3 Reasons Christian Couples Pursue Embryo Adoption

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I’ve wrestled with this question a lot: Which messages are most likely to lead Christian parents to explore embryo adoption? And not simply to explore, but to engage fully in the process?

I don’t have a good answer yet because anything I might suggest is purely anecdotal. But what I would like to believe is that several themes might be particularly inspiring:

Compassion. Unless you attend night school because you are a vampire, you have a soft spot for babies. It’s part of the human condition. (Long story. My son Titus and I had a rollicking conversation about this subject over dinner because he prefers to share the story of his day in reverse order, and claims he attends school at night.) The idea of a baby frozen in time is hard to get past. There’s an invisible pull on your heartstrings that moves you to action.

Risk Of Loss. What happens to all of the babies frozen as embryos if all of us choose to do nothing? Well, we know from the data that even embryos thawed for transfer frequently don’t survive the process. And there is a 100 percent chance they will not develop into the people they were meant to be if they are left alone in sub-zero temperatures.

Higher Calling. God gives each of us a different measure of opportunity. Some people donate to causes they believe in. Others march to the front lines and engage in hand-to-hand combat, whether that means holding a sign at a march or meeting with lawmakers. Still other families will feel so strongly about the need to protect these babies that they will adopt. Many will welcome babies. Many will do everything right and still not bring a baby home at the end of this season of life. There are so many risks, and yet for these couples, the potential reward of safeguarding a precious life is overwhelming and important.

Next time, I’ll share three reasons from the other side of the adoption perspective — that of placing families seeking homes for their precious babies.

If you have adopted embryos, what led you to pivot from “thinking about it” to “let’s do this”? Share your experience by posting a comment below.

You Are Not The First Parent Ever

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In my sermon on Sunday, I spoke about the Biblical precedent for mentoring. Maybe David didn’t realize it, but he acted as a mentor to Jonathan by successfully defeating Goliath and returning to camp with the giant’s head in hand.

How did Jonathan respond? He immediately handed over his military garb to David, whom he recognized as a superior leader and a model of someone who had the guts to act on faith. (cf I Samuel 17:56 – 18:1-5)

In the business world, mentoring happens all kinds of ways. Veterans coach newbies, and newbies can also share insights with their wise leaders that might reshape perceptions. Learning also happens among peers.

Similarly, it has been so heartening to me as an adoptive dad that family, friends and completely new acquaintances have welcomed me on this journey in a similar model of mentorship.

I’m reminded of a new friend, an adoptive parent twice over, who provided tremendous coaching as I crafted the final version of “Frozen, But Not Forgotten,” helping me think critically about the ethical imperative of my book to guide more families toward adoption—and about the risks of failing to do enough.

(Pre-order “Frozen, But Not Forgotten” and get your copy signed by me!)

You are not the first parent ever, and chances are good that if you’re facing a dilemma, someone before you has faced it, too. Find smart people to give you encouragement. To answer your toughest questions. To challenge your assumptions about your children and what being a good parent really means.

Only be hard on yourself if it serves as motivation to seek wisdom, coaching and moral support from your peers and older generations. Fail to search for truth tellers and you will be risking a powerful opportunity to grow and serve.

5 Questions To Ask A Prospective Embryo Adoption Agency

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When Julie and I began exploring embryo adoption seriously, we had more questions than answers. I had a whole bunch of questions because, well, I’m a journalist. I lost my shame a long time ago. If I don’t know something, I say so.

I keep asking until I’m intellectually satisfied. Or worn out.

You should adopt a similar mindset. No question is too small, dumb or controversial. If you don’t ask now, you might regret it later. Thankfully, there are a number of adoption agencies ready to answer your questions. If you aren’t satisfied with the responses you hear, or you have lingering questions, it never hurts to get a second or third opinion.

In no particular order, here are five questions you should start asking of a prospective embryo adoption agency.

What criteria must couples meet to be eligible for embryo adoption?

Because embryo adoption requires the transfer of one or more embryos to an adoptive mother’s womb, the adoptive mother must be physically capable of carrying a baby. Factors such as the mother’s age and health often are taken into consideration. Additionally, many agencies might require—or at least encourage—a home study as with other forms of adoption. Gain clarity early on to determine whether you are eligible or whether another form of family building might make more sense for you.

Why do you promote and facilitate embryo adoptions?

Julie and I are Christians and valued the fact that our agency’s staff promoted embryo adoption and supported qualifying couples in pursuing it because they believe God authors life and gives it inherent worth and value. Other agencies facilitate embryo adoption, embryo donation or both but do not share our belief system. Ask questions to gain clarify on whether you and your adoption agency are aligned in purpose and spirit. Those beliefs and attitudes will shape your entire experience. In our case, it made for an incredibly positive process.

