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Embryo frozen for over 5 years becomes Auburn couple’s bundle of joy

Updated: Jun. 20, 2021 at 6:55 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Matthew and Kendall Henderson met and fell in love during their college years at Auburn University. After dating for three years they tied the knot, and have since been married since 2013.

After the college sweethearts got married, they were ready to start a family. However, after years of trying, they struggled to conceive.

“We actually did several rounds of IVF (in vitro fertilization) and IUIs (intrauterine insemination) and, I mean, we tried naturally for a really long time as well,” Matthew said. “It was about a five-year effort of just trying to get pregnant.”

Aside from getting pregnant, the couple discovered another hurdle. Through genetic testing, they found that Kendall was a carrier of a genetic trait that they both feared would be passed down if they chose to have biological children.

“We just decided that we didn’t want to take that chance of passing that down, and so we went with an option that didn’t have those consequences,” Kendall said.

Just when the Hendersons’ felt like they were running out of options, they stumbled upon the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) website. The center offers what’s known as embryo adoption.

What happens is some couples who try in vitro fertilization may end up with remaining embryos. The couple can either decided to let their embryos thaw and die, or donate the viable embryos to a facility like the NEDC where they can remain frozen and eventually be donated to a couple who is unable to conceive.

Think of it like a regular adoption, but you’re adopting someone else’s embryo and giving birth to it yourself.

“There are so many couples out there who think ‘we’re never going to be able to have children’ and they could. They just don’t know about this. They don’t know about the chance to give birth to their adoptive child,” said Mark Mellinger, marketing and development director of the National Embryo Donation Center.

“For some people it’s important that they have some of their own genetic traits with the child, and in that case they are going to want to do IVF, but for people for whom that’s just not that important, embryo adoption can be a really good option,” Mellinger went on to say.

Being able to be pregnant was something the Hendersons’ wanted to experience, and embryo adoption was able to give them that chance.

“There was no indication at any point that I couldn’t carry a child, and so I think it was just one of those things that, like internally, it’s harder to give up,” Kendall said.

Luckily for the Hendersons, their adoption was a success. After two transfers, Kendall gave birth to Lily Ruth in September 2019.

Lily’s embryo had been frozen preservation for 5 1/2 years before she was adopted. She is now a happy and healthy 1 1/2 year old.

Lily Ruth poses next to a picture of her as a small cell.
Lily Ruth poses next to a picture of her as a small cell.(Source: Matthew and Kendall Henderson)

“We did one transfer with embryos from one couple, and that was unsuccessful, and so our back up couple was actually where the embryo’s came from from Lily Ruth,” Kendall said.

The couple described the unique experience of getting to see what was once just tiny cells, become a growing baby, and eventually their beautiful little girl.

“Having seen the embryo turn into something real and then even just being able to see that heartbeat only a couple weeks later. I mean, it’s not far from where they donate it to where you see the heart beat and just knowing how quickly life comes from that makes you really value those embryos a whole lot more,” Matthew said.

Mellinger said that embryo adoption not only offers hope for families looking to start a family, but it also gives couples doing IVF another option for what to do with their remaining embryos.

“We would offer hope to those couples who have done IVF and have this dilemma on their hands. They feel like they don’t know what to do with the frozen embryos that they have remaining. We would advocate that you give those embryos a chance at life in another family because there are homes waiting to welcome them. People who desperately want kids,” Mellinger said.

The journey to get Lily Ruth was not easy, but the couples says it has made them value even more what it means to be a mother and a father.

“She’s been such a blessing in our lives that I definitely want to make sure that I don’t take for granted each day that I get with her because it was a long wait, and now that she’s here I just want to make sure that I enjoy each one of those moments,” Matthew said.

The Hendersons’ advice to other couples sharing a similar struggle with infertility is to do your research, pray about it and don’t be scared to talk about it.

“It’s part of your life journey and it’s not something to hide or to feel shameful or embarrassed about,” Kendall said. “I think things started to change for us when we expressed that we needed help and expressed that we needed someone to talk to. That’s when the burden got a little bit lighter.”

The Henderson’s said that the couple who donated Lily’s embryo to them also donated to a few other families. Kendall said Lily has three biological sisters, two from the original donor couple and then one from another adoptive couple they donated to before them.

As far as the chance for baby number two, Matthew and Kendall said the group of embryos Lily came from still has some available, so Lily could have another genetic sibling on the way sometime in the near future.

According to the CDC, nearly 2% of babies born in the United States each year are conceived through assisted reproductive technologies (ART) like embryo adoption. You can learn more about the process and local services on the CDC website.

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