Thursday, December 8, 2011

Perspective as a "snowflake" mom

I'm sure all parents hear a running commentary on who their offspring favors, the dad or the mom.  For us it's been kind of an inside joke as people say "oh Mac looks just like you!" or "Cora looks like her daddy!"  These are mostly passing comments, from strangers we'll never see again.  These are easy to handle - we just smile and half-nod in agreement and stroll on.

Even the comments of how little they favor me are normally pretty easy to handle.  "We like to keep people guessing!" 

I guess I could always go into more detail.  But really, the person behind me in line at the grocery store check out does not need to hear Cora and Mac's life story.

I couldn't get away with a simple answer anyway.  Most of the time people point out how different they look from each other - Cora has brown hair, grey eyes, and olive skin;  Mac blonde hair, blue eyes, creamy skin.  If I were to say they're adopted, then whomever is asking the questions automatically assumes they're not related to each other. 

So then I have to explain that while they're adopted, Cora and Mac are 100% related to each other.  That's when either the questioner turns into a nosy nellie and fires away questions, or looks away quickly, brow furrowed in confusion.

Sometimes I've had great conversations - both my dental hygienist and my endocrinologist were fascinated by embryo adoption.  Other times, the conversations just get awkward.  Umm, no, we didn't purchase fertilized eggs. 

Most of the time, I just stick with smiling and nodding.


We were strolling around a local bookstore's children's area today and Cora picked out a book called "Snowflake Baby".  I was halfway to putting it up when I realized the irony, that my snowflake baby had just handed me "Snowflake Baby".  I bought it.  The short story has nothing to do with embryo adoption but instead shows colorful pictures of a baby romping in the snow with a puppy.  Ah well.


Now that we're in Advent, we've been reading a lot of Christmas themed books.  And playing with a child-friendly manger scene.  I try to use consistent language when introducing the holy characters to Mac and Cora.  "This is Mary; she's baby Jesus's Momma".  "Here's a picture of Christ the King - that's baby Jesus when He's all grown up".  About half the time I introduce St. Joseph as "Jesus's adopted Daddy". 

It's true the kids are still young (almost 17 months) and can't understand the concept of adoption yet.  Nonetheless, I want them to grow up realizing that adoption is a positive thing.  After all, we do have St. Joseph as a pretty amazing example!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Basic Defense of Embryo Adoption, Part II

I originally wrote this in January 2009, right as we were entering into the matching phase with the Snowflake Program.  Part Two addresses major objections raised in Dignitas Personae.

Objection Four: Embryos, as “treatment for infertility” are not ethically acceptable. The direct quote from DP is “ the proposal that these embryos could be put at the disposal of infertile couples as a treatment for infertility is not ethically acceptable for the same reasons which make artificial heterologous procreation illicit as well as any form of surrogate motherhood…”

Refutation: (Here I deviate slightly from providing specific rebuttals to asking pointed questions.) By “treatment for infertile couples”, does the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) mean offered as standard practice by reproductive endocrinologists or fertility clinics? If so, then yes, EA under these auspices would be morally reprehensible as it denies the individual worth of each embryo, treating one as a commodity instead of a precious life. Many defenseless lives would be bartered for the sole goal of experiencing pregnancy. The needs of the parents would supersede the dignity of the embryonic life. The end goal would be experiencing pregnancy, not becoming a parent and thereby saving a life. 

Contrast that to embryonic adoption in a different context. A couple accepts their infertility and ceases the barrage of testing and treatments. They begin wading through paperwork with adoption agencies and complete a home study. Matches are made between genetic parents and adoptive parents. The only involvement a fertility clinic plays is the transfer itself. The end goal is saving the life of the child and achieving parenthood.

By the use of the word “treatment”, the CDF seems to imply that some sort of cure is being sought. And, for most people, cures are obtained at a medical facility, not an adoption agency. As a couple dealing with male infertility, neither some sort of embryo “treatment” nor pregnancy could cure my husband. Why such an odd phrase by the CDF? Furthermore, embryo adoption is not even specifically referred to in this paragraph - how exactly does EA fit into all this?

In America there is a marked difference between embryo adoption and embryo donation. Perhaps the CDF was referring to embryo donation when using the term “treatment for infertility”? With donation, the couple (or individual) goes to the local fertility clinic and essentially buys a leftover embryo. It’s cheaper, faster, and incredibly impersonal. The embryo is considered in its legal sense, as property, rather than in its true sense, a human being.

