For couples struggling to have a baby, the process can be emotionally and financially draining.
There is now another option growing in popularity that many couples don’t even know about. It’s called embryo adoption. An embryo is a mother’s egg and a father’s sperm. Depending on religious beliefs, some people refer to an embryo as a preborn child.
In labs all over the United States, there are about 500,000 frozen embryos. These fertilized eggs are left over from fertility treatments, specifically in vitro fertilization, commonly referred to as IVF. These embryos can be held in a state of cryopreservation for decades, and couples pay hundreds of dollars to keep them stored. In Texas, the fee to store a frozen embryo is roughly $500 a year.
“The only chance these babies had at life was for someone to carry them, and I hoped that I could be one of those adoptive moms,” Charis Johnson said.
Mrs. Johnson and her husband, Duffy, already had one daughter, adopted traditionally as a baby. But when they decided to grow their family again, they were intrigued by the idea of embryo adoption, although Duffy admitted he was hesitant at first.
“It seemed a little sci-fi to me that you take a kid that is frozen and have a baby,” he said.
But once they looked into it, they both realized it was a viable option to add another child to their family.
“I have pictures of my daughter from the very first day that she was five cells old and another picture when she was 100 cells old,” Mrs. Johnson said.
Nine months after the embryos were transferred, she gave birth to a beautiful little girl.
“She’s truly a miracle, and embryo adoption allowed me to enjoy the pregnancy and the birth,” Mrs. Johnson said.
“It also allowed us nine months to prepare,” Johnson said. “As a family of faith to pray for a child and be expectant and hopeful is a unique dynamic that I’m glad we got to share as a family. We chose to name her Zoe. It’s a Greek word, which means life.”
The Johnsons wondered why there weren’t more embryo donation resources available to help couples adopt embryos, or at least learn more about it. They mentioned the idea to a friend, Katie Cline, formerly of East Texas, and just over a month ago she began a business to help couples adopt or donate frozen embryos.
“I feel that people are just blown away that this happens,” Mrs. Cline said.
The service is called the National Registry for Adoption, or NRFA.
“Here we are offering those embryos a chance at life with another couple and a couple that you can pick and select,” Mrs. Cline said. “We’ve had a lot of positive response.”
The online company posts profiles of embryo donors and potential adoptive families with the hopes of making a match. Frozen embryos can be shipped anywhere in the world, so there is no limit who can adopt or donate through the NRFA.
“We allow people to privately meet one another, and instead of going through an agency that might cost $20,000 to $40,000, you can pay a small monthly fee to have access to other user’s profiles and message them,” Mrs. Cline said. “Those fees range from $20 a month for donors and $65 a month for couples looking to adopt.”
The Johnsons discovered embryo adoption (donation ) was a much more budget-friendly option.
“Our embryo adoption with Zoe cost about $3,500, and that included everything from drawing up the legal document with an attorney to having a fertility doctor transfer the embryos,” Mrs. Johnson said.
They also found it was a much faster option with less stress.
“In adopting our first daughter, Julah, we went through three failed adoptions,” Mrs. Johnson said. “In other words, three birth mothers who had the baby changed their minds and decided to parent. But with embryo adoption, we never had that worry.”
That’s because the law sees embryos as property. They cannot legally be purchased, but only given away. Once you are given one, a legal document is prepared, indicating it’s yours forever. One you give birth, there is no adoption process; the baby is already yours.
“You get to decide what the legal contract says,” Mrs. Cline said. “Do you want contact with the couple after the child is born? Do you just want to hear if there was a birth or do you want to be completely anonymous? That’s up to each couple.”
The Johnson said they met the donors a few weeks after Zoe was born.
“The commonality I think we share with their profession, faith and hobbies — it just sounded like we were listening to a story about ourselves,” Johnson said.
For couples who feel their family is complete, the decision of what to do with their frozen embryos can be difficult.
“They’ve seen those embryos turn into life,” Mrs. Cline said. “They’ve seen those embryos turn into their children, so just discarding them or leaving them frozen where you have to pay a yearly fee is an emotional situation that couples may not realize they would get into when they did IVF.”
Mrs. Cline and her husband know that firsthand, having gone through IVF. They were blessed with twins and now have two frozen embryos.
“They bring so much joy to my life, but that’s enough,” she said. “So we will definitely be donating our extra embryos to a couple who needs and loves them. I believe if you believe that life begins at conception, then this is just a weight off your chest about what to do with leftover embryos. God is in control of life, and if people are meant to have your children, it will work.”
And the Johnsons couldn’t agree more.
“The question comes, ‘Can you love a child who doesn’t look like you or doesn’t act like you?’ And the answer absolutely is yes!” Johnson said. “I love my two girls more than I love my life itself. It’s just a unique bond to have a beautiful child through an embryo adoption.”
Mrs. Johnson summed it up by saying, “In the end, there is only one choice for these life-honoring embryos, and that’s embryo adoption!”