How Parents Define Hope

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To the parent, hope is …

…another chance to get it right (or at least better)

…a single hug or a gentle word of kindness in place of an ugly behavior

…the sight of a child sleeping peacefully at night with a stuffed animal tucked safely nearby

…another family like mine that is just getting by (and there’s something to be said for getting by)

…proximity to your children in a world that is technologically connected yet relationally isolated

3 Thanksgiving Truths About Embryo Adoption

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In honor of the upcoming holiday, I’d like to share a series of beliefs I hold to be true about embryo adoption. I think they can be an important part of other families’ stories, too.

Truth No. 1: Embryo adoption can bring overwhelming joy. Not every adoptive family successfully brings a baby into the world, and that is heartbreaking. Frozen embryo babies can fail to develop to maturity for a host of reasons, before or after being transferred. But for the families of babies who survive the process, the experience of going down the adoption road and enjoying your special child is unparalleled. Every child is special, no matter their backstory. It’s just that in cases of embryo adoption, the journey is generally longer and promotes deeper thinking about the meaning and purpose of your actions as a parent.

Truth No. 2: Embryo adoption changes many lives at the same time for the better. Some adoptive families choose closed adoptions, and that’s completely OK. For those of us in open adoptions, experts suggest having access and connection to one’s heritage is important and even healing. This doesn’t mean adoptive parents loose their status as mom and dad. It simply means your definition of family permanently expands—and draws you closer to God’s definition of true family that is spiritual, not genetic. Placing families have the confidence of knowing babies are placed with a loving family who has their best interests at heart. Adoptive families have the confidence of knowing they can ask questions about family history, medical history and maintain degrees of connection with biological siblings.

Truth No. 3: Embryo adoption can make the world a better place. As I’ve written previously, I don’t buy into the idea that embryo adoption will promote greater use of assisted reproductive technology. My vision is for a world where embryo adoption is no longer necessary because all frozen embryos have been adopted. If more families knew about embryo adoption, this vision could be closer to reality.

You might know a family perfectly suited for this new kind of home. How might embryo adoption help them view Thanksgiving and thankfulness generally in a whole new light?

Why You Must Treat Moments With Your Children Like Fleeting Sand

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Sifting Coronado Island sand through your fingers is addictive. I know because I got hooked this past weekend when our family took a trip to San Diego, Calif., so that Julie could present her research and lead a roundtable discussion at a conference for biology teachers. (By the way, she passed her dissertation defense today with flying colors. Yay, honey!!!)

But the sand presents a trap. The little crystalline particles rest on your fingers for a moment and then, pulled down by gravity and the weight of a thousand other particles on top of them, they collapse onto the ground. The fleeting enjoyment of the sensation of sifting sand must be repeated over and over again or else it is gone for good. All that remains are memories.

So too is time with our children and other loved ones. Billionaire and family man Jesse Itzler shines the brightest light I’ve heard on the subject in months in his latest interview with the EntreLeadership podcast.

Itzler spent 15 days at a monastery and came away from the experience with a completely new appreciation for time—and the short moments that together make up our lives.

Whether you are sifting sand or spending an hour in the evening with your children, treat it with the respect it deserves. Sifting sand has limited value, but time with those you care about? It’s impossible to price.

Fail to do it again and again and you will be left, in some future time, to question why you didn’t invest more of yourself in those moments. Find special moments again and again, and you will be fully alive—as long as you are present and can set aside the task list.

Nurture your child, not your task list. Only one of them has the capacity to remember you when you are gone. Make the memories count.

Embryo Adoption Weirded Me Out. Then I Changed My Mind.

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Years ago, I wrote off embryo adoption. I didn’t stand in the town square and warn people against it. I simply avoided thinking about it and purposefully distanced myself from it with a label.

The label was: Weird.

Mostly, I considered embryo adoption weird because I didn’t totally understand it. A mentor of mine likens this aversion to a kind of black box—the device on an airplane that helps emergency officials, in the event of an accident, understand what went wrong. The average person has no idea how to pick apart black boxes (which are actually orange, per the Wikipedia link above) to study the plane, and therefore we are left confused and doubtful about how it all works and whether there’s something more to the story.

Pivot back to embryo adoption. Most of us understand we all started as an embryo. And we ended up here as people who can read this sentence. But idea that one family with remaining embryos from in vitro fertilization would later place those embryos with another family—and that process can be done as a legally binding adoption—can seem a bit much to the uninitiated.

Until you understand it better. It doesn’t happen overnight. It might even take months or years.