Objection Five : Another quote from DP: “This practice [treatment for infertility] would also lead to other problems of a medical, psychological, and legal nature.”

Refutation: Through our adoption process with Nightlight, we have been required to complete a rigorous home study and education on rearing adopted children and ART children specifically. We will be privy to three generations of the genetic family’s medical history once a definite match is made. Our contract is considered to be legally binding. We are planning on maintaining written contact with the genetic family (mediated through the agency) precisely so we will be able to administer to the psychological needs of our adopted children. Both family members and close family friends have first hand experience with adoption and/or rearing of special needs children, if we would need such expertise. All in all, we feel that we are doing everything possible in preparation for offering life to some of the least of God’s children.

Objection Six: There is only one paragraph in Dignitas Personae that clearly deals with some form of prenatal adoption. The fourth paragraph from section 19 states: “It has also been proposed, solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction, that there could be a form of “prenatal adoption”. This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above [in paragraph on “treatment for infertility”].

Refutation: Embryos cryopreserved in England have a very limited life span as most (if not all) cryo-banks have a strict three year freezing time limit. When the last cryo-bank “cleansing” came up, many many individuals, couples, and even nuns offered their wombs so that these orphaned embryos would not suffer such indignity at the bidding of the government. However, these well intentioned individuals were offering their wombs just for the sake of gestating the endangered embryos. After birth, the women planned on offering the newborns for adoption. 

This scenario is fully an act of “embryo rescue” and is a far cry different from embryo adoption. Furthermore, these actions constitute surrogacy. The “adoptive” mother raises the embryo only for the duration of the pregnancy. In the end, the embryo has been spared death, but is left abandoned once again. “Prenatal adoption” that is solely rescue and devoid of concern for the post-birth life of the child is not granting the child the dignity he/she is due.

As mentioned previously, by pursuing embryo adoption through Nightlight’s Snowflake program, we are signing legally binding documents to care for our adopted embryos for the full duration of their life, be that a few moments or several decades. Furthermore, embryos in America are not in imminent danger of destruction though our current President could change that… The contrast is pronounced.

Objection Seven (last one!): Pope John Paul II’s quote “there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the … frozen embryos…”

Refutation: For starters, reading JPII’s quote in its original context is extremely enlightening. His whole speech is concerned with the natural rights of the embryo, beginning with the most basic, the right to life. Similarly, he rightfully claims that it is the duty of each government to preserve such a right. I feel it’s necessary to look at not just JPII’s quote in Dignitas Personae, but also the surrounding lines in his original speech: 
“I therefore appeal to the conscience of the world’s scientific authorities and in
particular to doctors, that the production of human embryos be halted, taking into
account that there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of “frozen” embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons. I also call on all jurists to work so that States and international institutions will legally recognize the natural rights of the very origin of human life and will likewise defend the inalienable rights which these thousands of “frozen” embryos have intrinsically acquired from the moment of fertilization.

John Paul could not be more clear that the right to life is one of these aforementioned inalienable rights. How is EA not awarding these neglected embryos some chance at a normal, just life?

DP precedes John Paul’s quote with the statement that the “thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved.”  I agree. No amount of human atonement can make up for the injustices these embryos have already received due to the illicit nature of their creation. There is no way to undo the injustice of being conceived in a lab, man and wife forsaken for a doctor and syringe. While the injustice and illicitness of their creation cannot be resolved, one can, perhaps, begin to restore the God-given inalienable right to life via embryo adoption. It is only out of the cryo-bank, and in the womb, that these embryos will finally get the chance to live as God intended. When such an option exists, one that will provide these embryos not only a chance at life but a family, how can one refuse?

Basic Defense of Embryo Adoption, Part I

I originally wrote this in January 2009, right as we were entering into the matching phase with the Snowflake Program.  Part One addresses major objections pre-dating Dignitas Personae.

Objection One: EA is a form of surrogacy. 

RefutationDonum Vitae (DV) defines surrogate mother as “the woman who carries in pregnancy an embryo implanted in her uterus and who is genetically a stranger to the embryo because it has been obtained through the union of the gametes of “donors”. She carries the pregnancy with a pledge to surrender the baby once it is born to the party who commissioned or made the agreement for the pregnancy.” While we’ve heard the first line quoted over and over, the second line is often forgotten. By going through Nightlight’s embryo adoption program, we pledge not to use a surrogate. Any and all embryos we adopt will be raised as our own children. While the embryo is not flesh of my flesh, the child is being accepted into my womb to be raised as our child for the duration of his or her life. How could one view embryo adoption, as we are pursuing it, as a form of surrogacy?

