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Embryo Adoption After Cancer

Young pregnant couple in the park

By: Tracy

I heard about embryo adoption for the first time many years ago on James Dobson’s Focus on the Family broadcast on embryo adoption. I wasn’t married at the time, but I had childhood cancer and had undergone radiation on my abdominal area. Some of my doctors said to not worry about it, but another doctor said it could be an issue. While I knew it was a possibility I would have problems getting pregnant, it wasn’t something I focused on.

After my husband and I got married in 2006, we didn’t waste any time trying to conceive, as we were both in our 30s. We discovered our chances of getting pregnant were very low—only about a 1 percent chance. We were referred to some of the best doctors in the country and we were told that I could not get pregnant genetically, but they thought I could carry a baby. I started thinking about embryo adoption again, but it took my husband a while to warm up to the idea. He was more open to the idea of finding an egg donor. For women, I think it’s sometimes a little easier to think about raising a child who isn’t genetically related.

Women are natural nurturers, and we just want a child to love…it makes it easier, I think, for us to consider raising a child that isn’t genetically ours. For men, I think the desire to reproduce and have children who are a part of them genetically is stronger. It took us several years to get on the same page. I kept praying about embryo adoption and felt peace about it. I felt like it was such a great gift, not only for us, but for the family who was donating the embryos, as we would give those embryos a chance at life.

In the meantime we continued to pursue surgeries and a few “experimental” things to see if we could get pregnant, but nothing worked. In the spring of 2009 we were driving in the middle of Texas, and my husband was fiddling with the radio…and there was a person on a local AM station talking about the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program. Shortly thereafter, he told me that he felt embryo adoption was the path for us. We both felt these embryos were all lives, waiting for a chance and they are each deserving of that chance.

Once we made the decision to move forward, I would say the process moved very quickly. We were matched with two potential families who we said no to for different reasons. In March 2010, we were matched with a family in California with three little boys, and nine remaining embryos. A couple of months later, in June, our embryos were shipped to our doctor’s office in Dallas.

Shortly after that, we went in to prep for the transfer. It took us three rounds before my uterus would respond the way they wanted it to. We had done a couple of mock cycles and it had behaved, but this time, when it came to the real deal, it had a mind of its own. Finally, on the third time, everything went as it was supposed to. The doctor thought that only four of our nine embryos were viable, but that we had a good chance of getting pregnant with the four that seemed the strongest. We decided to thaw the best two and weakest three, and only one survived the thaw. Our doctors said we could transfer the one or thaw the rest, but we felt at peace with just transferring the one that survived. And that’s what we did. Everything went beautifully, I got pregnant with Elisabeth.

Pregnant woman lying downI had a difficult pregnancy. 

We discovered mid-term (at 18 weeks) that I had a short cervix, so they put a stitch in the cervix to hold it together (called a cerclage). Everything was fine for a few weeks, as I was on modified bedrest at home; but then my cervix shortened pretty severely at 24 weeks, so they had me go on bedrest in the hospital for 8 weeks. They had hoped my pregnancy would go full term, but my water broke at 31 ½ weeks. Since I was preterm, they let me wait it out until my labor started. I lasted about 3 days, and I went into labor, at exactly 32 weeks. It was a pretty hard and fast labor, but Elisabeth came out breathing on her own and crying. Though she was 3 pounds 2 ounces, she was only in the intensive neonatal care units for 4 weeks, just learning to feed and grow. When babies are born that early, they can’t eat very well, and aren’t very coordinated, but Elisabeth never had any issues. She was 4 pounds 5 ounces when we brought her home, still four weeks away from her due date.

Now Elisabeth is 3 years old. I don’t think of her as not genetically related to us. Having given birth to her, I don’t even think about that. I don’t think about there being any separation or difference. We are in an open adoption with Elisabeth’s genetic parents, but I’ve spoken more with her genetic father than I have her genetic mother, as her genetic family is from Greece and, the mother especially, doesn’t speak good English. We plan to be very open with Elisabeth about her genetic family. They are very happy for us, very interested and excited. They are not overbearing at all, and they do stay in touch by email and phone every month or two. They also sent her a big package of things when she was first born – clothes, toys and some other sweet things. They also sent a gold cross for her when she gets a bit older. It’s been just perfect. As her genetic father said, “We all needed help, us with having children and then with being able to place our embryos with a family, so this was a way we could help you and you could help us. For us that was the perfect match.”

Tracy’s family went on to attempt a second transfer with their remaining embryos that did not result in a pregnancy. They are currently matched and preparing to do a second embryo adoption and are hopeful to do a transfer within the year. They continue to communicate and have visits with Elisabeth’s genetic family and are excited to enter another open adoption arrangement.

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