Three Tips To Fit Embryo Adoption Into Life's Seasons

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Our family is in a particularly busy season of life. With four children — three biological, one through embryo adoption — there is no shortage of activity. Julie and I are routinely coordinating with each other, with our family and friends, and with our respective employers and volunteer boards how to use time as efficiently as possible.

I had every intention of dedicating this post as a spring checklist for couples seeking to place or adopt embryos. Instead, I’m going to keep this even simpler in the interest of your valuable time — and, candidly, to make sure I stay true to you while respecting my own commitments, too. (You know the dance, I’m confident!)

In no particular order, here are three guidelines for your family as you consider how to make embryo placement or adoption work amid all of your many responsibilities.

  1. Realize that one season leads to another season. Priorities are everything. In pursuing embryo adoption, our family first had to make the spiritual, financial and (in my wife’s case) physical commitments to pursuing this special family building opportunity. We had to take it a step at a time. In my book, I speak to the painful nature of waiting and seeing the slow turn of progress. But you know what? It gets easier. You can give yourself added confidence through prayer and your own diligence. Have an accountability partner, most especially your spouse but perhaps also a handful of close friends who can cheer you on. If embryo placement or adoption is a priority, put it on your calendar and don’t compromise. It will be more worthwhile than you’ll ever know.

  2. Know you’re not alone. So many families struggle mightily with the decision to place embryos for adoption at all. Countless embryos are frozen in storage in many cases because moms and dads who have used in vitro fertilization (IVF) are deeply torn by the decision about what to do with those remaining embryos. That is such a hard decision, and it should not be taken lightly. Many families have been where you are and have ultimately decided to place their embryos. It is a life-giving decision. On the other side of the equation are couples desperately seeking a baby, their first or perhaps another child, as in the case of our family. It can seem slow and as though you will never get through the various stages of the process. And there are a variety of routes that might be easier or less time consuming than adoption. But keep in mind what is in the best interest of children born through embryo adoption. This process affirms their value — and the fact that life matters, from the moment of conception.

  3. See hope both in the moment and on the horizon. I’m a journalist so, as I often tell my wife, I live in the future. It’s in my DNA. In a very real sense, placing and adoptive families must give themselves permission to dream of a future in which babies reach full term through embryo adoption. Think of the joy those children will experience, not to mention the families who care deeply about them. Yes, life brings hardship and trials. There’s no question about that. But the work you are doing now to bring a child into the world will mean something forever to that precious little boy or girl. And if you don’t do it, who will?

I’m saying a prayer for all of you reading this because you care about these issues and you are seeking to help families in need, whether your own or others in your circle of influence. Life’s seasons ebb and flow, but these children need our help now, and they will need it in the months and years ahead.

Keep going. For your family. For our children. For our future.

8 Gaps In The New York Times' Embryo Adoption Story

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Journalism is in a precarious place in our country. A recent article in The New York Times highlights the profound opportunities journalists have to shine a light on embryo adoption — and the perils of doing so carelessly.

As a proud holder of two degrees from the University of Missouri School of Journalism—the finest on the planet—it breaks my heart that journalists are so often in the crossfire of public debate. I’d argue too many Americans are more skeptical of the press than ever. They question the value of holding public officials accountable. Meanwhile, major public figures fuel those doubts, routinely try to rewrite the truth. Lying is a sport that elicits a shrug and a chuckle among too many people.

Enter Russia and other countries that seek to undermine the truth with malicious attacks using fake social media ads seeking to sow discord and the volume of untruth is virtually unending.

So when I noticed that The New York Times, a paper I have long revered (many of my conservative Christian friends will shudder at that statement, but I speak the truth in love), had written this week about the subject of embryo adoption, I took notice.

Spoiler: The article didn’t live up to my (admittedly low) expectations. I don’t entirely fault the Times. I fault the zeitgeist and our tendency as reporters to pour ourselves into some stories and focus on the quick turn on a tight deadline on others. The article — titled “Embryo ‘Adoption’ Is Growing, but It’s Getting Tangled in the Abortion Debate” — confused me and lacked thorough sourcing and context. That’s coming from someone who has spent the past three years going through embryo adoption.

