Since President George W. Bush vetoed the bill that would allow embryos to be used for stem cell research, a lot of focus has been on so-called “snowflake babies.” This term was coined by the very first adoption agency to provide an embryo adoption service, Nightlight Christian Adoptions. The term “snowflake babies” arose from a desire to point out that each child is unique; and the word “snowflake” also makes a reference to the fact that these embryos were frozen. Since the first Snowflake child was born in 1998, eighty-four families in this country have adopted frozen embryos.
Most of the recent interest and debate surrounding these previously frozen embryos lies in the stem-cell research issue. At the heart of the current stem cell research debate lie two questions: is it okay to destroy potential lives to save existing lives? And is a frozen embryo that consists of a few cells a life that we should try to protect?
Without going into that debate, which is being argued more eloquently on both sides than I could do, this article will list some of the pros and cons of embryo adoption versus traditional adoption of a child.
The first difference, which could be both a plus and a minus, between adopting a frozen embryo and an already born child, is that the mother gets to experience pregnancy, gestation, labor and delivery, and lactation. At this time, Nightlight Christian Adoptions does not facilitate adoptions if the frozen embryo is to be carried by a surrogate. If a doctor has determined that a woman is capable of carrying a child, and the difficulty is conceiving a child, then adopting a Snowflake baby would allow the adoptive mother to experience all the stages of motherhood.
A second issue in frozen embryo adoption is cost. A traditional adoption can be very costly, up to $40,000 for some private adoptions. Most couples who find themselves ready to adopt have already exhausted most fertility treatments, which has depleted their savings and emotional energy. Adopting a Snowflake or frozen embryo, on the other hand, can be less costly. On the higher end, costs would be about $10,000 to adopt a Snowflake baby. Of course, prenatal, maternity and hospital fees for labor and delivery would be in addition to the fees paid to the adoption agency to adopt a frozen embryo.
It is important to remember that adopting a frozen embryo requires implanting these embryos into a mother’s uterus after thawing. Some of these frozen embryos do not survive the thaw. Even though multiple embryos are implanted, there is also the possibility that none of these will survive, and the family will have to deal with the disappointment and emotional distress of losing a pregnancy.
And then there is the possibility that all the frozen embryos will survive and the family will have multiple Snowflake babies. The Nightlight Christian Adoptions agency only allows three embryos to be implanted per pregnancy, so there will be no issue of “selective reduction”. Selective reduction is a suggestion to abort some of the fetuses. This suggestion is usually made to spare the life of the mother and the remaining fetuses in a pregnancy with multiples. There is a smaller chance of carrying multiples with frozen embryos than with fresh ones, but the chance remains that a family could have triplets. This point is probably one that would also fit in the pro or con section, depending on the family’s point of view and readiness to care for multiple babies.
The Snowflake adoptions done currently through Nightlight Christian Adoptions agency are open adoptions. The degree of contact and information-sharing between the couple giving away their frozen embryos and the couple adopting these embryos is up to the two couples to determine. Open adoption of Snowflakes works just like an open adoption in the traditional sense. Any adoption that provides information by letters, pictures or any other contact to both parties is considered an open adoption. Adopting a frozen embryo rather than a baby or older child may make the adoptive parents more inclined to keep the adoption status a secret, and that’s harder to do with an open adoption. On the other hand, most adoptive parents and birthparents are happy with some degree of openness about each other.
Most couples who go through IVF (in vitro fertilization) and have frozen embryos to give have higher incomes, are more likely to be married, have better health care, more education and better jobs. Prenatal care and maternal health would also have been closely monitored. Children adopted through traditional means are usually from mothers who are statistically younger; single mothers; possible drug use; poor prenatal care due to drugs, alcohol, or trying to hide the pregnancy; and have little to no information on the biological father. Snowflake babies might carry a better genetic imprint because of these factors.
The genetic parents of frozen embryos are already happy with their family size, and agree together to give their frozen embryos to another family. So, the dreaded scenario of a birth mother or father changing his or her mind a few months into the process is extremely unlikely to happen. Giving birth to a Snowflake baby is considered irrevocable on both sides.
Becoming a parent by any means is a daunting task that requires some planning, maturity and lots of patience. Whether you become a parent by conceiving and giving birth naturally; having a child through fertility treatment measures; adopting from a foreign country; adopting a child from a private party; or carrying adopted frozen embryos, it’s the life of raising the child that really matters !