My husband and I got married in 2003, six days after we graduated from college. Immediately, all our married friends started having babies. And we did not.
Several years passed during which we underwent infertility testing. This was a long slow process, but we eventually learned that we would never have genetic children due to male infertility.
In 2007 a friend casually mentioned the idea of “embryo adoption” to us. I was initially baffled by this concept. So, I did a little digging and learned the basics of embryo adoption. Often when a couple undergoes IVF there are embryos leftover. American society typically tells couples in this situation that they have a few options: donate to science (which is killing the embryos), discard them outright, or leave them frozen indefinitely. There is a fourth option, however – donate the embryos to another couple.
My research bug took over. I read, and I read, and I read. And I pitched the idea to my husband. And in response he deployed with the Army.
I took advantage of that deployment time to research the logistical side of embryo adoption. We knew we wanted to choose a path that would respect the dignity of each embryo and not discard any casually. There weren’t many choices almost ten years ago.
My husband returned home in summer 2008, and we started our home study immediately. At the beginning of December 2008, we finally entered the matching process with the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program.
On December 12, 2008, the Catholic Church came out with its first and only official document that mentioned embryo adoption. The tone is definitely negative and includes such phrases as “an infertile couple should not pursue embryo adoption as a treatment for infertility.”
Our world screeched to a halt. Our adoption process screeched to a halt. What was the Church saying?? As practicing Catholics, we knew we had to decipher the document before we could proceed. We knew this document might spell the end to our embryo adoption journey.
So, I dove back into research mode. Again. I don’t mean this in a vain way, but at that point in time, I had literally read every single article, every single editorial, and every single Church document that even loosely addressed the topics of embryo adoption, excess embryos, IVF, etc.
We prayed at lot. I drank a lot of wine. And I wrote a counter argument carefully dismantling the primary objections voiced by the prominent Catholic moral theologians. I refuted points like “Is embryo adoption a form of surrogacy?” and “Is embryo adoption a form of infidelity?” or “Will embryo adoption create a supply/demand type effect on the artificial reproductive technology market?” Most importantly, I tried to address whether one could indeed adopt an embryo without violating its dignity or treating it like a mere commodity.
We scheduled a meeting with our parish priest and emailed him my refutation in advance, so he could prep for our meeting. I kind of blindsided him. As we watched him flip the pages of the copy I brought and sip his coffee, it was evident he was not prepared.
We consulted a few more priests and got pretty much the same verdict. Most had never even heard of embryo adoption. It was clear, however, that we had done our homework and done our “due diligence”, if you will. And in that regard, we were given cautious approval.
Time passed, and I continued to keep an eye towards the Catholic bioethics chatter. Eventually I saw my refutations circulating. Even today, this is a source of pride for me. I do not have an advanced degree in theology, yet I arrived at the same conclusions as many of these well renowned theologians. I just arrived there faster because of our interest in timeliness. In short, my logic was sound. As it stands now, the Catholic Church says embryo adoption is a gray area, left to the couples’ own discretion, and cautions against it.
Regarding our personal story, it has not been a smooth road. From 2009 to 2014 we adopted six small sets of embryos. We’ve had miscarriages, failed transfers, and three wonderful children born (twins in 2010 and a singleton in 2015). And every day I say a prayer of gratitude for our donors for blessing us with such gifts.
Andrea Alexander is our featured blogger for this post. To continue your investigation on Catholic writings on embryo adoption visit this post on Catholic.com.