In from the cold: Adopting a frozen embryo

By Aubrie Drayer

I was newly married and in my last year of nursing school when I learned about embryo adoption in my maternity nursing class. My professor briefly explained that couples who had undergone in-vitro fertilization often had “leftover” embryos which they could keep frozen (rather than discarding) and place for adoption. The adoptive mother would actually have the embryos implanted in her womb, carry them through nine months of pregnancy, and have the opportunity to give birth to the children she and her husband had adopted.

 

I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my husband about this incredible new way to adopt. He was just as amazed and excited by the possibility as I was. We had met while praying outside an abortion clinic and were about to begin working for a pro-life organization at the time, so we both shared a heart for the plight of the preborn in our society. My grandfather and sister were both adopted, and we had always known we would want to adopt someday, too. Embryo adoption seemed like the perfect marriage of our desire to help our preborn brothers and sisters and our desire to bring children into our family through adoption.

 

Two years later, we welcomed our biological daughter Adia into the world. I still thought about embryo adoption, but it felt like a more distant option now that we already had a biological child. We also bought a house that needed some work, and knowing that embryo adoption would cost a lot of money, I wanted to wait so we could make some updates to the kitchen first. Saying that out loud makes it sound incredibly selfish. It was.

 

I was becoming more inwardly focused and less concerned about the many little ones in freezers who were waiting for a family to love them.

 

Thankfully, my pastor preached a sermon on giving. That sermon struck a chord in me, and I saw my selfishness for what it was. I couldn’t say that I cared about these little embryos in storage but pour my money and time into updating our house, instead. On the way home, I confessed my selfishness to my husband (who had been ready to begin the adoption process much earlier), and said I was ready to move forward.

 

A home study, lots of paperwork, and seven months later, we’re now in the end stages of embryo adoption. By this Fall, I should have one or two little ones placed in my womb, and by God’s grace, will have the privilege of giving them life and home and family, just as He has given me. It is exciting to think that my husband and I will have the opportunity to give life to a child who would otherwise live out its existence in a freezer, forgotten.

 

I still struggle often with being self-centered and desiring comfort and security more than honoring God. Yet I am learning that there is only emptiness to be found in selfishness, but abundant joy in caring for others as God has commanded us.

i heart adoption
If you’d like to keep up with our adoption journey, you can follow our blog at twoadoptionstories.com.

( Please note: Mama Activist is a non-sectarian blog that celebrates the courage of mamas around the world regardless of their faith background. As such, please note that the opinions reflected in this piece reflect a Christian worldview that may not be in line with the beliefs of other Christians, such as practicing Catholics (the Catholic Church has yet to reveal her stance on embryo adoption). Regardless, the courage and selfless of this mama should be appreciated and acknowledged.)

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29 thoughts on “In from the cold: Adopting a frozen embryo

  1. I love the idea of embryo adoption! I hope the Church comes to a decision about it soon 🙂

  2. Delphine Warbington says:

    Through tears I am so thankful again to have read your article. I love our two adopted children more everyday. And it is not because they were our choice, it is because they were HIS choice for us. Praise God from whom All blessing flow… I continue to pray for His blessings on your journey.

  3. David says:

    So you’re being selfish if you don’t adopt a frozen embryo? Assuming all goes well, once the first one is done using your womb, then another one will need it. Won’t it be selfish then, too, to say no? Is this really what God is calling us to do, lest we be selfish?

    I think it’s better to let the little ones go. They should never have been produced and subjected to all this manipulation in the first place. By participating in embryo adoption, you’re allowing the people involved in these corrupt practises to make even more money and contributing to a system where ever more embryos will be produced and frozen. This is no solution. I admire the motives here, but when we think through the meaning and the ramifications of such an act, I think it is better to eschew participation in this kind of perverse use of technology altogether.

    • Erika says:

      I don’t think Aubrie was saying everyone is selfish if they don’t adopt a frozen embryo. I understood her to say that if you are convicted about something, in her case adoption and more specifically adoption of a frozen embryo, and then put that on the back burner until you feel more financially secure then it is a form of selfishness.

      As for the comments about the perverse use of technology- God is using what some would say is wrong for His good and glory.

      • David says:

        “As for the comments about the perverse use of technology- God is using what some would say is wrong for His good and glory.” – You can justify any kind of evil with reasoning like that.

    • Aubrie says:

      David, I’m sorry if I communicated that people who are unwilling/unable to adopt frozen embryos are selfish. I don’t believe that at all. As Erika clarified, the selfishness comes in when we feel convicted to do something but refuse to do it because we want something else more.

      Obviously, there’s a debate regarding what is best to do with these embryos. I wholeheartedly disagree with the practice of in-vitro fertilization that creates “leftover” embryos, just as I wholeheartedly disagree with premarital sex. However, I would not say that we shouldn’t adopt newborns whose parents were unmarried because that would encourage premarital sex. In the same way, my disagreement with the practice of in-vitro as it currently stands does not prohibit me from caring for the children produced from it.