What are the chances another couple will place embryos with us?

If you, like me, are part of a family with biological children, you might be wondering whether you have any hope. We faced the same question, and in our case the answer was yes. At the same time, our agency made it clear that our adoption process could be longer than others. Many couples that have used in vitro fertilization (IVF) seek to place their embryos with other couples who also have faced infertility. This gives them the opportunity to bless a family that has not brought a child into the world naturally. Be realistic and don’t be afraid to ask for an honest assessment of your own adoption timeline. Every family’s story is different. Better to be in it for the long but wonderful journey than to assume it will be a quick process and spend years pacing in your kitchen, wondering when your agency will call with good news.

Are we really ready to adopt?

I suspect most adoptive parents are like me in this way: They have questioned whether they could be, or should be, an adoptive parent in the first place. They doubt themselves. Is this a good idea? Will my child be damaged psychologically, since we’re not biologically related? Will I be any good at parenting? A good embryo adoption agency will be open and honest with you. Agency team members will remind you of your existing responsibilities to your biological children, spouse and, of course, any new adoptive children. Do you have the financial means, the emotional bandwidth and the spiritual resources to parent an adoptive child successfully? I can remember questioning whether our agency case worker believed we had the right stuff. Face your fears, know that to which you are committing and determine if there is a fit.

What is the next step we should be taking?

As a potential adoptive parent, you must take the lead. If you are serious about adoption, the clock is ticking. There are meetings to be held, serious conversations to conduct with your spouse and papers to be signed. Always close a phone call or email by asking what you can be doing to be helpful, informed and engaged in the adoption process. Maybe it’s reading from a list of recommended (sometimes required) books. Maybe it is filling out a batch of documents so your agency can help you move one step closer to finding a placing family. Carry the momentum of adoption forward each day, even if it’s only by encouraging your spouse that this will all be worth it.

Keep asking questions. I’m still asking, too.

Guard Your Time, Dads and Moms

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It should come as no surprise to parents that time you don’t budget gets sucked away.

I used to budget things with a frenzy. I still do, in many respects. But if an unexpected meeting crops up, or a family member gets sick and I’m the designated caretaker, I make changes. I don’t bother fretting over too many what-ifs and scenarios.

I go into planning mode. What can I sacrifice to help this person? What is the worst-case scenario, and is it really that bad at all?

In most cases, it isn’t that bad. Life moves on. Colleagues get over it (and are often much more understanding than we realize). Family members, God willing, heal.

Protect whatever time you can, and leave the rest to God.

You can’t control it. If you learn nothing else in this life, simply do the best you can and reach the most people you can in your allotted time. Everyone’s time will run out. But you get to control the clock until that point.

Five Takeaways From President Trump's Adoption Proclamation

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If you are following the news cycle, you might have missed the sensible and well-written proclamation President Donald Trump’s administration issued Oct. 31 in honor of National Adoption Month, which occurs throughout November.

I’d like to call out five statements made in the proclamation that are particularly meaningful to me and my family during our first National Adoption Month.

Statement #1: “We celebrate the life-changing act of adoption”

Without question, embryo adoption has transformed our lives and the lives of hundreds of other U.S. families. As the months pass, I’m hearing from more families around the world whose lives have been similarly touched. There’s no need to sugar coat adoption because it brings plenty of challenges for adoptive as well as placing families. But it is a practice worthy of celebrating because it adds new life to families of all kinds across the globe. It gives children hope.

Statement #2: “bring attention to the millions of Americans who are eager to adopt”

There’s no question more couples would adopt if they had confidence they could be successful. There’s no question more couples would push forward if they knew the positives outweigh the hurdles. And I know more couples need a road map for success because I’ve faced the unknowns and wondered whether I had enough information to move ahead. We need to find new channels and pathways for couples to adopt. Embryo adoption is one such path that adoptive and placing families should know about. Too many fertility clinics are ignoring discussions with their clients about adoption. This must change. (And if you are a clinic in the minority and actively spreading the word about adoption, please contact me—I’d like to profile your story here on this blog.)

Statement #3: “Our Nation grows stronger because of the love and sacrifice of parents, both birth and adoptive.”

Diversity is one of the cornerstones of the U.S.—or at least it ought to be. We’ve fought over our differences on so many occasions in the past. Those battles continue. Adoption is a chance to mend and heal. It begins with individual families such as yours and mine.

Statement #4: “Adoption affirms the inherent value of human life and signals that every child ‑‑ born or unborn ‑‑ is wanted and loved.”