First, though, let me applaud the Times for even running such a story and commend Caroline Lester for shedding light on an important but often unreported subject. Most embryo adoption articles are either 1) glowingly positive, focused on a beautiful family and its beautiful baby but little detail about the joys, challenges and moral urgency of embryo adoption or 2) blatantly negative, casting aspersions on silly Christians who equate a handful of cells with a fully formed human. (You can’t have a fully formed person without that embryo, for what it’s worth, but I digress.)

This article thankfully falls into neither of those buckets but somewhere in the middle. Allow me to make a few observations, and then you can read the article for yourself and tell me what you think the comments below. It might well be that my own biases are getting in the way of very rational explanations for the gaps I observed in this article.

  • Strikingly, the copy editor insisted on the generous use of air quotes — e.g. embryo “adoption” and “adopting” — at the very top of the article. In general discourse, air quotes undercut and demean an otherwise commonplace phrase. If I am dealing with a “minor emergency,” chances are good it’s a full-blown catastrophe that i’m being polite about. In journalism school, in our Cross-Cultural Journalism class, I was taught that when you are portraying a specific group of people, you describe them in the way that they see themselves. Embryo adoption similarly seems trivial to some, but to placing and adoptive families, it holds deep meaning — and it is as legally binding as any other form of adoption. Air quotes that aren’t a direct quote from another person inherently belittle and cheapen. The Times should know better.

  • Sensitivity is a critical component of compassionate storytelling. At one point, the Times article refers to the fact that “the number of spare embryos rises”. The word “spare” might be a good thesaurus word, but in my dictionary, it implies there is such a thing as acceptable waste in the creation of human life. A spare tire lies against the wall of an auto body shop in case someone needs it. A human life remains after an embryo is created — debate until the cows come home about when ensoulment and personhood should be ascribed. Christians such as myself argue it is at the point of conception. Bible texts bear that out. The preferred term in the embryo adoption community is “remaining embryos,” which is both truthful and unoffensive, regardless of which side of the fence you sit on.

  • At various points, the article attempts to draw a connection between embryo adoption and abortion. On the face of it, the connection seems to be that many pro-life organizations that support alternatives to abortion — such as adoption — are recipients of federal grants to promote…adoption. Which makes sense because it is in total alignment with their mission, vision and values. They file tax paperwork with the federal government stating as much. What’s left unsaid is the more troubling reality that our advances in medical technology are enabling us to generate, manipulate and control human life at its earliest stages in a way never before possible in human history. At what point will we begin to place boundaries on our pursuit of fertility? Practices that hurt or destroy the unborn are unacceptable to Christians on principle. Thankfully, the article begins with an adoptive couple, including the father’s comment that embryo adoption means bringing into the world a child who would otherwise remain frozen in time.

  • On the subject of sourcing and thoroughness, the Times notes federal grants overwhelmingly go toward “anti-abortion rights or Christian organizations, leading some people to question whether single people, gay couples and others who might be interested could be missing out.” Yet the “some people” who are purportedly questioning are never identified, not even anonymous sources (which, for the record, I fully support to shield sources who share important and sensitive information in often threatening situations) beyond one woman interviewed for the story, Monika Broecker. And in that case, Ms. Broecker, who is single, successfully adopted despite not qualifying with all adoption agencies — though she notes she didn’t meet what she views as ordinary criteria: “I don’t have a big house or anything.” (For the record, adoption agencies I am aware of do not require families to have big houses. A stable home environment, sure. Well, as stable as a home can be with young children who are testing boundaries, wrestling one another to the ground and yelling for Mommy and Daddy to help with imminent, rolling crises.)