      It’s true that my husband and I cannot give all of these little ones life. However, as Edmund Burke is believed to have said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”

      • David says:

        “It’s true that my husband and I cannot give all of these little ones life. However, as Edmund Burke is believed to have said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”” – Of course that’s true but that ignores my concern. If the little you do contributes to making the situation worse, then doing that little is in fact a mistake (I’m not the one to judge how great it is). I guess it’s a bit like buying a slave, since if you didn’t, the slaver would sell her to someone else. Or paying a ransom to terrorists, to save one person (but then they’ll just kidnap another). Are you really “doing a little”? I’m worried that you might just be making things worse.

  4. TamTam says:

    Why does the Church have to come to a decision about it? It’s not the Church’s decision as to how I go about having a family. The church does NOT tell me what to do, God does (although, they certainly like to make fools of themselves trying). And if God were to tell me tomorrow to use this route, I would and the church doesn’t have a thing to say about it…unless of course, the church wants to pay the $1.2 million it takes to raise a child these days. Any church that would reject parents who used this option isn’t a place I would want to expose my children to.

    • DavidM says:

      The Church is not foolish when she fulfills her divine mandate, and we do well to listen to her. If you choose not to, the words of the Gospel, God’s words, are the ones by which you will be judged.

  5. David says:

    “You can justify any kind of evil with reasoning like that” – which is to say: that kind of reasoning is evil.

  6. Erika says:

    David, I knew I was walking into your comment regarding “God is using what some would say is wrong for His good and glory.” I was needed by my kids and posted before I had time to find the words I really wanted to use~ however, at this stage in my life it’s rare for me to have quiet moments. And on top of that, I don’t always articulate my thoughts well! Aubrie really said it best. Disagreeing with the creation of leftover embryos doesn’t mean that those already created can’t be or shouldn’t be cared for by those who have the desire to do so.

    Aubrie~ love the quote!

  7. David says:

    Another saying: “The road to hell is paved…” May God bless you, whatever you do, but still: sometimes good intentions are only good intentions.

    • Seth Drayer says:

      David, you write that you are concerned that the good of embryo adoption might only make the situation worse. Could you clarify what you mean by that?

      Are you suggesting that such adoption would encourage the creation of more embryos by IVF? As Aubrie referenced above, this same logic would lead us to refuse to adopt children created out of wedlock because such would merely encourage premarital sex.

      Do you really think it would be the moral high ground to refuse the adoption of a born child because of the way in which he was created?

      If not, how could you take the same position when it comes to preborn humans?

      What matters is who you are, not how you are made. Whether we are conceived in love or in violence, by natural means or by sinful means, we are human beings.

      You write about perverse technology, but the freezers keeping the children alive are not perverse. Leaving them in there is. The technology which will move the children into my wife’s womb is not perverse–using it to create those children with no intention of giving birth to them is. And, I submit that knowing we can use this technology to save lives and refusing to use it–thereby allowing those children to perish–seems to me perverse.

      Not every person will adopt children, but followers of Christ have been commanded to look after the orphans of this world–born and preborn. The fact is that there are hundreds of thousands of preborn orphans frozen in our nation. What do you think looking after these orphans looks like?

      • DavidM says:

        Seth: “Are you suggesting that such adoption would encourage the creation of more embryos by IVF? As Aubrie referenced above, this same logic would lead us to refuse to adopt children created out of wedlock because such would merely encourage premarital sex.”

        I’ve already explained this, if you would re-read what I wrote. When you adopt a bastard (to use the technical term), you are not contributing to a corrupt money-making scheme. To extend the slave analogy, adopting a bastard would be like taking in an unwanted slave. That is very different from buying a slave. Your motive in each case is to help an individual, but the means used in the two cases are quite obviously extremely different, don’t you think?

        You ask, “Do you really think it would be the moral high ground to refuse the adoption of a born child because of the way in which he was created?” That’s not as simple a question as you seem to think. It depends on circumstances. There are some circumstances where I imagine it would indeed be better to insist – compassionately but forcefully – that the actual parents live up to their responsibilities to parent the children they have borne. Would you deny this?

        “You write about perverse technology, but the freezers keeping the children alive are not perverse.” – That’s true, but it’s just a red herring. It was obviously never about the freezers.

      • Elora says:

        There are hundreds of thousands of orphans that have been born in this world. Is there something wrong with adopting them instead? What is your rationale for bringing another soul into this world when you could be helping those already in need?

        Your decision to overlook those already born and in need could also be construed as selfish.

