Meet Jennifer Winter. She and her husband donated embryos that were adopted by the Colton family, and recently resulted in sweet Sienna. Thanks to Jennifer for sharing her story.
My name is Jen and I am a mother of nine year-old boy/girl twins conceived through IVF in October 2001. Throughout our infertility struggle, we never really thought about the possibility of having “extra” embryos nor did we even consider what we would do with any remaining embryos. I was completely consumed with my goal of achieving a pregnancy so I don’t think I could look beyond the present at the time. Who would have ever thought I would be sitting here writing about our choice to have our embryos adopted nine years later?
We achieved pregnancy and our twins were born in May 2002. Approximately 2 years later we were wrestling with whether or not we wanted to add to our family. We were concerned about another twin pregnancy if we pursued embryo transfer (it was a difficult pregnancy for me) so we decided to go the au-natural route and see if God wanted us to have another. If not, we decided we were very happy with two. Shortly after this conversation we started talking about our stored embryos. What do we do with them? We were paying an annual fee to have them stored in some frozen tank some distance from our home but somehow that didn’t seem fair to them. If we never used these embryos, what was to become of them? We would never consider donating them to science…our faith and beliefs about these embryo babies would forever prevent that. So, what were our other options? As far as I knew, there were no other options but to keep them frozen indefinitely. It seemed like life deserved a chance.
Until I found the NEDC on the web on a random search in 2006, I had never heard of embryo adoption. I met my husband for lunch that day and brought some printed literature from the website. I was met with enthusiasm from him. This really surprised me. So many thoughts about why we shouldn’t do this raced through my head. What if one of our kids meets one of his or her siblings without knowing it and gets married? How would we ever explain this very unusual situation to other people without being looked at as freaks? My husband was adopted so we were comfortable with the idea of adoption, however this was very, very different.
The worst obstacle that I had to overcome with embryo adoption was this nagging concern that I would want to take back my genetic child once he or she was born. I know logically I would never want to destroy another family in that way, but it was a real concern for me and I had to overcome it before we could proceed. It literally took me two years to overcome this fear. As weird as it sounds, I think I was imagining that these embryos were my two children. My husband finally said to me “Jennifer, these embryos are each a different child…not either of our kids. Different souls, personalities, and looks…and can be as different as siblings can be from one another.” I had to digest this for some time but I finally realized that he was right. These embryos (and we had nine!) may resemble (or not) our children but they will be each very different from our kids.
It does almost sound like a science fiction movie…embryos conceived on the same day as our children (who were also conceived via embryo transfer during IVF) are born 9 years later to someone else. How far has the “test tube baby” gone? How is it possible that sperm and embryos can be frozen and eggs can’t (or at least they couldn’t be frozen when we were in IVF)? It is really hard to wrap your mental arms around it all.
In late 2009 we decided to get started. I turned the ominous 4-0 the following year and we had never conceived on our own. It seemed like God was directing us to move on. I didn’t want a baby at this point. Our twins were 8 years old and things felt right. We met our first adoptive family through the NEDC and were eagerly anticipating the transfer. It looked like the stars were aligning with this couple, really. We had a lot in common with them and we thought it was the perfect match. It was not meant to be. Our embryos (part of them) never made it out of the “defrosting” (I don’t know the technical term). We were deflated. We had three embryos left and I wondered who would want to adopt just three? What if no one wanted them? Were we stuck? We reluctantly agreed to the idea of “pooling” our embryos if someone didn’t want just three or less, but that would require patience, for at least a year, to determine genetic links (if a child was born). We also wanted an open adoption and wondered if we would ever find another family interested in such an arrangement.
A couple of months later we heard about another family who seemed to match us really well. The mother had already adopted a little boy and was interested in experiencing pregnancy. We seemed to be really drawn to one another and she was so extraordinarily open. We started exchanging emails and got to know one another even before anything was official. I worried a little about getting to know this adoptive mother before we were connected by anything other than an agreement. She was not yet pregnant but we were so hopeful. I didn’t want to be let down again, but I put my faith in God and felt that having another friend in this world was better than nothing. Plus, if I was her friend and the embryo transfer didn’t work, I could possibly provide moral support for her as she made another attempt.
We both agreed on the embryo adoption and the process started again. This time, however, it was successful. We had two of the three remaining embryos survive and they were transferred. It was amazing and surreal. The reality of the whole situation surfaced. We anxiously waited to hear if the embryo or embryos had implanted and if there would be a positive pregnancy. It was difficult waiting, but I know it was not nearly as difficult for us as it was the adoptive family. We were somewhat removed from the situation, except the contact we had from our frequent emails. It really felt good to be able to provide support to the adoptive mother during this time and I was surprised at how relieved I was when it was confirmed that she was pregnant. Maybe I was even more open to this reality than I had once thought I could be.
Our adoptive mother and I had constant contact with one another throughout her pregnancy. It was enjoyable seeing her pregnancy through her writing. She eventually started blogging on the NEDC website and that became another source of information toward during the latter half of her pregnancy. I made a conscious effort to always speak of the baby as “her/their baby” and “their family’s addition.” I never, ever wanted to put myself in the place of the “mother” of this child, both for my sanity and for her security.
The baby was born this month (June 2011) and she is a girl. She is a beautiful, healthy baby girl. I’ve seen pictures (and so has everyone else following her blog!) and feel a sense of relief and confidence that this was absolutely the right thing to do. God meant for this to happen and it is a very, very good thing. No longer will I have to fret over what God would want me to do with my remaining embryos because each one was given a chance at life. One baby girl is the result of all of that hard work, but that one life means more to one family than anyone could possibly know.
The future is uncertain about if, when, where, etc., we will meet this fabulous baby girl. I imagine someday we will meet and someday I will tell my children that they have a sibling living in a different State, nine years younger, yet conceived on the same day. We think that is a lot to handle, even for an adult, so that conversation will have to wait. Right now my children know that we have a friend in another State that just had this great baby girl. They’ve seen pictures of her and think she is “soooooo cute!” When the time is right, they will learn about their connection with her. When the time is right we will meet her. Unlike the traditional adoptions, we cannot be called the “birth parents” so I imagine we are considered more like the “genetic parents,” but that doesn’t bother us. We have all been blessed in so many ways and this experience, however unusual, has brought closure to my fertility journey and joy to our lives.