Objection Two: Any procreation outside the marital act is illicit.

Refutation: How does one define “procreate”? DV states that all procreation outside of marriage is illicit. However, at the time of writing (1987-1988), separating conception from gestation was largely hypothetical. And yet here we are today. I agree completely with DVprocreation (emphasis my own) outside the marital embrace is illicit. However, I would go one step further and distinguish between conception and gestation. If possible, I would clarify the quote from DV to state that all fertilizations outside the womb are illicit. Most embryos up for adoption at Nightlight have been frozen for three to seven years. We are physically distant from the act of conception/fertilization. How can one claim that we are active participants in such an act? 

Father Tad Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, states in “On the Moral Objectionability of Human Embryo Adoption” that “embryo adoption indeed opens her womb to an embryo produced by strangers, and I would posit that such an action illicitly invokes her procreative powers apart from a marital act with her husband.” Aren’t procreative powers used in creating a new life? In EA, however, that new life has already been created. It is indeed a shame that we are of such a day and age that a distinction between conception and gestation is necessary. Nonetheless, we cannot deny the advances in reproductive technologies which have made such a distinction necessary. My womb alone is not procreative. If so, many, many sterile women would be deemed capable of procreative acts merely because they have a womb that is hospitable to embryonic life. And yet we know that is not true. A hospitable womb will never of its own accord generate a human life. 

John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, similarly stated in the December 22, 2008 issue of Our Sunday Visitor, “When a couple marry, they place at the disposal of one another the capacity each has for engendering new life. This exchange is mutual, personal and exclusive. Achieving “pregnancy” through any other means violates the integrity of this marital union.” While these sentences are the hingepoint for his argument against EA, I would use them as an occasion to once again show the distinction between EA and other ART. For starters, we are not “engendering” a new life, we are providing a home for a previously created embryo. Conception outside the womb clearly violates the marital union – adoption or gestation do not. Furthermore, nothing that we’re doing is promoting such a creation. We did not contract with a couple actively pursuing IVF. None of our money will go to reimburse the genetic parents. The fertility clinic will only be paid for the transfer. How can one assert that adoptive parents are at fault for the conception?

Objection Three: EA is scandalous. Or, EA will create a demand for IVF.

Refutation: At a surface glance, the connections between EA and IVF are undeniable. The question remains – how much are the potential adoptive parents to blame for the origins of the embryos? Well, for starters, even if fertility clinics ceased to produce a single extra embryo, we still would have hundreds of thousands of unwanted embryos in cryo-banks throughout the nation. While it’s possible a couple may enter into IVF solely because they know they can hand off their left-over embryos when they’re all done, this scenario is rather unlikely. Additionally, Nightlight states clearly that they hope to do themselves out of a job (their embryo program). They are not out to make money off of EA. While we pay adoption fees to Nightlight’s embryo adoption program, not a single dollar goes to the genetic parents. They are not recompensed for their expenses. Similarly, the local fertility clinic will only be paid for the transfer itself, not for any back storage fees or for “purchasing an embryo”. I have a difficult time seeing how our EA actions will create a demand.

Many people have addressed the scandal issue of EA, that we are supporting IVF by our proximity. I must ask, does proximity alone yield support? Adopting a child conceived of rape does not indicate support of that rape. How does adopting an embryo conceived through IVF then support that illicit act? The article “Ethical Considerations in Defense of Embryo Adoption” presents another interesting comment on EA and scandal:
“As a final reflection, it is enlightening to consider the similarities between
embryo adoption and the practice of buying slaves out of slavery. The initial offense committed toward the captive life can make it difficult to imagine an act of rescue as entirely separate from the injustice of slavery – or, in the present case, IVF and cryopreservation. Nevertheless, the inestimable good of the life that is saved legitimizes any unsavory proximity to these institutions, so long as formal cooperation and active scandal is avoided.”

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Edited: Not What I Had In Mind

It looks like we'll be moving in the spring/summer 2012. 

~ we will have to attempt to sell our house

~ we might possibly lose our entire savings in selling our house

~ we might have to push adoption back indefinitely if our savings get wiped out

God works in wonderful, mysterious ways.  Right now I'm just seeing the mysterious side of things.