Here’s what did it for me. At some point, I internalized the fact that frozen embryos are babies, and babies deserve our protection. They deserve love. They deserve life.

Not every family is capable of adoption. For a long time, I didn’t think ours was, either. It sounded noble and important until I began considering what it would mean for my adopted child and for my family tree. Then it sounded daunting and a little scary.

But you know what? You don’t have to accept the daunting or the scary. Adoption will always be a little of both, for you and your placing family. Rather than dwelling on unknowns, though, I chose to fully embrace our mission of giving these children the best chance at life.

Our daughter is living proof that our collective definition and acceptance of adoption must expand to fit the needs of our generation. Embryo adoption isn’t weird. It is important and necessary.

Placing and adoptive families recognize that nurturing children begins at the earliest stages of development. It goes beyond mere biological instinct. It stems from our desire to safeguard fellow humans made in God’s image.

To ignore such a calling? Now that would be weird.

When To Take A Stand

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In honor of Election Day, this post is short. If you fashion yourself something of a political junkie as I do, you are trying to narrow the scope of your reading this week to the people who will lead our country in the years ahead.

Today is an important reminder to continually develop character so that when a decision is necessary—as it is on Election Day—you are prepared to act.

Take a stand for the values you hold true. If you are a person of faith as I am, take a stand for the values God reveals to be true.

Above all, put the needs of your neighbors ahead of your own temporary needs.

Do right by the least among us.

Entertain other perspectives but not at the expense of truth.

Hold to your vision even when people tempt you to act out of scarcity and fear of the unknown darkness rather than out of compassion for your fellow man.

Stand up. Stand out. Stand firm.

Your country needs you. But the American family needs you most of all.

Why Frozen Embryos Should Be Adopted, Not Traded

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I always wanted a daughter, but God gave me sons. And I love each of them dearly. Never before has it been more important to live the life of a godly man.

When Julie’s doctor shared that Phoebe was a girl, I was delighted and not a little skeptical. Sure enough, Ms. Phoebe completed our family as our only girl. We didn’t do a single DNA test on any of the three embryos we adopted. We’re especially grateful we made that decision — which requires an intrusive process that can permanently damage embryos — when our clinic informed us only one embryo had survived the process of being thawed.

We would have adored a little boy all the same.

(Order your copy of “Frozen, But Not Forgotten,” my new embryo adoption guidebook for parents.)

Yet our ability to test embryos, even when they survive, is creating arguably damaging scenarios. As an example, the Daily Mirror just today shared the story of a mother seeking to trade her baby girl embryo for another couple’s baby boy embryo.

What are the extenuating circumstances? Her five-year-old son has requested a brother, and it would be easier to have another boy in their two-bedroom home than to seek a third bedroom that a girl would require. If you don’t believe me, you can read the article.

I have never experienced this woman’s heartache, which includes unsuccessful frozen embryo transfers. But I would plead with anyone who considers embryos mere commodities to be traded to consider the storyline you are creating for these children.

All of us desire on some level to know our origin story. From what I have read, adoptees feel this especially strongly. So to create a scenario in which families simply swap babies without going through a thorough, comprehensive and legally binding adoption is disturbing at best.

Each adoption should be done in a way that honors the best interests of a child above anything else. In the case described above, not just one family but two families are considering the unthinkable — trading embryos as a person might trade baseball cards.

More troubling still, this is but one example of many we could identify together. Scientists have developed some incredible technology to help identify disease, but this ability to select which we’d like to eradicate means we can choose to destroy embryos that might carry devastating illness. Of course, pre-implantation embryo analysis isn’t always accurate, which means couples might inadvertently destroy perfectly healthy embryos.

We must replace our desire for perfect babies and perfect families with a better and higher calling: families in which every life has value, even lives that biologically don’t conform with society’s ideal. Or that happen to be the opposite of the gender we expected. Or that don’t meet Facebook’s airbrushed standards.

Each of us, after all, is imperfect.

Frozen embryos are babies seeking a home, and babies deserve to be adopted. Anything less sets a dangerous precedent.

Fate Of Frozen Embryos At Heart Of Colorado Supreme Court Ruling

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The fate of remaining frozen embryos from IVF for post-divorce couples remains uncertain after a Colorado Supreme Court ruling this week. I first learned of the ruling via Ellen Trachman, who wrote this interesting summary at AboveTheLaw.com. One note is that the court’s ruling identifies these babies as pre-embryos, aka embryos in need of a womb to develop to maturity. As I will continue to emphasize on this blog, a baby is a baby no matter its size.

