the opportunity to experience pregnancy and bond with the baby in her womb
- One adoptive parent doesn't have to feel like it is the other parent's child but not theirs as with an egg donor
- No second guessing about the child's exposure to a previous environment
- Each embryo transfer had a 42% or 46% chance of pregnancy vs a single digit chance with each IUI procedure [EDITORAL NOTE: A 2007 study published in the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's (ASRM) Fertility and Sterility demonstrated a 35% pregnancy success rated using frozen embryos. (September 2007, Vol. 88, pS267)]
- Cost: it's much cheaper than traditional adoption. As a practical matter most people do not have unlimited funds to keep trying fertility treatments
In January 2008, we made the decision to adopt the embryos of two Asian/Caucasian families. Only one embryo from one of the families survived the thawing process (these embryos had been frozen for a long time), and the other family's embryo that had been frozen for a shorter period of time also made it through the thawing process. In total we transferred two embryos (one from each couple).
We had a positive pregnancy test two weeks later. Valarie was very excited but I was holding my breath the whole time not allowing myself to get excited because I didn't want to be disappointed. I was praying not to lose the babies. I was afraid of how Valarie would react if we lost them after going through all of this and getting this close to a successful pregnancy. I can't explain the feeling I had when we went for the 5 week ultrasound and saw a heartbeat. However, there was sadness too because one of the embryos was not developing as it should. It turned out that was the one that had been frozen for the longer period of time. One of the reasons we have such passion to promote embryo adoption is that those 500,000 embryos are in a race against time to be adopted before they expire. [EDITORIAL NOTE: Children have been born from embryos that have been frozen for more than 12 years. At this point in time, scientists have not discovered a 'shelf-life' for frozen embryos.] Bethany was born on September 30th, 2008. They say that a woman becomes a mother when she gets pregnant, and a man becomes a father when the baby is born. I fully understand that now. I loved her from the minute I saw her. What an awesome feeling. What a life changing feeling. What a huge responsibility.
I cannot imagine loving her more if she was our biological child. I feel really good every time I look at her knowing that we saved her life. I can't imagine not giving her a chance at life. She cried for 2 months every night from 8-12 and the whole time we were just thankful to God that we had her. I truly believe that God intended for us to be her parents from the start but He just had to take us through all the other trials before we were ready for her. We consider ourselves truly blessed to have her in our lives. We thank God every day for taking us through all of this and bringing her to us. Bethany is such a beautiful child and she has brought us so much joy. Sometimes when we look at her we realize how close she came to not being born if God had not brought us together. Having Bethany has given us a great passion for all the other frozen embryos out there, and it breaks our hearts thinking about how they are just waiting for their chance to live.
There are many differing opinions on Embryo Adoption out there today. Here are my thoughts. I think it is a wonderful thing to give these children a chance at life. You can feel good about not creating additional embryos that may not have a chance at life as in IVF. You can feel good that it's not been done for the wrong reason of making a profit as in using a donor egg. I think there is an issue with IVF today in that we need responsible IVF. Responsible being defined as not creating more embryos than you intend to have as children or put up for adoption. Octomom is an example of this. The underlying problem is that she created too many embryos in the first place.
It will be very difficult to encourage responsibility in the IVF arena, but we can make a difference by adopting the leftover embryos that are suspended in time just waiting to be given a chance to experience life. I can't tell you the joy and satisfaction I feel from becoming a parent in this way and I encourage you to consider taking the same path to parenthood.
Adopting Parents: Keith & Amy