  8. Elora says:

    How do you feel about “adopting” embryos that are otherwise in a frozen state while there are infants and children in foster care who live day to day without this life and love and family you speak so strongly of? Are they less deserving? Did that factor in to your decision?

    I want to be clear. I am a supporter of following whatever you believe in, and by living according to your own beliefs and terms. Whatever your affiliation (sexual orientation, religion or otherwise) you are worthy of respect and compassion and the space to make your own decisions – hopefully in an educated and aware way.

    For those who are anti-choice or anti-abortion (let’s change this terminology and call it what it is), I should think that each and every one of the supporters of the movement should be taking proactive steps to provide solutions, not just provide shock-value literature and attend pressure-based group protests. That is to say I believe all followers of the “anti-abortion” movement should have one or several adopted children, and/or volunteer at women’s shelters and/or donate money to support those who are struggling to raise a child in less than desirable conditions.

    How can this movement tell women that abortion is wrong and that there are other options when so many children are in foster care, abandoned, or being raised below the poverty line? Where is the real solution?

    I guess where I’m heading is that I consider adopting a frozen embryo counterproductive to the anti-abortion argument as it does not help those children who have been brought in to the world and have been left alone and unloved ever since.

  9. DavidM says:

    Consider the following analogous scenario: You can pay an abortionist (or abortive mother) thousands of dollars to not abort one child. You want to save the child, so you pay the abortionist/abortive mother and adopt the child. The abortionist takes your money and expands his practise so as to end up killing even more babies (or even just one more baby than he would have otherwise). (Or, for the case of the abortive mother, she just gets pregnant again and then does kill her child – and let’s say you simply don’t have enough money to pay the ransom this time.) Was your well-intentioned gesture really a good idea?

    • Seth Drayer says:

      David,

      For some reason, I can’t respond directly to your post in response to me. So, this is meant to be part of that thread.

      I think you are mistaken in your reference to the funding involved. Adoption of an unwanted born child is not a free process. There are legal fees involved, as well as potential healthcare costs for any special needs such children may be facing. Compare that to the costs we are facing with preborn embryos: legal fees of adoption and the healthcare costs associated with the special needs of being a frozen embryo.

      Are there situations where I think the biological parents should rise to the challenge and take care of their children rather than place them for adoption? Sure, I’ll concede the point. But when these parents refuse, what do you do? Do we close the foster care system and shut down adoption services to force these parents to rise to the challenge?

      I think it’s easy to muse along those lines in our philosophical bantering. But when a real child is without parents willing to take care of her, it seems a cold ideology that would allow her to suffer while we wait for the parents to grow up.

      All I ask is that we treat preborn children in the same way we treat born children. If you oppose adoption for one, then oppose it for the other. But if you champion it for one and oppose it for the other, it seems to me you are discriminating based upon something the humans in question have no control over (whether or not they’ve been born). And that seems unfair.

      Seth

      • DavidM says:

        Seth,
        I agree that we need to respect the lives of preborn children just as we respect the lives of born children, but clearly it doesn’t follow that we should – or can – treat them the same way. They simply have different needs. And, in this case, they are also implicated in situations that involve different moral issues. (And this isn’t just a matter of philosophical banter – it’s reality.)

        (It also ties in to a grain of truth in what Elora maintains: the concrete needs of an unfrozen child are very different from those of a frozen embryo – in particular, the unfrozen child, especially a born one, has immediate *psychological* needs, which must be attended to, which a frozen child does not.)

        Moreover when you talk about discriminating – and you mean *unjustly* discriminating – based on whether they’ve been born or not, you’re simply ignoring the point that I’ve made. That is clearly not the basis for my discrimination between the two cases. Remember my analogy was based on a comparison to slaves (or hostages) and these are very much already born individuals. Can you see that?

        Which brings me to your discussion of the funding involved: Here again you have simply missed the point. If the expenses involved in adoption (of born or unborn children) are paid to an institution that encourages unwed couples to produce more unwanted children (or, worse, which actively kills unwanted children), then it would be problematic to hand over the dough to such people so as to lend support to such evil practices. But to extend my abortion analogy, if, however, you were given the opportunity to pay a midwife so that an abortive mother would agree not to have an abortion, that is an entirely different case, because the midwife is not running a corrupt money-making scheme which you would be contributing to. There would be nothing wrong with paying the midwife thousands of dollars. The issue has nothing to do with whether the adoption process is free or not. Can you see that?

        When you wrote: “I think it’s easy to muse along those lines in our philosophical bantering. But when a real child is without parents willing to take care of her, it seems a cold ideology that would allow her to suffer while we wait for the parents to grow up.” – Please note this is really just a straw man, not reflective of what I said.

  10. Elora says:

    I think your wish to attempt conceiving with another couple’s embryo – rather than adopting a child that has already been born – is your choice, and not open to discussion; however, I think your reasoning is questionable.