Although I hope you are never in this situation, the case of Mandy and Drake Rooks is instructive in my view for several reasons:

  • The case clearly demonstrates our collective discomfort about the fate of frozen embryos, and the complexities of making such a decision in the absence of written guidance from the once-married parents. That this is a hugely personal and moral issue is clear in the language of the dissent, in particular, where Justices Hood wrote: “Because I believe a court should never infringe on a person’s constitutional right to avoid procreation through IVF, I disagree with the majority’s decision to entangle our courts in such deeply personal disputes by employing a multi-factor balancing test.” Justice Hood believes it is a violation of the constitutional rights of the genetic father in this case—who does not want to cede the embryos to the genetic mother—to allow the mother to keep and transfer the embryos. Essentially, one is infringing upon the right of the other to procreate (or not). The majority, however, ruled that judges in the lower courts must examine multiple criteria. Quoting from the ruling, the justices wrote judges should evaluate:

    • “the intended use of the party seeking to preserve the pre-embryos;

    • a party’s demonstrated ability, or inability, to become a genetic parent through means other than use of the disputed pre-embryos;

    • the parties’ reasons for undertaking in vitro fertilization in the first place;

    • the emotional, financial, or logistical hardship for the person seeking to avoid becoming a genetic parent;

    • any demonstrated bad faith or attempt to use the pre-embryos as unfair leverage in the divorce process;

    • and other considerations relevant to the parties’ specific situation.”

  • We have successfully disassociated ourselves from the human nature of embryos—but only just. I get that this is a legal document, and that judges must be dispassionate. Thus, they chose to use the term “pre-embryo” in this case to refer to babies that are formed via IVF before transfer and implantation. But as a 2016 report in the Croatian Medical Journal (yes, there is such a thing) noted, deeply held views about bioethics and life itself play a powerful role in crafting the definitions we use to describe pre-born life in our societies. We shouldn’t let legal jargon distance us from the serious issues this case surfaces.

  • Adoption plays a role in this case, albeit in an somewhat unusual way. The Colorado Supreme Court notes in its ruling that the issue here is whether a parent has a right to “genetic parenthood.” An ex-husband or ex-wife might have the ability to adopt a child, the court noted, but that doesn’t solve the issue in question. Evidently past courts have used the “Can they adopt instead?” line as a deciding factor, and the Colorado court said that’s unacceptable.

Pay attention to what the lower courts decide in this case in the weeks ahead based on the six-point criteria outlined above. Nowhere does the ruling offer either parent the option of placing those frozen embryos for adoption with an outside couple.

The unspoken tragedy here is that the court seems to propose an all or nothing outcome: Either one parent has the opportunity to attempt to bring frozen embryos to term. Or, presumably, the embryos will remain frozen forever or be discarded.

The only ones without a voice are these lives that plead for justice.

Abortion Amendment's Three Reminders For Embryo Adoption Advocates

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Next week, Alabama residents will have the opportunity to vote on whether the Alabama constitution should be amended to affirm, in part, “the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children.” You can read an excellent summary from Ballotpedia that explains in plain English what supporters and opponents of the measure are saying.

Another component of the amendment is even more controversial: a provision that the entire Alabama constitution does not secure or protect the right to an abortion or the funding of an abortion.

Predictably, debate over the merits of the measure has been fierce. It has been bitterly partisan, as well. A host of Democratic state lawmakers oppose the proposed amendment, while a handful of Republican lawmakers support it. The opponents have hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional funding, primarily from Planned Parenthood, according to Ballotpedia.

In no particular order, here are three reminders for adoption advocates based on this conversation culminating on Election Day 2018:

Reminder #1: Human life runs like a stream in one direction. I live not too far from the Mississippi River, and I can tell you that there are a series of locks and dams that allow barges to move up and down. But barges don’t move in a direct, uninterrupted line from one place to another, as airplanes do. Instead, you start. You stop. You wait some more. You pick up again.

Human life isn’t like that. The Bible is clear that humans have value from the moment of conception: “Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?” (Job 31:15, ESV)

We don’t develop into a human over a period of weeks or months. We are people from the first point of existence.

Reminder #2: Embryos are frequently left out of the conversation. This legislation is vague in its affirmation of human life. Critics argue this gives mean-spirited lawmakers virtually endless license to prevent women from receiving medical treatment and, yes, abortions. I would argue the amendment, while laudable for its support of human life, fails to spell out protections for embryos specifically. Opinion writer John Archibald made this point in a recent column for AL.com. Nor is there any mention of Alabama’s desire to uphold families by promoting adoption as a valid alternative to abortion, embryo destruction or other practices that end young life prematurely.