The key clauses here are “inherent value of human life” and “born or unborn.” Every person is worthwhile. Everyone deserves a family. People aren’t like dollar bills that can be broken down into different amounts—nickels, dimes and quarters. As the Pledge of Allegiance claims, our nation is indivisible. Its residents are similarly incapable of shifting in value based on how big or small they might be.

Statement #5: “I encourage all Americans to observe this month by helping children in need of a permanent home secure a more promising future with a forever family”

This fits perfectly with a book I’ve been reading, Donald Miller’s “Building A StoryBrand,” which explains how to frame whatever you are selling—whether a new policy, or a book, or a practice such as embryo adoption—so people will respond. Part of that frame is a clear call to action. These words should move us to do something so that more children can enjoy the security and peace of adoption.

Make a donation. Tell a friend. Share a blog post.

How will you make a difference this National Adoption Month? Post a comment below to tell me.

Why Parents Should Seek To Simplify Decisions When Possible

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My mom sometimes comments that one of her and my father’s rules for me growing up was that if something wasn’t 1) immoral or 2) dangerous, they didn’t mind if I participated in it.

I’m sure they had additional parameters, but the simple wisdom of that statement has stuck with me.

You might have different rules, and that’s OK. Given that we’re in the holiday season, I prefer dark meat over white meat when filling my plate with turkey. You might prefer the opposite, or even opt solely for vegetables.

This is why canned, boxed and frozen meals are so popular. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to fix a boxed meal. You just need to be a Nate.

Not everything in life is so easy. I’m sure that as my children age, I will question my decisions more and be more cautious before making bold statements to them. As I grow older, I often find myself questioning long-held beliefs about the way the world works.

So when you can, make the decision easier. Pick up the box or the can or the flash-frozen bag of wholesome and nutritious food. And when a decision is morally questionable or complex or deserves input from your spouse, a few trusted peers and an elder statesperson, seek out those people, too.

But whatever you do, make a decision. Until your children are out of your care, you get to be the coach. It’s a privilege, not a burden.

What Michelle Obama's IVF Announcement Didn't Say

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My heart goes out to Michelle Obama, who recently shared her own deeply personal experience with infertility and in vitro fertilization (IVF). Many commentators have rightly applauded Mrs. Obama for opening up about the heartbreaking reality of infertility and the decisions each couple is tasked with making.

As a man, I am in no way qualified to speak to the challenges women face each day in this area (not to mention the many men facing infertility). Nor am I qualified as a white man to speak with any expertise about the very real and troubling challenges that women of color face in so many aspects of their lives in the U.S.

There are so many ways in which our society can and must heal and do so much better.

At the same time, what many commentators haven’t noted is that IVF remains problematic for several reasons:

  • In many cases, more embryos are created than are used. Some of my Catholic friends oppose IVF under any circumstances, noting the marriage bed is the only place embryos ought to be formed. Others believe IVF is acceptable, but only so long as the total embryos formed are the exact same number that are transferred to a mother’s womb. The sad reality is that many embryos often are formed but are then either discarded or frozen, which itself can damage those embryos permanently. My own daughter is a blessing in so many ways, including because she survived this thawing process, and without our placing family, she wouldn’t be a part of our lives. Nonetheless, as I share in “Frozen, But Not Forgotten,” not all of our adopted embryos survived this process. Couples using IVF and also those planning to adopt should be aware of this.

  • Fertility clinics often don’t broadly share adoption information. IVF is one of many options available to couples seeking children. Rather than promoting expensive procedures that can be difficult on a woman’s body and result in remaining embryos, more couples should be told about existing embryos that—while the process is not clear cut or a sure thing in terms of frozen embryo survival—would ensure the best chance at life for frozen embryos. There are some extremely notable exceptions, and my wife and I are so grateful to our own clinic for helping us through the transfer and thawing process. I wish more clinics and fertility doctors would become adoption champions.

  • Policies in some countries limit embryo creation and encourage adoption. Countries such as Italy—rather than giving subsidies to encourage greater use of IVF, as some have proposed in the U.S.—have tested the notion of placing a limit on total embryos made and transferred through IVF. We don’t often think about the way proactive federal and state policies could encourage adoption of remaining embryos rather than the development of new embryos.

    Mrs. Obama’s story deserves to be told. My hope is that other couples who have been through IVF and placed their embryos for adoption—as well as adoptive dads like myself, and adoptive moms—will share their experiences, as well.

    IVF accessibility is an understandably attractive topic for the many thousands of couples facing infertility, but embryo adoption deserves a similarly public consideration.

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.