EDIT:  I guess we should feel fortunate that the military is giving us this much advance warning of the move.  Bryan has to attend a six month school here and then we'll move.  He only had 23 days notice for his deployment, so half a year notice is much better.  And renting is an option, if an appraisal comes back insanely low.  I'll just leave it that neither the military nor the economy is helpful when it comes to adopting!

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Hypothetical Catholic EA Agency

As mentioned in my brief overview on embryo adoption, there is a range of ways that one can “participate” in embryo adoption.  Not all methods award the proper dignity and respect to each embryo or even to each marital relationship.  As of today there are at least nine self-proclaimed “embryo adoption agencies” (here is a list of eight EA agencies; here’s one more agency).  And there are over 500 fertility clinics nationwide that have some sort of embryo donation program (click here for a partial list by state).  Just as regular domestic adoption agencies vary in their services provided, so too do all of these programs in their services provided.

Unfortunately, since embryo adoption is not recognized as a legal form of adoption under federal law, there are no laws in place to regulate embryo adoption practices.  I think it’s worthwhile, then, to define what an ideal Catholic embryo adoption agency would look like.  Though this discussion is hypothetical at this point, it should provide some measure with which to compare existing agencies.

Please note, the absolute best scenario would be for the genetic parents to complete the embryo transfers themselves with their own remaining embryos and care for them for the duration of embryos’ lives (be it moments or decades).  However, I do realize this scenario cannot always be achieved either due to mental, physical, or financial reasons.  The decision to place embryos for adoption should not be (and I doubt it ever is) a decision lightly made.

I would like to propose several criteria for a hypothetical Catholic embryo adoption agency.  First, adoptive parents should complete an adoption home study at least in accordance with their home state guidelines.  Home studies are required for domestic and international adoption; they should likewise be required for embryo adoption.  As part of the home study process, adoptive parents should receive tips on how to share with their child(ren) their unique origin.

Second, all fees associated with the embryo adoption AND frozen embryo transfer should be kept to a minimum and be as affordable as possible.  I’ve seen it argued that the placing parents (aka genetic parents) should “foot the bill”.  Honestly, I don’t think this is a reasonable request.  This is not expected of traditional forms of adoption, why should it be for embryo adoption?  It goes without saying that genetic parents should not be reimbursed in any way for expenses they undertook in the creation of the embryos or in storage of the embryos up until they are relinquished to the care of the adoptive parents.

Third, all adoption legalese should be patterned as closely as possible off of current domestic adoption legalese.  If one day our federal government wakes up and decides to recognize the embryo as a person and to recognize embryo adoption as a legal form of adoption, then there’d be fewer questions on the validity of the contract.  I’m sure they’d be grandfathered in if such a situation were to happen, but you get the idea…

Fourth, there must be strict mandates in place.  Absolutely no surrogates.  Absolutely no selective reduction.  Thaw only the embryos you are healthfully prepared to carry to term, regardless of the statistics.  (Typically anywhere from one to three embryos are frozen in a straw; you cannot thaw a partial straw.)  Do not refreeze thawed embryos.  No genetic testing of any sort.

Fifth, as with normal infant adoption, the placing parents need to accept responsibility for the life/lives created.  They should participate in the matching process as much as reasonably possible.  I favor the idea of a mutual matching process (both placing/adoptive parties few each other’s profiles and say yea/nay), but recognize there may be some instances in which the placing parents have relinquished their rights to the agency.

Sixth, to truly honor and respect each embryo, the agency must keep track of every embryo that passes through its system.  Each adoptive couple should report back with thawing/transfer details along with pregnancy information should one occur.  Normal adoptive post-birth visits should be held by social workers.  Post birth records should be completed by the adoptive parents and filed by the agency. 

Embryo adoption is undoubtedly a unique form of adoption.  I would strongly suggest that all placing parents provide at least two generations of medical history to the adoptive parents to accommodate the special nature of embryo adoption.  However, I believe the adoption could follow normal open or closed communication arrangements as negotiated by the two families with the agency.

Based on my research up through 2008, Nightlight’s Snowflake program was the closest match to this hypothetical list, though there is no exact match in existence.  (Many of the nine agencies listed were just coming into existence when we did the bulk of our research and so were not reviewed.  I’m in the process of gathering more information now…)   I have three issues with Nightlight:  cost, they’ll work with surrogates on a case by case basis, and they don’t have any regulations regarding refreezing.  The majority of EA agencies in existence seem to be more affordable than Nightlight but also seem to offer less to both placing/adopting families.  Some agencies, like Miracles Waiting or Embryos Alive, seem to be just a forum for matches to take place.  Without more oversight, I fear that each embryo may not receive its due dignity in such an arrangement as Miracles Waiting or Embryos Alive. 