Reminder #3: Policy will never mend broken hearts—only people can do that. For those of us who have seen firsthand the joy of adoption and the capacity it has to mend families, well-intentioned amendments such as the one proposed in Alabama are a reminder that as valuable as constitutions can be, they do not of themselves save lives. Only people, you and I, can do that.

We can share adoption as a necessary and valid option for couples facing infertility. We can comfort those who have experienced life-changing decisions, even though we will never fully grasp the depth of their pain and the other emotions they feel.

Whether you are voting to elect leaders, adopt amendments or enact measures, cast your ballot in line with the values you know to be true. Then go to work to help the people around you see why those values matter.

It’s up to you.

One Embryo Adoption Chapter Closes, And Another Begins

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The vibrant oranges, reds and yellows of the trees around Julie’s childhood home served as the perfect final chapter to “Frozen, But Not Forgotten”. The book is now with the proofreader, and Phoebe’s placing family had suggested a great item to include in its pages would be a joint family photo. Julie and I agreed this would be a special way to wrap up the project.

We texted and identified a time we could meet at Julie’s parents’ home, where we enjoyed the weekend visiting a pumpkin patch and carving jack-o’-lanterns. Earlier in the weekend, we spent time with Julie’s grandparents picking apples and pears from their orchard.

On this particular evening, though, we reconvened a gathering that began several months earlier when we met Phoebe’s placing family for the first time. Although we each lead separate lives with dozens of commitments and places to be, the blessing of open adoption enables us to pick up where we left off. Unlike most open embryo adoptions, where families are separated by many states, we are only 90 minutes apart.

Everyone oohed over Phoebe’s little fingers and relished her rolls. We watched as she dug her feet into the fall leaves and searched for objects to crinkle in her hands.

After sharing updates, our families bunched up together as my father-in-law graciously snapped three dozen different options with my iPhone. I’ve narrowed my list down to two or three of my favorites, and one will end up in the book. Remarkably, all of our little people smiled except for Phoebe, who can’t be blamed for looking so serious when surrounded by so much to process all at once.

After confirming my father-in-law had, in fact, done a tremendous job capturing the spirit of the moment, we said our goodbyes and waved as our new friends backed out of the driveway and headed off on their own pumpkin-carving adventure.

Not every family is comfortable pursuing open adoption because they fear their children will be confused about who their real parents and siblings are as they grow older. That fear has never been our own. We have every intention of sharing Phoebe’s adoption story with her at every stage of her life, and of making sure she knows her story. Most importantly, she will have the privilege of knowing the special people who have loved her and supported her beginning at her earliest stages of development.

As production of the book wraps up, I’m reminded why we started this journey more than two years ago in the first place: to grow our family and to affirm that each life is immeasurably precious.

Now a new chapter opens: Sharing that message far and wide with other couples whose family storybooks are only just being written.

Health Over Substance

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Tonight, I will keep this post short and sweet so I can run for 30 minutes on the treadmill.

I’m trying to get better about exercise. I really am.

After all, I’d like to see how my kids turn out if God allows it. I’ve got a few things I’d like to do with Julie in the years ahead.

And most of them don’t require me to be plugged into a device.

So for now, goodbye. I’ll be back.

Incidentally, what are you doing to invest in your future? Eating right (and well)? Staying fit (within reason)? Turning off push notifications and basking in the silence (unless you’re simply avoiding an uncomfortable conversation)?

Whatever you do, do it well. Do it for your children. Do it for your future.

Five Things Election Day And Embryo Adoption Have In Common

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You might not be a FOX News or CNN junkie, but you’ve undoubtedly heard Election Day is just over the horizon on Nov. 6. My parents always taught us children the value of voting. To avoid the ballot box is to avoid a privilege many people around the world simply don’t have.

Yet like the philosopher-educator Chidi of TV’s “The Good Place,” we often wrestle with indecision to the point of being paralyzed with fear. We wonder whether participating in our representative democracy is even worth it.

Let me assure you: It is. The same can be said for any big decision, including those involving building your family or pursuing embryo adoption. In fact, there are plenty of parallels, as different as these major choices are.

In the spirit of this important national occasion, here are five of them.

  1. Embryo adoption and elections both require you to care about people. If you couldn’t care less what happens to future generations of Americans, don’t adopt. Also, don’t vote. But if you believe God places people in the right time and right place for specific purposes, as I do, you might want to take action. Consider how to leave the world in better shape than you found it.

