EMBRYO ADOPTION: 'It's the cure for infertility,' mother says after giving birth to 2 children through embryo adoption

by Michael Foust, posted Friday, June 02, 2006 (10 years ago)

EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the final story in a three-part series on couples who have given birth through embryo adoption. To read the other stories in the series click here and here. An overview story about embryo adoption is available here.

HAMILTON, Va. (BP)--Cara Vest was shopping for groceries several years back, looking for items while also entertaining her 1-year-old son, Jonah, when a woman suddenly approached.

"I recognize you from TV," the woman said.

Vest was no television personality, although she and her husband had done TV interviews as a way to promote the Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption Program, a process by which infertile couples adopt extra frozen embryos left over from in vitro fertilization. Jonah formerly was a frozen embryo.

"I want you to know that my children are from in vitro," the woman added. "I had extra embryos. Because of your program, my husband and I decided to give our embryos to Snowflakes as opposed to donating them to research."

The woman's testimony moved Vest almost beyond words.

"I said to her, 'You have no idea what you have just done for me,'" Vest, 38, says now.

The encounter was "confirmation" that embryo adoption was the right thing for Vest and her husband to do.

Today, Cara and Gregg Vest of Hamilton, Va., are parents of not one but two children born via embryo adoption. Jonah is 4, Gabrielle 1. Both of them are considered miracle children by the Vests, who struggled through years of infertility.

"[Embryo adoption] is the cure for infertility," Cara told Baptist Press. "It is a beautiful way to cure that longing desire.... I always tell people, if somebody said that I could have as many biological children as I wanted, but I had to give up these two, then they could keep the biological children, because I'm not giving up these two."

Launched in 1997, Snowflakes (www.Snowflakes.org) -- which recently celebrated the 100th baby born through the program -- is but one of a small number of embryo adoption services. Others include the National Embryo Donation Center (www.EmbryoDonation.org) in Tennessee and Embryos Alive (www.EmbryosAlive.com) in Ohio.

Using embryo adoption, couples are able to experience pregnancy and monitor their own prenatal care -- all the while enjoying the thrills of traditional adoption. Typically, embryo adoption is less expensive than traditional adoption.

"After having my kids, I can't imagine loving my own biological children any more or any less," Gregg, 41, said. "I don't see how it could be possible."

But the road to embryo adoption was a long and sometimes painful one.

After trying for several years to conceive naturally -- including with the assistance of a fertility clinic -- the Vests began looking for other options. There weren't many.

"I had always wanted to be pregnant, and it was crushing that that wasn't going to happen," Cara said.

Her answer came one day when, while driving home from work, she heard a Focus on the Family radio broadcast that spotlighted embryo adoption. James Dobson was interviewing a Snowflake mom.

"She was telling her story about her embryo adoption," Cara said. "I couldn't even believe that that existed. It knocked my socks off. I immediately ran home, got on the phone and called [Snowflakes] and had them send me their information."

A few months later they had a required home study done. But instead of mailing the Snowflakes application in and moving on to the next step in the process, Cara decided to hold off for the moment.

"I have no idea why," she said. "I got it finished, and it just sat there. I just felt like the Lord wasn't leading me to send it in. For some reason, it just wasn't my time."

That application delay, it turns out, was significant. Following a few months in which the Vests did some vacationing and purchased a home, they finally decided to drop the Snowflakes application in the mail. About the same time, another couple 600 miles away -- Bob and Susanne Gray of Atlanta -- was trying to decide what to do with their extra embryos left over from in vitro fertilization. They had 23 embryos, and had also contacted Snowflakes.

The Vests, it turned out, were the only couple that matched the Grays' criteria. The Snowflakes program gave the two families each other's contact information, and they talked on the phone and then met together in Atlanta. They bonded almost immediately.

Full of hope and excitement, the Vests planned their first embryo transfer.

"All of our friends struggled right along with us," Cara said of their years of infertility. "Here, they had their first kid, their second kid and they're on their third kid, and we're still not having any kids. They were right there on the journey with us to find our child."

The fertility clinic placed four embryos in the womb, and one implanted. The Vests, at last, were pregnant. But there were complications. During the first few weeks the doctor told the Vests the baby's heart wasn't beating as fast as it should.

"But I was like, 'Nothing's wrong with my baby. I've got God on my side.' I never expected it not to work," Cara said.

Days later, at eight weeks, Cara had a miscarriage -- on her birthday.

"I bet I cried all day every day for three months," Cara said. "I just lost it. I couldn't deal with it. It was very traumatic for me. When you go in and you see this little blip on a screen and you see it beating, you have so much hope...."

After a period of grieving, the Vests tried again. This time the clinic transferred three embryos, and two implanted. They had twins. But at eight or so weeks, they lost one of the babies when its heart stopped beating. They were still pregnant, but the happiness was numbed.

"I don't think I allowed myself to be excited about the pregnancy until he was in my arms," Cara said. "I was terrified the entire pregnancy -- especially since I lost the twin. I never let go of the fear."

The remainder of the pregnancy, though, went as planned, and on May 7, 2002, Jonah David Polk Vest was born. He was the 13th Snowflake born. Today, there are more than 100.

"All I kept saying, over and over again, was, 'I can't believe you're here. I can't believe you're here,'" Cara said. "It was just overwhelming to me to be able to hold my son.... After all we had been through and all the losses -- it was a lot of emotion and a lot of thankfulness and gratitude and a lot of praising going on."

Said Gregg, "It was surreal."

Their second child via embryo adoption, Gabrielle AnnMarie Polk Vest, was born on May 2, 2005. The Vests have three embryos left and hope to go through another transfer soon.

Gregg and Cara, members of Centreville United Methodist Church in Centreville, Va., have conducted numerous interviews in recent years as part of their effort to spread the word about embryo adoption. In doing that, they also hope to sway a few minds in the ongoing debate over embryonic stem cell research, which they oppose. They took part in a White House ceremony last May alongside other Snowflake families, when President Bush spoke about embryo adoption.

"We've always been against embryonic stem cell research and for adult stem cell research," Cara said. "That's a lot of the reason why we do media -- to put a face on these embryos so that people see what they are destroying. That's why we went to the White House and why we do what we do.

"The more the word gets out, the more that couples can hopefully see their embryos not as property but see them as babies."

The Senate is considering a bill that would allow federal funds to be used for destruction of embryos in stem cell research, which is banned by the Bush policy -- although that policy does allow taxpayer dollars for research on non-embryonic stem cells (sometimes called adult stem cells).

Embryonic stem cell research, which already is receiving millions of dollars in private funds, has yet to produce any therapies. Meanwhile, adult stem cell research has led to treatments for at least 67 ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting research ethics.

"What really gets me going is how it's become political -- sometimes you wonder, is it really the way they feel, or is it just a political stance they've taken?" Gregg said of politicians. "You really wonder if they really know what they're voting on."

While the stem cell debate often is a source of frustration for the Vests, embryo adoption has been a source of joy. They maintain a relationship with the Grays, and they also have made friends with other Snowflake families across the country. It's a small informal community of families who have experienced the same ups and downs of fertility. The families e-mail each other, write each other and call each other periodically.

"People worry so much about biology," Cara said of procreation and childrearing. "But it plays such a minor role."

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