However, my thoughts continually are evolving on the formation of a Catholic embryo adoption agency.  What do you think?  Is there anything I have omitted?  Or should edit? 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Common Misconceptions about Embryo Adoption

(I originally wrote this in April 2009 and posted it on my personal blog; I’ve edited it only slightly.)

I realize that most of you probably never had these questions.  However, Bryan and I have come across a large number of misinformed people (both in person and through blog-hopping) and I just want to clarify.  Perhaps, there is an off chance that some random person may have their burning EA questions answered by reading this.  :-)

First, we did not commission the creation of these embryos.  (Actually got that question from a Church friend).  EA, at least through Nightlight's Snowflake Adoption Program, is not a mail-order baby program.  There are not couples anxiously waiting to be chosen so they can then begin their IVF program and give us the "leftovers".  As a side note, our twins were created in January 2006; that alone should disprove the above theory.

Second, we did not contribute to the IVF industry.  The genetic parents were not compensated for anything they did.  The fertility clinic was paid only for our frozen embryo transfer.  Point seven elaborates on this too.

Third, the Catholic Church has not issued a definitive stance on embryo adoption.  The Catholic Church, in the fairly recent Dignitas Personae, is clearly negative towards EA.  However, she (the Church) refrained from using the same definitive language as has been used in discussing IVF and embryo stem cell research - gravely immoral.  We've since seen that even the great theologians within the Church are still divided on EA.  In theory, the majority of people find it admirable, if somewhat problematic.  In practice, as we have found, the fertility clinics are the weak link.  I don't think anyone could find Nightlight's Snowflake Adoption Program to be morally reprehensible.  However, the fertility clinics are like wolves in sheep's clothing (more on this in number ten).  Currently, we're being mindful of the theory of probabilism - when two moral routes exist from an undefined topic, it is acceptable to choose the route that is supported by the minority opinion. 

Fourth, we did not pursue EA in hopes that our own fertility would be miraculously restored.  To date, I don't believe there have been any documented cases of a sudden return of fertility following embryo adoption.  Furthermore, how would embryo adoption (me carrying a pregnancy) undo male infertility?  I’m not sure how any amount of hormonal shifts that I experienced could evoke a cure in my husband!

Fifth, embryo adoption does not involve my eggs or Bryan's sperm.  You'd be surprised how often we got asked this.  I'll explain more on this in number seven.  So for now, I'll just say that embryos are fertilized eggs, possessing a full unique set of DNA. 

Sixth, we did not choose embryo adoption in hopes of concealing our own infertility from the world.  We do not pretend that our future children are our own genetic offspring.  No, I don’t spill the beans every time someone asks if my daughter looks like her daddy; but I also don’t secret away their unique origin.  The grocery story check out is not generally the best time to discuss embryo adoption.  Our children are not going to feel inferior, by any means, but they will know that they were hand-picked by God to be OUR children and that we will love them indefinitely.  Adoption is not going to be a bad word in our household. 

Seventh, EA and IVF are not the same thing!  Let's talk basics.  In in vitro fertilization (IVF), eggs are harvested from the wife (or obtained from a donor) after several weeks of hormone injections.   Hormones are used so that the woman will produce far more follicles than normal.  Sperm are obtained either from the husband (or a donor).  After both gametes are collected, the lab will then fertilize some or all of the eggs.  Some labs will fertilize all the eggs and then choose only the "best" embryos to transfer, freezing the rest.  Other labs will only fertilize a few and then transfer all resulting embryos.  Some couples may have enough embryos to attempt several embryo transfers.  Some couples may have enough frozen gametes left for the lab to fertilize more later on for subsequent transfer attempts.  Some couples may have to repeat the entire harvesting process again, if not enough eggs were claimed the first time.   Some couples may use donors for both gametes.  As you can see, there's a lot of variation. 

The embryo transfer (ET) is the very last step in the IVF process.  At this point, the fertilized egg (the embryo), whether frozen or fresh, is transferred from the lab to the woman.  If Bryan and I were to contribute our own gametes, we would be contributing directly to the IVF process.  Instead, embryo adoption takes place years after all of the previous procedures take place.  The purpose of the medications I used was to pinpoint the best transfer date.  Frozen embryos are typically thawed and grown for up to several days before the ET is to take place.  For example, if we had transferred five day old embryos, then my meds would have stimulated my uterus to be five days past ovulation for the day of the transfer.