  2. Embryo adoption and elections both require long-term vision. Most people who’ve adopted a baby (I’m generalizing on a strong hunch that this is correct) don’t wake up one day and jump headlong into their family building decision. They mull over their options for months if not years at a time, carefully consider the best path to tread and move forward purposefully yet gradually. I hope the same is true of your voting decisions. You make careful choices because you understand elected officials aren’t like the ever-changing Starbucks menu. You don’t get a redo for years at a time unless someone makes a major boo-boo. Which reminds me that federal law would read waaaaay differently if parents of toddlers were responsible for writing it.

  3. Embryo adoption and elections aren’t entirely in your control. In fact, they are largely outside of your control. You’ll excuse the evangelist in me when I say that God in His providence has a tremendously important role to play. It’s popular today to mock politicians who offer their prayers after a tragedy. That, in itself, is tragic. If we’re laughing, it might as well be nervous laughter over our callousness and inability to quash our egos long enough to appeal to a higher power. No, you can’t measure providence or prayer in a laboratory or quantify it on a bathroom scale. But I beg you to show me another path that more clearly frees the mind of worry or more plainly offers strength in times of heartbreak. As I Peter 5:6-7 reminds us: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (ESV)

  4. Embryo adoption and elections both bring pain and introspection. There is nothing comfortable about embryo adoption. Oh, it brings pure joy at times. But for families placing their babies for adoption, the weight of the decision is often exhausting and tearful. For adopting couples, there will be worry about whether an adopted child will understand his or her background and recognize the love that led them into their adoptive family. Elections, meanwhile, are a bloody sporting match with a handful of winners and many losers. Hurt feelings breed contempt, which leads to ugly social media commentary and fence-building. Pain is a part of the human experience, but we get to choose whether it lasts.

  5. Embryo adoption and elections both point us toward a brighter future. Babies bring so many promises: early morning snuggles, sweet giggles, nighttime story sessions. No matter their race, gender, socioeconomic status or abilities, children infuse our world with hope. Elections do so to a lesser degree, bringing the guarantee of change, even if that change does not conform to our ideal vision of what the world should be.

    Children and elections alike push us to act—in part out of self-interest, but in greater part out of the interest of those around us.

    This Election Day, I will vote because it is my right and privilege. I will vote because my parents taught me to do so and because I understand how sacred it is in the halls of a world where authoritarians and dictators have too often crushed the hopes and dreams of my brothers and sisters by snuffing out the ballot box.

    But before all of that, I will say a prayer for our children, embryo babies and all. If faith with love can move mountains, now is the time to show it.

'Roe v. Wade' Director Endorses 'Frozen, But Not Forgotten'

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Over the past month and a half, I’ve had the privilege of corresponding with Nick Loeb, director of the forthcoming film “Roe v. Wade,” which recently received the necessary funding to complete the movie. It stars Jon Voight, Steve Guttenberg and Stacey Dash, among others. An excellent recap of the challenges the filmmakers have faced along the way because of the film’s subject matter is available from The Washington Times.

If you aren’t familiar with Mr. Loeb’s journey to pro-life advocacy, you can read the op-ed he wrote for The New York Times in which he argued that frozen embryos such as those he and his ex-fiancee created deserve every chance at life rather than being frozen indefinitely.

Mr. Loeb and I are from different backgrounds, but we are united in our concern for the hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos in the U.S. In providing an endorsement for my new book, “Frozen, But Not Forgotten,” he wrote:

“Nate Birt has written one of the most important pro-life stories of our generation, revealing to parents that each frozen embryo created through in vitro fertilization is, in fact, a precious baby with its own individual DNA. Families that place these babies for adoption are heroes. “Frozen, But Not Forgotten” guides parents through the joys and challenges of embryo adoption—and sheds light on the unintended consequences of our society’s embrace of assisted reproductive technology. Like Birt, I seek a world in which each of these children has a home—and in which this book becomes a footnote in history because no frozen embryos remain.”

You and I might believe there are few things we have in common with people outside our relatively small circle of influence. But in reality, being pro-life has opened my world to many new friends and colleagues, men and women who similarly view the unborn as worthy of our attention and our care.

I’m grateful to Mr. Loeb for his endorsement and his courage in filming a movie that many would prefer not have been made at all. And I’m hopeful that his platform can expose more people to the important issues that affect future, as-yet unborn generations of Americans.

Everything you do to help a child matters tremendously. If you don’t believe that, go see “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” We can all make a difference. Don’t bother ranking your deeds as big or small. Any choice to act is a choice big enough to matter.

