Meet the baby girl who spent over 17 years as a frozen embryo

Meet the baby girl who spent over 17 years as a frozen embryo

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Amazingly, a baby girl by the name of Marley Jade was created long before her parents even met. The new Denver resident, who was welcomed into the world by Elizabeth and Marty, spent over 17 years as a frozen embryo before being adopted, thawed and implanted.

Today, Marley is a healthy little one, and her parents are thrilled to share their "snowflake adoption" journey with other couples out there going through infertility.

Before we jump to hearing from Elizabeth and Marty themselves, a little background: Marley was a leftover embryo from her biological parents’ successful IVF treatment almost 18 years ago. Successful – meaning Marley has a biological sibling nearly 18 years older than herself that was created at the same time she was. The biological parents decided to freeze their unused embryos rather than having them destroyed, and later donated the embryo that would become Marley to the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption program (created by Nightlight Christian Adoptions), which matches embryo donors with couples desperate to start a family.

When Elizabeth and Marty's doctor recommended the Snowflakes program, after they'd struggled to conceive a second child on their own, the couple jumped at the chance to adopt an embryo. Shortly thereafter it was thawed, transferred to Elizabeth, and on June 3, 2016, Marley was born.

The proud parents were kind enough to take a moment to answer a few questions about their journey to being a family of four for BabyCenter. A look at what Elizabeth and Marty shared with us...

What was the Snowflakes embryo adoption process like?

In the early stage the process seemed daunting. There's a lot of paperwork and a lot of information to chase down. Many people don't realize that the embryo adoption process is treated a lot like post birth adoption. We had to provide fingerprints, allow for background checks, provide references, entertain home studies, read a book about adoption and answer a lot of questions on paper related to the book, and much more. There's more to the process than just the medical preparation.

Our first and only match came four months after we entered that phase of the process. Then came contracts, then getting the embryos to us and the preparations for transfer. The process from paperwork gathering to embryos being in our possession took 17-18 months. We were on the longer end because we tested negative for CMV (Cytomegalovirus), so we had to be matched with genetic families who were also CMV negative. We learned that over half of the US population has been exposed to the virus and tests positive, so as it turns out, most of the donating families are CMV positive. Nightlight and our doctor would not consider us for embryos who came from CMV positive genetic families due to the risks involved with pregnancy.

The process for us was a mix of baby steps and giant leaps. As we hold our snowflake baby and look back on everything we did to achieve this dream, we see a pathway of peaks and valleys, persistence, hard work, and dreaming. We never gave up and kept the dream alive. It was worth every minute of the time we put in, and we could not imagine expanding our family any other way. Marley is as much a part of our family as our first born biological daughter.

Did you have a chance to choose from the embryos, or have information on the sex of the baby?

We did not have information about the sex of the baby. We did not pursue this and we don't know the details involved. We let the doctor lead the way on selecting embryos to thaw and handling all the details leading up to the transfer.

How did you feel leading up to the implantation?

I was excited to get started with the medical preparations because it meant we were that much closer to finally getting pregnant. However, I wasn't looking forward to the daily injections and being the one to actually stick myself. Surprisingly, the anticipation was much worse than the actual process. I got used to it after a couple times through and then it became just part of the day.

I remember the day of transfer was very exciting, but I remember also being very nervous, so nervous I was actually shaking. There was so much running through my head the day of the transfer – the hopes of finally getting a positive pregnancy test, the idea of disappointment if the embryo didn't implant in my uterus, the excitement that our long awaited for baby could actually be in our arms in 9 months. So many thoughts were running through my head. I also remember giving it all to God, which I had done months and months earlier in this process, but I had another round of it leading up to the transfer. I knew I had done absolutely everything I could to prepare for successful transfer and pregnancy. Realizing that anything can happen, I, at least, prepped myself for the best possible chance of achieving our dreams.

We also tuned in to our doctor's recommendations throughout the whole process and leading up to the procedure. She was very straightforward, yet simple and realistic in her approach. I remember being at the doctor's office, laying on the exam table, and realizing how much faith we were putting into our doctor to help us achieve our dreams. I prayed for her and the embryologist as they were prepping me and the embryo for transfer. Once the transfer was completed, I felt a wash come over me -- as if there's nothing more I can do except wait for any signs of pregnancy, which for me was a back ache that did come about 3 hours after transfer. I had to wait two dreaded weeks for the official pregnancy result from the doctor, though.

