TYLER (KYTX) – 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 pre-born 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 Vetro 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 $300 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," said Charis Johnson.
Charis 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 admits 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," said Charis.
Nine months after the embryos were transferred; Charis gave birth to a beautiful little girl. She said, "She's truly a miracle and it allowed me to enjoy the pregnancy and the birth."
Duffy added, "It also allowed us nine months to prepare… and 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 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 frozen embryos.
"I feel that people are just blown away that this happens," Katie 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. We've had a lot of positive response."
The online company posts profiles of donors and potential adoptive families with the hopes of making a match. Frozen embryos can be shipped to anywhere in the world, so there is no limit who can adopt through the NRFA. "We allow people to privately meet one another and instead of going through an agency that might cost $20,000-$40,000 you can pay a small monthly fee to have access to other user's profiles and message them. Those fees range from $20 a month for donors and $65 a month for couples looking to adopt."
The Johnsons discovered embryo adoption was a much more budget-friendly option. "Our adoption with Zoe cost about $3500 and that included everything from drawing up the legal document with an attorney to having a fertility doctor transfer the embryos," explained Charis.
They also found it was a much faster option with less stress. Charis goes on to say, "In adopting our first daughter, Julah, we went through three failed adoptions. 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 embryo's as a product. 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.
Katie said, "You get to decide what the legal contract says. 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."
"We met our donors a few weeks after Zoe was born," said Charis. Duffy added, "The commonality I think we share with their profession, faith and hobbies it just sounded like we were listening to a story about ourselves."
For couples who feel their family is complete, the decision of what to do with their frozen embryos can be difficult.
Katie said, "They've seen those embryos turn into life. 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 my not realize they would get into when they did IVF."
Katie and her husband know that first-hand 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. 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. Duffy said, "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! 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.
Charis sums it up by saying, "In the end, there is only one choice for these life honoring embryos and that's embryo adoption!"
Click here to learn more about the National Registry for Adoption, or NRFA. To inquire about an East Texas child waiting to be adopted call 903-533-4109.?