Three Lessons From Grandparents

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We just enjoyed a great weeklong visit with my parents, who made the long trek to Missouri from Colorado. Over the past eight days, we spent lots of quality time playing in the backyard, visiting over meals, attending school events and remembering times past.

Here are three observations I made — if you are a parent, you’ve probably arrived at similar conclusions:

  1. Grandparents arrive when you need them most. Fall 2018 at the Birt household is turning out to be a crazy time unlike any other in recent memory. Julie is finalizing her dissertation and preparing to give her defense in a few weeks’ time. We’re wrapping up production on Frozen, But Not Forgotten, which is due to the printer by Dec. 1. And I’m learning the ropes of hiring my first team member over at my full-time gig at Trust In Food. So Mom and Dad couldn’t have come at a better time. They marched into the heat of battle like tried-and-true warriors of grandparenting. They juggled kids, played card games and let the parents take a few naps. Does it get any better than this?

  2. Grandparents remind you no parenting journey is easy. When your children are pushing you from behind, kicking your shins or bawling their eyes out, grandparents remind you that you were young once. You weren’t perfect. They questioned what they did as parents. You do, too. There isn’t an opt-out clause in your parenting contract, just a reminder that one day, times will change and you’ll get to look back with fondness and joy. Fondness for the memories. Joy that you’re no longer policing shoving brothers or telling little ones this is absolutely the very last time you’ll be coming to their bedroom or else there will be consequences. Major consequences, mister!

  3. Grandparents value the memories over the material. My best memories of my own grandparents don’t revolve around all of the things they bought me or the places they took me. They revolve around the stories they told me, the time we spent talking in the kitchen or on the couch, the things they shared about God and serving Him faithfully each and every day. Of course, they saw to it we had nice things to enjoy, and they enjoyed blessing us. But the real gift they gave us was their time, their wisdom and their love. My parents did the same thing this week for us.

Grandparents don’t attain their high calling in life because they passed the bar or obtained a special license. They achieve this elevated status because they’ve got plenty of love to give, and they understand that the future of their family—and the world—is in the hands of these little people.

Grandparents see past the immediate fears and worries of parents to what can be—and what our children will become. It is good to be reminded of who will one day be in charge. Better to lay the foundation for their future through our good examples and gentle direction than by trying to critique their every move.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for being such an important part of our family. Grandparents are truly awesome.

What is the best lesson your grandparents ever taught you? Share it in the comments below.

Embryo Life Or Death: Who Decides?

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There is no comfortable way to talk about death, particularly the death of a child. At the same time, we collectively allow ourselves to make choices about the fate of life at the earliest stages of development — choices that would be unthinkable as a child matures.

For example, it is not uncommon for parents who have used in vitro fertilization (IVF) to donate remaining embryos for research purposes. I would strongly advise readers of this blog to fully digest this Oct. 11 article in Glamour written by Elissa Strauss, which explains her family’s decision to make such a decision. It is exceptionally written and captures the key moral questions with which so many families must grapple as our ability to use technology to build families improves.

Yet these lines from Strauss’ article, framing her decision to donate embryos for research, haunt me: “What if they turned into children? What if I am a terrible person because I don’t want to give them a chance?”

Strauss is not a terrible person. Far from it. She is caught in a seemingly impossible predicament. I shudder at the destruction of embryos in any form, whether through research, indefinite freezing or other means. But what I know is that as a society, we’ve got a tall hill to climb when it comes to educating families about the choice of embryo adoption—and the value of human life at its earliest point of existence.

In her article, Strauss quotes Lisa Campo-Engelstein, an associate professor of bioethics at Albany Medical College, talking about the accidental destruction of tens of thousands of embryos after equipment malfunctions at fertility clinics:

“How do we explain that loss in legal terms? Some people see them as frozen children; other people see them as bunches of cells,” Campo-Engelstein says. “There’s such a huge spectrum of views that it can be hard to even begin the conversation.”

It might be hard, but that means the conversation is all the more worth having. The best hope we have is that our society still has a conscience—a conscience that suggests there’s a question of deep importance gnawing at all of us.

There is no question that even in natural conception, embryos die before they are brought to term (though recent research suggests even commonly referenced statistics on embryo mortality are inaccurately high). But the issue here is not the natural processes of the body that are outside of our control—the issue of an embryo created through IVF is that 1) we made the choice to conceive a person and 2) we get to decide what happens to that person.

Scholars and theologians have argued for thousands of years about when life begins, and when a soul is affixed to a person’s body, and a hundred other questions. So why haven’t we reached a happy agreement to each do as we wish and build little people in whatever way science advances?