How was the pregnancy? Any notable cravings or complications?

My pregnancy was very similar to when I was pregnant with the baby we conceived naturally. I had the usual fatigue in the first and third trimester. Second trimester was full of energy. For each pregnancy, I even had the same early symptoms before the official test for successful conception – a back ache. I did not have morning sickness with either pregnancy.

The only issue I had with the pregnancy of our snowflake baby is a two vessel cord situation, which means the umbilical cord had one vein and one artery. Normally the umbilical has one vein and two arteries. I was closely monitored by my doctor and no complications arose. There were no growth or developmental concerns at any time during the pregnancy, and our baby was born a healthy 8 lb 13 oz at 39 weeks 5 days. I ended up delivering via a c-section because baby was laying sideways at time of delivery.

Marley moved around a lot all through pregnancy. She'd be in delivery position one day and not the next. My doctor didn't want me to go past my due date because of my age (44), so baby ran out of time to get back into delivery position. I delivered our naturally conceived child via caesarean as well due to prolonged labor. Fortunately, I do not have a dramatic pregnancy or labor experience to share.

What kinds of feelings did you experience about getting in touch with Marely's biological family?

We have not met the donating family in person, but we love them and think about them just about every day. Our agreement is that we'll exchange letters (emails and cards) and pictures once per year at a minimum. Both sides have already exceeded that. We've also agreed that if the children on either side want to meet down the road, we'd be open to that idea and help guide the process.

Do you have any plans to adopt/carry another snowflake? Or, what would you say to someone considering going this route?

We have three embryos remaining, all blastocysts, and we have not decided how we're proceeding.

We would like to offer encouragement to any couple considering going down the Snowflakes route. Much like any major decision, the process has its high points and low points. Just stay the course and keep the dream alive. Your baby is out there. For families considering donating their embryos, you will help another couple realize their dreams of starting or expanding their family. Snowflakes is a wonderful option to consider because the embryos are already created and waiting.

Anything else you care to share with our our site Blog readers?

We think it's important to note that the embryos we were matched with had been frozen for 17 years. We consulted with our doctor first thing before agreeing to the match. Our doctor was not concerned about the length of time the embryos were frozen because the egg donor that the genetic family selected was young and I was in good health. We never hesitated in our decision to move forward when we got the vote of confidence from our doctor. We're ever grateful that we did not let length of time embryos were frozen discourage us from proceeding. Marley is perfect in every way. Marley was created and saved for us before my husband and I even met, and before I even knew I would want children one day. It shows God has the perfect plan.

My husband and I were late to the game of parenthood. We met and married in our mid 30s and never felt rushed to start a family. I was 38 when we decided we'd try to have a child. This may sound crazy, but we just weren't in "that place" any sooner. Within two months I was pregnant through natural conception and had picture perfect pregnancy. I gave birth to a daughter at age 39. By age 41 we were trying for a second child, which is when we realized we had problems. I had low egg quantity and low egg quality, and we were given very little chance to conceive. I had an unending desire to bring another child into our home as well as be pregnant again, but using an egg donor wasn't for us. The door to Snowflakes swung open and never closed. We kept putting one foot in front of the other until finally we were holding our dream come true in our arms.

Congratulations to Elizabeth and Marty on welcoming their very special bundle of joy, and many thanks to them for sharing their unique story with us!

More on the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption program: There are well-over 600,000 embryos frozen in storage in the United States, many left over by people who have completed their families through IVF. Rather than discarding their frozen embryos or donating them to science, many families are now choosing to put their embryos up for adoption to give them a chance at life. Nightlight Christian Adoptions started the Snowflakes embryo adoption program in 1997 and continues to work to help couples donating their embryos find the right match. The babies born through this special adoption program are known as “Snowflake Babies.” Just as each snowflake is frozen and unique so is each Snowflake Baby.

Photos courtesy of Elizabeth and Marty

Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.

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