Eighth, we have no hopes of becoming "octomom" or one day gaining our own TLC special.  Most fertility clinics already subscribe to the recommendations set in place by the ASRM (American Society for Reproductive Medicine).  In addition to these recommendations, Nightlights' Snowflake Program firmly discourages transferring more than three embryos at a time.  This decision was made out of concern for both the health of the mother and any surviving babies.  (I said "surviving" because not all embryos may survive the thaw and not all embryos may survive the transfer.)  I guess it is possible that one of the embryos could split and we could hypothetically end up with quadruplets.  However, there have been no recorded cases of quadruplets during Snowflake Program and only a few cases of triplets.  As Nightlight strictly prohibits selective reduction and also keeps very careful records, I feel confident that their information is accurate. 

Ninth, we have not given up on traditional adoption.  Bryan and I still dream of a large family.  Embryo adoption appealed to us in many ways:  I can carry a pregnancy, it's faster, we're young, and these embryos are in high-need.  However, traditional adoption still appeals to us as well.  With news that the average domestic infant adoption is taking longer and longer (two to five years in certain parts of the country, without regard to racial distinctions), I’m leaning towards additional embryo adoption for the near future, but we’ll see where God takes us.

Tenth, embryo adoption is currently not THE perfect solution.  If one only had to solely deal with Nightlight's Snowflake Program, I would be much more confident that all decisions are being made for the good of each embryo.  However, fertility clinics perform the transfer.  And they are sneaky.  I think embryo adoption can be a good and moral option, but one has to be constantly vigilant and read every bit of information carefully.  Consider our "Consent to Transport the Embryos" contract.  The contract asked what the clinic is to do with the embryos if both of us died - the only two options given were terminate the embryos or donate them to research (which is terminating them!).  Another section asked what the clinic should do if we stopped paying our storage fees  - the only two options again were terminate or donate to research.  After I spoke with our case worker at Nightlight, I learned that every individual has the right to modify a contract.  So, we struck out every immoral option and replaced it with something acceptable.  In both of those scenarios, any remaining embryos would have been returned to Nighlight's Snowflake Program to be adoptable once more (which is what our case-worker recommended).

Another sneaky phrase the fertility clinics use a lot in their contracts is "medically acceptable".  For example, only those embryos which are determined to be viable and "medically acceptable" will be transferred.  We crossed out that phrase every time we came to it.  I'm pretty sure that the doctor's definition of "medically acceptable" and my definition would not have coincided. 

And then there’s the whole business of making “perfect babies”.  My children’s genetic father has polycystic kidney disease.  Each of his offspring has a 50% chance of developing pkd.  We read the disclosure statements written by the genetic family, researched the disease, and then made the decision to move forward.  Our transfer, however, nearly didn’t happen because our fertility doctor struggled with whether or not he could ethically perform the transfer.  He’s in the business of giving people perfect children – he had never been confronted by someone wanting to adopt the imperfect ones.

In summation, we know we navigated a very careful path and perhaps not all people would be willing or able to do such. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

We Welcome You With All Our Hearts

Cora and Mac:  Welcome to the Family!
Picture on each page plus front and back (opt) cover
Pg 1.  Once upon a time, Momma and Daddy fell in love and got married.
Pg 2.  We loved each other so much, we asked God for children.
Pg 3.  God heard our prayers and said “I have something special planned for you.”
Pg 4.  Meanwhile, God gave another mother and father lots of blessings – three big babies and some little bitty baby seeds.
Pg 5.  This other mother and father said “our hearts are full!  Let’s share our little bitty baby seeds with someone who doesn’t have any.”
Pg 6.  Some nice people helped introduce us to the other mother and father.
Pg 7.  We agreed to adopt the little bitty baby seeds and love them forever and ever.
Pg 8.  A doctor put the little bitty baby seeds in Momma’s tummy to grow bigger and stronger.
Pg 9.  Two little baby seeds grew and grew and grew.
Pg 10.  And Momma’s belly grew and grew and grew.
Pg 11.  Finally the doctor said it’s time to meet your babies.  We were so excited!
Pg 12.  You were born on July 18, Cora first and then Mac.
Pg 13.  We rejoiced!  God had answered our prayers and had given us two beautiful healthy babies.
Pg 14.  And one month after you entered our family, you were baptized and joined Jesus’s family.