Because we recognize, in our deepest heart, that humans are different than any other creature on Earth. And once life has begun—even if it only appears to be a clump of cells to some—it becomes our responsibility. We get to choose whether this nascent life gets a fighting chance to live.

We can rationalize that cells have no value other than to science and the future well-being of humanity. But in my view, the fate of embryos isn’t merely a research question or a property transaction. Our society’s push to control every aspect of reproduction has real human consequences, as the investigative reporting program Reveal documents in this deeply troubling report that it rebroadcast a month ago.

The battle over the life and death of embryos has physical, moral and spiritual consequences. Even those who are confident embryos are nothing more than cells are haunted by an underlying question: What if that embryo had grown into an adult?

Let me suggest another even more disturbing question: What if that embryo had been me?

How To Distract Your Children With Lasting Life Lessons

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The boys were thrilled to learn recently that my parents would be joining us from Colorado for a week-long visit. For days, Micah, Titus and Ezra asked whether the moment had arrived. So last night, before Mom and Dad got here, I introduced a little creative distraction to strengthen one of their wonderful character traits: work ethic.

Our sons love to be part of a project, and we needed to clear out space in the garage for Julie’s car. First, we rearranged the boys’ bicycles at the back of the entryway. Then, we took some old mouse-eaten items to the burn pile.

I quickly realized I needed to include them at all stages. At one point, as I carried something heavy outside, Ezra said, “I’ll help you.”

“It’s too heavy,” I responded. “I think it would be easier if I did it.”

Ezra’s shoulders and face fell like a burst balloon inside his hooded sweatshirt. How can you resist a three-year-old who craves responsibility and has a better work ethic than many men 10 times his age? So I urged him repeatedly to come and help me, and eventually he did, as did Titus.

We moved this and then that, and when it was all through, Ezra joined me in the car so we could pull it into the garage. Titus grinned from ear to ear as he sat inside the garage to make sure we did it properly. Then he pressed the button to lower the door.

About an hour later, MumMum and Granddaddy arrived for their visit. The boys are thrilled about the adventure ahead.

So am I—this week, and as they grow up. Because if you know how to work hard and stick with a task, you can really go places. It all starts in the garage.

Parenting Through The Noise

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If you have a child, or have been around children, you understand there is generally no such thing as a quiet moment.

But peace is relative. Little voices, incessant questions and tugging pudgy hands all point to the presence of a sure thing. It’s called life, and it’s far preferable to the alternative.

Mature people I respect tell me the silence in a home can be deafening after children grow up and move away.

Bring on the noise.

Together, We Can Overcome Embryo Adoption 'Bewilderment'

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Every day, men and women around the world are doing their part to champion embryo adoption and lead couples toward it.

This often goes unnoticed, apart from a few flash-in-the-pan, breathless TV news segments that marvel at the process of bringing a baby to term that is not the parents’ biological offspring.

It’s one of the many reasons I’m so pleased to have met some true embryo adoption champions on my journey to publishing “Frozen, But Not Forgotten”.

Two recent examples come to mind. Dr. Marisa López-Teijón is CEO at Institut Marquès, an assisted reproduction center and driver of the first European embryo adoption program. People come from across Europe and beyond to undergo the frozen embryo transfer process at her clinic.

About my book, she wrote: “Nate and Julie showed an immense love and generosity when they adopted the embryo of their little Phoebe. However, it is even more admirable that they have now decided to share their experience. We could write a book filled with love, devotion and gratitude to life from every child born thanks to the adoption of embryos.”

Gratitude to life, indeed. And might I add gratitude to God for making the adoption process possible in the first place, and for leading parents who have experienced in vitro fertilization to take the truly heroic step of placing their embryo babies for adoption.

I also have had the privilege of corresponding with Daniel J. Hurst, Ph.D., Cahaba Family Medicine Residency. He graciously perused “Frozen, But Not Forgotten” and provided the following endorsement:

“Embryo adoption is simply not discussed in the church today, leading to scant Christian resources and bewilderment. Nate Birt has written a storyline on his family’s adoptive process that is captivating. This unique and practical book is a timely resource to equip church leaders and prospective adoptive parents to walk through this confusing subject with sound wisdom.”

Mr. Hurst is exactly right. When Julie and I adopted Phoebe, we didn’t have a stack of books to build our journey on, nor did we have a long list of detailed materials on the morality or biology of embryo adoption. Yet this topic is going to become increasingly important — and morally urgent — as we become more adept at reproductive technology outside of natural means.

