But this unique form of parenting also raises some questions that wouldn't cross most parents' minds. One I've heard a lot is: Aren't you afraid that one day, your baby's placing family will decide they want her back and take her?
I want to assure you that if you are considering embryo adoption, you shouldn't let this fear haunt your decision. Let me explain why.
It is indeed true that in the case of conventional domestic adoptions, birth mothers have the opportunity to keep their baby rather than placing him or her for adoption. Adoption Network Law Center has done a nice job compiling the various state-level requirements for parental consent before an adoption can proceed. Another resource that clearly explains a birth mother's rights is this page from American Adoptions, an adoption agency.
One factor that remains constant, whether in domestic or embryo adoption, is the process of giving legal consent. Both adoption processes are enacted using a legally binding contract, and embryos are considered property under the law, which makes the process arguably more straightforward. There are numerous points at which a placing family can decide to push pause on the adoption for whatever reason. Julie and I signed a legally binding contract, just as our placing family did, as part of our adoption process. In a future post, I'll share some of the elements you might expect to find in your own embryo adoption contract.
The purpose of the contract, and really the entire adoption process, is to provide any children that are born through embryo adoption the legitimacy of any other adopted child. In the past, people simply referred to the process of moving embryos from one family to another as mere donation. That couldn't be further from the truth. If you believe as we do that embryos represent human lives, the process is stripped of being a mere transaction and becomes something that transforms both families entirely, deeply, forever.
You should also be aware that in many cases, couples freeze embryos and pay monthly to ensure they are stored safely until they are comfortable placing them. In some cases, perhaps couples simply pay the fee and forget about them. I suspect, though, that many parents choose to keep their embryos preserved because they recognize the humanity of those embryos. They are working toward the point when they can emotionally and spiritually place them in full confidence, trusting God to shepherd the adoption process. Sometimes, that process takes years or even decades.
My point is simply this: Couples that place their embryos might already have other older children and be past the point of raising more children, either because their doctor told them they couldn't physically bring more babies to term or because their family is complete. The idea of a placing family taking back babies from the embryos they've donated is less scary when you realize many of these families already have children, they recognize the humanity of these embryos deeply and they genuinely want another family to be blessed with a child in the best possible environment.
Part of the fear I sometimes hear likely also stems from the past practice of closed adoptions. Family A puts up Child A for adoption and disappears into the woodwork. Child A is left with no record of his or her past, more questions than answers and deep sorrow about the loss of a critically important relationship, both personal and genetic. Even today, I know many people search desperately for their biological family. It would be disingenuous to say that I understand their plight, having never been in that situation, but I can only imagine how painful the process must be.
Nonetheless, adoption has come a long way, and I'm very grateful for the sake of Phoebe and the two families that love her dearly. Our open adoption means we will have ongoing communication and shared experiences with our daughter's placing family. Our adoption agency recently informed us that ours is a rather unusual experience -- many embryo adoptions end up being cross-country relationships where families often don't see one another on a regular basis. In our case, we're blessed to be about 90 minutes from the family that forever changed our lives for the better.
Embryo adoption is a lifelong process. It isn't a moment in time or a heat-of-the-moment decision that parents quickly jump into or out of. So if someone asks you, "Aren't you afraid they'll take back your baby?", I want to encourage you that fear should have no place in your response. Get to know your placing family, cherish them and your budding relationship, and do everything with openness and the best interest of your baby at heart.
A little education and a lot of compassion go a long way.