Who would have thought that writing a book for one year olds would be difficult?!  And yet, choosing pictures is becoming infinitely more trying!

Friday, June 10, 2011


My original goal in starting this blog was to publish about one post a week.  However, with my husband deployed (three months down, probably nine to go), sometimes life gets busy.  And then we had family visiting for the last week.  After being on my own with the twins, it was fantastic to spend time with family - so I didn't spend much time on the computer.

The twins' first birthday is approaching and I need to get one of their presents sent to the publisher.  Pint Size Productions lets you custom design a board book.  My goal is to present all of my children (present and future) with a "story of me" for their first birthday.  I'm not sure how long the turn around time is for the board book, so that is my next writing priority.  And then back to the blog!

I'm hoping to post a version of the "story of me" on here so you can get a feel for how we're introducing the concept of embryo adoption and adoption to our children. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What is Embryo Adoption Anyway?

In the United States, it is extremely common for a couple to have multiple embryos created with each IVF attempt.  A few other countries (Germany and Italy, I believe, though I’d have to check my facts) have laws that limit the number of embryos created to the number that one would then transfer in the same cycle, effectively eliminating any excess.  America has no such laws. 

United States fertility clinics typically counsel their IVF couples to choose one of the following plans for any excess embryos:  leave them frozen, donate them to science, or destroy them.  Some IVF couples are turning to a fourth option – donating their remaining embryos to other couples. 

There are a variety of ways a couple may choose to donate their embryos.  On one end of the spectrum, there are couples who may donate their embryos to their fertility clinic.  If these embryos are then selected by another couple, it would be done completely anonymously.  On the other end of the spectrum, there are those placing couples who work with an embryo adoption service to handpick the adoptive parents – the genetic parents may even formulate an open adoption relationship with the adoptive parents.

The first scenario described falls into the category of “embryo donation”.  The genetic parents have relegated all parental responsibility to the fertility clinic.  By law, embryos are considered property, not persons.  With donation, the interested couple (or individual) goes to the local fertility clinic and picks a suitable match based on a list of physical characteristics.  Depending on state law, surrogates may be allowed. In comparison to adoption, donation is cheaper, faster, and incredibly impersonal.  The end goal of embryo donation is pregnancy.  Here the embryo is considered in its legal sense, as property, rather than in its true sense, a human being.

As proof of this ideology, consider the following quote from an American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) Ethics Committee Report in 2009:
 “Requiring infertile patients who need donor gametes or patients who need donor embryos to suffer the imposition of unnecessary administrative and legal trappings of adoption and the costs that accompany them is not ethically justifiable. The donation of embryos for reproductive purposes is fundamentally a medical procedure intended to result in pregnancy and should be treated as such.” ASRM Ethics Committee Report. American Society for Reproductive Medicine: Defining Embryo Donation. Fertility Sterility, 2009;92(6):1818-9.
This mindset proves just how important it is to distinguish between embryo donation and embryo adoption.

The second scenario falls into the category of “embryo adoption”.  The adopting couple must complete a home study with an accredited adoption agency before any adoption proceedings may take place.  Adoptive parents are counseled on ways to tell their children of their unique origin.  Matches are mutually conducted between genetic parents and adoptive parents.  Many embryo adoption services do not allow surrogates.  The only involvement a fertility clinic plays is the transfer itself.  Though not legally accepted as a form of adoption (except in the state of Georgia), embryo adoption is patterned as closely as possible off of pre-existing infant adoption standards/guidelines.  The end goal in embryo adoption is saving the life of the embryo(s) and achieving parenthood.

And in between the two scenarios are a whole host of organizations.  Some do not require home studies, some do.  Many solely exist to facilitate matches between donating couples and adopting couples.  Future posts will offer a more detailed look at many of the embryo adoption or embryo donation services in existence.

Side Note:  The term “snowflake” was coined by Nightlight Christian Adoptions to reflect how these frozen embryos are wholly unique, just like a snowflake.  Started in 1997, their Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program is the oldest EA program in the United States.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Topics for the Future

(please note:  these are arranged randomly, not in order of importance or interest, but merely in the order that my brain was working at the moment of typing)