  • Unfortunately, the Times chose to call out the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) in close apposition to this paragraph: “All of the 2017 grant recipients said in interviews that they did not discriminate against non-Christian and nontraditional family applicants. But the same cannot be said for some of the past recipients.” The article goes on to explain that NEDC requires couples with whom it works to be heterosexual and married for three years. It suggests this is evidence of discrimination of nontraditional families. Yet the Times didn’t give NEDC leadership an opportunity to respond on the record. It’s a shame because I’ve had a tremendous working relationship with their team in sharing materials and spreading the word for “Frozen, But Not Forgotten,” and they’ve been extremely responsive via both email and phone. But here, they didn’t even get a “Declined to comment.” It’s not clear to me the Times even asked them to weigh in. See also the earlier point about a variety of organizations serving a variety of audiences and backgrounds. There are many Christian-oriented adoption agencies, but there are many fertility clinics and others that place embryos with single people, couples who identify as LGBT and more. The article seems to suggest that Christian-oriented organizations are uniquely guilty of failing to be inclusive. If that is the issue here, I might also point out that anecdotally, a majority of fertility clinics do not promote embryo adoption. Many are probably unaware of it. Many more see no profit-generating potential in the business of frozen embryo transfers. Many also recognize that fertility is a highly emotional issue that strains families and leads couples to spend money for the opportunity to bring their own biological child into the world. I have deep empathy for these families and can imagine what a painful, hard situation that would be. But in those cases, it would be morally upright to at least raise the possibility that these couples consider embryo adoption among the other fertility options presented to them, even if the clinic performs the necessary procedures at financial breakeven or even a loss. (I revisit the role of fertility clinics in my final point below.)

  • Regarding funding, the Times article paraphrases a source—a clinic doctor who works with nontraditional families—who says he wishes the government would consider expanding its pool of grant recipients. In this way, the article is balanced because it includes one interview each with a Christian-oriented organization (Nightlight Christian Adoptions, which our family had the privilege of working with throughout our adoption journey) and Embryo Donation International, which serves nontraditional families. It’s unfortunate, then, that the article repeatedly suggests those failing to help families in need are pro-life nonprofits. (The Associated Press Stylebook eschews the term pro-life, instead recommending that reporters use the term anti-abortion as an impartial term. That could be an entirely different blog post.)

  • A final comment on the financing that supports pro-life adoption organizations. The annual grants averaging $1 million are described in the Times article as “relatively small,” which is a gross understatement. By the time you break out funds, Nightlight – our family’s adoption agency that does outsized good relative to its annual revenues of just over $5 million, according to its 2016 Form 990 – won a grant totaling $299,000 in 2017 to promote embryo adoption. That’s very respectable, but it’s by no means a cash cow. In fact, it’s recommended that nonprofits with a $5 million budget spend between 5% and 15% on marketing, according to Prosper Strategies, a Chicago-based communications consultancy specializing in nonprofits. That’s up to $750,000 per year, well over twice what Nightlight receives as part of this grant program. And embryo adoption awareness spending has fallen millions of dollars from its 2009 high of $4.2 million, according to federal data.

  • Comparatively, the revenues of the fertility industry are enormous – another fact that failed to make the Times article. Fertility clinics generated $1.9 billion in 2017 and netted $198.9 million in profits, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Our family is deeply grateful to our fertility clinic for 1) working with a couple such as us without fertility challenges and 2) transferring and safeguarding our frozen embryo baby Phoebe and her two siblings who didn’t survive the thaw. But to suggest that fertility clinics overall are at a competitive disadvantage financially to nonprofit adoption agencies that receive minimal federal funding relative to overall agency budgets is disingenuous.

Let me say it once more: I love The New York Times, value its work deeply and will continue being a faithful reader. But if the Times seeks to further engage its Christian readers, those with families and those with deeply held moral beliefs that sometimes run against the cultural current (yes, those pesky pro-lifers), it can learn from this article on embryo adoption.

For starters, it can learn that embryo adoption, under no circumstances, needs air quotes.

Pro-Life Senator Sasse Speaks Out In Favor Of Adoption And The Unborn

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Pro-life issues captured top billing this week as Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse joined Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly to talk about recent challenges to the unborn.

I’d encourage you to read the entire discussion, but this quote from Sen. Sasse stood out in particular:

“Legislation is important, but legislation is subordinate to the bigger thing happening, which is celebrating life, celebrating image-bearers, coming alongside moms who are in a complicated or unplanned, uh, position, celebrating adoption - uh, my wife is a volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center - that's the heart of this movement.”