  11. DavidM says:

    “Adoption of an unwanted born child is not a free process.” – I can add that we obviously have to exercise caution here too, when it comes to adoption fees. As I’m sure you’re aware, Seth, there have been serious problems in the past with, in particular, international adoptions, where the fees that have been paid have gone to very corrupt people with very corrupt practises (as in people who buy or kidnap babies in order to make a profit). And again, what these people have done is in some ways quite similar to what western fertility clinics do. It is hard to say which is more immoral, but I don’t think we should be supporting either one.

  12. DavidM says:

    The more I think about it, the stronger my position seems. Think about it: Fertility clinics prey on people desperate to have children. They don’t care about the tiny human beings they create, they care about profit. How do we know this? Look at their practise: They make their first round of profit by intentionally producing more embryos than can feasibly implant in the mother’s womb and freezing the extras. Now they see an opportunity to make a second round of profit, so they appeal to people who don’t believe tiny human beings should be treated in this way and make another round of profit off of them, by playing on their compassion. What is the effect of this second round of profit? It incentivizes the corrupt practises involved in the first round of profit – production of excess embryos – and gives people involved in the first round (doctors, technicians, clients) an excuse to rationalize the corruption: “so what if we produce some extras and freeze them? – maybe someone will come along and adopt them.” End result? More profit for the baby sellers, more babies being immorally produced, more moral sensibilities being deadened, more children who have been intentionally denied their right to know their own (biological) parents.

  13. DavidM says:

    Elora, just so you understand the issue here better, I’ll respond to a couple of your questions.

    “There are hundreds of thousands of orphans that have been born in this world. Is there something wrong with adopting them instead?” – No, clearly that is not what Seth and Aubrie are suggesting.

    “What is your rationale for bringing another soul into this world when you could be helping those already in need?” – This question assumes that frozen embryos do not already have souls. I’m sure that Seth and Aubrie would not agree with this assumption.

    • Elora says:

      I’m not insinuating that they were suggesting that. I am challenging them to consider that perspective, and whether they have thought about the implications of their decision to select the pre-born route over adoption of born children. For example, what would you/they say to a small orphan child in foster care or on the street as they are carrying a child obtained through IVF?

      • DavidM says:

        I don’t know what they’d say. Maybe just: “Embryo adoption seemed like the perfect marriage of our desire to help our preborn brothers and sisters and our desire to bring children into our family through adoption.” I’m not saying I think that’s an adequate answer. And in fairness to them, if they were confronted with a ‘normal’ orphan, I’m sure their generosity would not be limited to “sorry, we’re only interested in helping frozen children.”

      • DavidM says:

        In terms of general principles, there is no generally applicable reason to help one orphaned child rather than another, so it’s enough to just choose someone, based on some necessarily imprecise process of discernment, and to help him or her, as best one can. (But of course, for the reasons I’ve explained, and in spite of their admirable spirit of generosity, it seems to me that a proper course of discernment is precise enough to rule out doing what Seth and Aubrie have proposed doing.)

  14. I also learned about embryo adoption in graduate school and it is something my husband and I pray about often! Right now, we feel called to walk with birth moms through domestic adoption, but we are hoping to go the embryo route at some point, as well! Thank you so much for sharing your heart and the ways God convicted you!

    • Actually, the Catholic Church gave a definitive teaching on the adoption of frozen embryos back in 2008. The procedure is clearly immoral (see http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20081208_dignitas-personae_en.html).

      There are many angles from which to explain this position, which the above document does.

      Keep in mind that a husband and wife made a covenant commitment to each other on their wedding day whereby they vowed to only procreate through each other. Embryo implantation violates this wedding vow of procreative exclusivity (adoption of a child does not because the couple didn’t procreate it). Embryo implantation also violates the dignity of the child because it is manipulated like an object instead of being the fruit of an act of mutual self-giving of the spouses.

      What the Church has not figured out is how to deal with all those frozen embryos in a morally acceptable manner. It just knows that adoption doesn’t make sense, which most commentors above have already discerned intuitively.

  15. Actually, the Catholic Church gave a definitive teaching on the adoption of frozen embryos back in 2008. The procedure is clearly immoral (see http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20081208_dignitas-personae_en.html).

    There are many angles from which to explain this position, which the above document does.

    Keep in mind that a husband and wife made a covenant commitment to each other on their wedding day whereby they vowed to only procreate through each other. Embryo implantation violates this wedding vow of procreative exclusivity (adoption of a child does not because the couple didn’t procreate it). Embryo implantation also violates the dignity of the child because it is manipulated like an object instead of being the fruit of an act of mutual self-giving of the spouses.

    What the Church has not figured out is how to deal with all those frozen embryos in a morally acceptable manner. It just knows that adoption doesn’t make sense, which most commentors above have already discerned intuitively.

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