Every human life matters. I’m grateful to Dr. López-Teijón and Mr. Hurst for recognizing the need to link arms and tell this story to the Christian community and the world.

How To Factor Embryo Adoption Into Your Will And Estate Plan

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As a present for our ninth anniversary, I gave Julie the gift of death in writing. In most circles, this is known as a will. (But Halloween is approaching, and I’ve been learning about the Grim Reaper as part of my continuing education.)

If you and your spouse are even thinking halfway seriously about embryo adoption — or already have children — this is mission critical. No one explains the need for a will better than Dave Ramsey, so I’ll let him be the mean one. You can scroll down to the bottom to check out the clip.

You need a will because the odds are high you will eventually die. Your spouse needs the legal documentation proving everything will be OK financially. Your children deserve the security of knowing they will have a caretaker.

As we worked through the paperwork with our attorney, we had Phoebe in mind, even though the embryo transfer hadn’t happened. Our attorney made sure to write the will in such a way that it included any future children we might bring into our family. That way, we wouldn’t have to go back and rework the text in a year’s time.

Along with our will, we decided to put into place some additional documentation:

  • A living will, which identifies what our loved ones should do in the event that we remain alive yet medically unresponsive.

  • A trust, which ensures our children’s finances will be easy to manage in the event a loved one needs to administer those resources rather than handing over the checkbook to our darlings.

  • Power of attorney so that Julie and I can, or trusted loved ones, can manage the other’s business in the event we are physically or mentally unable to do so.

If memory serves, this entire process of visiting with our attorney about our needs, reviewing the drafted paperwork and making the documents official during a signing marathon at her office took just a couple of months.

During this process, you should be prepared to:

  • Carefully read the details of lengthy and sometimes tedious documentation that will ensure your spouse and children are protected in the event of your untimely death.

  • Find an appropriate location to file these documents in both physical and digital format. In our case, our attorney compiled all of these materials in an easy-to-spot binder with a label affixed to its spine. It is easy to spot in case someone ever needs to grab it off the shelf in a pinch.

  • Communicate your plans with your family.

That last point will not come naturally. It’s highly likely none of your family members have ever done this for you. But I can guarantee you if you are hit by a bus tomorrow, you’ll be glad you alerted them to your plans today.

If we’re being honest, it took me a good year to compile an email to my siblings, Julie’s siblings and our parents providing digital editions of our documents and explaining in bullet points who gets what (e.g. children, finances, physical assets) if something happens.

Surprisingly, I got several positive responses from family members who appreciated the gesture, as bizarro as it sounds, and saw it for what it is: An act of love in preparation for a day everyone knows is coming but few are comfortable acknowledging.

Embryo adoption shouldn’t be a reason to delay finalizing your will. If anything, it should be the trigger that pushes you to make it official.

Ask your older and wiser friends to recommend a good attorney. You might even know someone who can offer a discounted rate.

You will forever be remembered for the things you did, not the things you wish you had done. This one will put you out of a few hundred dollars, but there’s no question I sleep better knowing it is in place.

You will, too.



One Rule For Chaos Parenting

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One rule for chaos parenting is to keep it flexible.

That’s it.

Our October calendar is proving to be a mix of wait, wait, go crazy nuts and book everything back to back.

Yours might be, too.

As a parent, your responsibility is primarily the well-being of your children. So as much as your life might be crazy, keep the little ones’ exposure to that chaos to a minimum. Stick to your routines — bed times, snack times, play times.

Give them something to look forward to each day. Our daily schedule includes breakfast and dinner together, post-dinner playtime, and, before bed, Bible reading, stories, a prayer and two songs.

Then promise yourself that you’ll slow down a bit when the chaos has passed you by. It might not be for a while, but it will give you the sanity each moment to power through the present.

'But Adoption Isn't For Me'

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If adoption isn’t for you, it might be a fit for another family you know.

In fact, it might be for you after all. In my book, “Frozen, But Not Forgotten,” I write about the fact that I staunchly opposed embryo adoption in particular.

My stupid reason: It weirded me out. (Incidentally, I get to use the word “stupid” because I was.)

Adoption affects all of us and has a special urgency, even when we’re unaware of it. As Paul told the Christians in Rome: “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons” (Romans 8:15, ESV).

All of us started life as children. There are many children who need homes. Frozen embryos are children awaiting a nurturing environment — a mother’s womb — where they will have the best chance at life.

You might never adopt a child. But you can share the hope of adoption with people you care about.

You might just save a child’s life and bless a family in the process.