1.     Annotated bibliography of sources/suggested reading list
2.    What is a snowflake?
3.    Common embryo transfer and embryo adoption terminology
4.    Common misconceptions
5.    Defense of embryo adoption before the release of Dignitas Personae
6.    Defense of embryo adoption after the release of Dignitas Personae
7.    Embryo adoption versus embryo donation
8.    Analysis of different embryo adoption agencies
9.    Matching criteria
10. Contracts with fertility clinics
11. Medical protocol for the embryo transfer
12. Preserving dignity of each embryo through the embryo transfer
13. Why the Church’s position is just
14. Open versus closed adoption
15. Telling your children of their unique origin (given the young age of our kids, this will be more sharing resources than personal experience)
Is there anything you’d like me to address that isn’t mentioned above?  Are there any points mentioned above that are of special interest to you?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Catholic Church and Embryo Adoption

The Catholic Church is fully committed to protecting life from fertilization until natural death.  Unfortunately, technology has not always advanced in ways that fully respect the dignity of each life.  Though the Church moves slowly at times (for example, though the first IVF baby was born in 1978, the Church did not officially address IVF until 1987 in Donum Vitae), she has tried to advise her followers in a manner that is clear and compassionate.

Embryo adoption is currently stuck in a quagmire.  Donum Vitae, released in 1987, condemned the act of IVF (though reminding all that children born of IVF were no less worthy of love than children conceived naturally).  Dignitas Personae, released in 2008, condemned freezing excess embryos.  DP also briefly treated the topic of embryo adoption.  Enter the moral quagmire – embryo adoption would not exist without IVF, something previously defined as illicit.  Currently, the Church finds embryo adoption morally problematic but has refrained from a definitive stance.

 There are three possible conclusions one can reasonably reach in response to the Church’s cursory treatment of embryo adoption.  Option one, personally decide that EA is an immoral choice.  Option two, personally decide that EA is a moral choice.  Option three, personally refrain from any decision until the Church speaks more definitively on the topic.

Most faithful Catholics are choosing either options one or three.  However, simply because option two is the minority opinion makes it no less a viable option.  Probabilism is a moral system that believes one can follow a probable course of action regarding undefined moral events even if such action is only supported by a minority of respected theologians.1  As it stands within the Church today, embryo adoption does have well-respected  theologians as some of its chief proponents. 2

I would propose that Catholics can in good conscience participate in embryo adoption.  However, I do not think that any and all forms of embryo adoption/donation/rescue are compatible with the Church’s respect for human life.  I will go into much more detail in future blog entries, but in short, each and every embryonic life must be treated with dignity and respect. 

1.         Catholic Encyclopedia on the Theory of Probabilism
2.        Dr. William May, Dr. Janet Smith, Dr. Gerard Nadal, and Ronald Conte to name a few.  Prominent theologians both for and against embryo adoption will be analyzed in upcoming entries

Saturday, May 7, 2011

About Me

My husband and I first met at a visit weekend for high school seniors at the University of Dallas in 1999.  Our love for UD’s theological and liberal arts curriculum is what brought us back to the school as undergrads.  Bryan eventually went on to major in theology while I took as many theology classes as I could fit into my schedule.  One of the lasting impressions we carried with us was the value of a properly formed conscience.  In the years we have been married and navigated fertility testing and assisted reproductive technologies, we have tried our absolute best to properly form our consciences and adhere to the Church’s teachings. 

Through the course of our fertility testing, Bryan and I worked closely with Napro-trained physicians only to be ultimately told that our best bet for growing our family was adoption.  Mind you, we have never viewed adoption as “second rate” – we were talking about adopting even before we were married (and didn’t have any clue of the fertility struggles yet to come).

We first learned of embryo adoption from UD friends of ours in 2006 or 2007.  I’m a rather “type A” personality – that conversation sparked what has become years of research.  To humorously illustrate how “type A” I am, I created a power point comparing and contrasting different dog breeds when we were considering what breed to get for our first dog.  My brilliant research skills paid off – we got a Great Dane.  J 

A couple things prompted us in the direction of embryo adoption.  First, we’re a military family – moves are a given part of our way of life.  Waiting is a huge part of the traditional domestic adoption process; moves would undoubtedly slow down an already slow procedure.  Embryo adoption is a fairly quick process.  Second, while we cannot conceive our own genetic children, my uterus works beautifully. 

In May of 2009, after years of research, a deployment, an adoption home study, and a quick matching process, we completed our first embryo transfer.  Sadly, we miscarried in July of 2009.

A few months later, we decided we were ready to be matched again.  In early November 2009, we completed our second embryo transfer.  And our darling duo were born July 18, 2010.

The story doesn’t end there.  We hope to do another embryo adoption some time in 2012.  Our dreams of having a large family have never changed – God just has a different route in store for us.