Changes to the law are important yet too often temporary. Changes to the heart, though, are profound and lasting if we choose to let them.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been touched by so many people who have responded with kindness and gratitude about “Frozen, But Not Forgotten.” In particular, I’m pleased to spread the word about the National Embryo Donation Center, which counsels both families seeking to place embryos and families seeking to adopt embryos. They’ve compiled a wonderful resource page I encourage you to check out.

More than anything, I’m excited to be sending a steady stream of books out the door to families I’ve never met — families who might consider joining my own on the special journey of embryo adoption.

What would a new baby mean for your family? Or for your friends who are faced with the burden of infertility? Or for your loved ones who have remaining embryos and can’t bear to leave them in storage or to see them destroyed?

Embryo adoption might be the answer. It starts with one step. One phone call. One choice to honor life.

Fetal Pain Expert To Advise U.S. Science Policy

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Even those of us who find themselves glued to the national news occasionally miss a story worth mentioning. A case in point: The November 2018 appointment of Dr. Maureen L. Condic, an associate professor at the University of Utah, to the National Science Board. She will serve for the next six years. (HT to Jonathan Lange at The Federalist for bringing this to my attention in his excellent recent blog post on embryo adoption.)

The appointment is significant for embryo adoption advocates because Dr. Condic has long spoken publicly on the importance of treating with dignity babies in the womb—even at their earliest stages of development. On the issue of fetal pain, she has been quoted in the Deseret News as saying, “There is sufficient uncertainty to warrant giving the fetus the benefit of the doubt."

In her role on the federal science board, Dr. Condic will work with other scientists to make important decisions, including:

  • Guiding scientific policies of the $7.8 billion National Science Foundation, which funds nearly 12,000 research awards annually

  • Advising Congress and President Donald Trump on the state of scientific and technological progress in the U.S.

It is heartening that among the board’s prominent scientists—including experts in agriculture, renewable energy, outer space and biotechnology—is a seasoned bioethicist who understands progress isn’t simply a matter of pushing the envelope but setting appropriate boundaries that honor the sanctity of human life.

How To Embrace The Vulnerability Of Embryo Adoption

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Just this week on a business trip, I ran into a friend who shared a story that shook me. This friend explained they have a family member struggling with a question all too familiar to me in my research: Having remaining embryos from IVF and struggling with what should be done with them.

They can continue paying storage fees. They can consider placing them for adoption. A third option, which I do not at all believe they are considering, is to allow them to be destroyed.

I’m so thankful for that last point. This family, like so many others across the U.S., recognizes embryos aren’t a bunch of valueless cells. They are babies, tiny as they might be.

Yet the remaining two options are painful. It is a pain I have never personally experienced because I have never been in their position. Consider that on the one hand, freezing an embryo suspends a human life. On the other hand, placing embryos for adoption means a necessary loss of connection, even if a successful and loving open adoption occurs and the biological family retains a relationship with their child.

I would never ever claim to know what it is like to be in the shoes of a placing family. In my new book, “Frozen, But Not Forgotten,” I describe how our placing family explained their decision. They struggled mightily with what to do, but destruction of those precious babies was never an option.

Eventually, they took the step they had been trying to take literally for years: To pick up the phone and begin a conversation about what placing their embryos in an adoption could look like. They wanted their babies to have the best possible chance at life. And by God’s grace, they eventually selected our family to join them on this journey.

You might find yourself in similar circumstances today. I can only imagine the vulnerability you are feeling. But I want to assure you that adoption is an option. Hundreds of U.S. families and many hundreds of others around the world have successfully been through this process. It will never remove pain or the feeling of loss entirely, but it offers the one thing none of the other options I’ve shared can do: It offers hope.

Of life. Of family. Of a generational legacy of placing the vulnerability of the heart above the numbing sensation our culture too often champions to shield us from the reality that embryos aren’t just cells.

They’re people like you and me. We can choose to take up their cause by taking the first step.

My Embryo Adoption Book Starts Shipping To Readers This Month (Plus A Disclaimer)

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My week ended on a high note. My publisher alerted me today that “Frozen, But Not Forgotten” has been printed and is on its way to me—and then to all of you who’ve ordered a copy.

Embryo adoption changed my life for the better. I hope this book can support the men and women across our country—placing families, adoptive families, adoption agencies, medical practitioners—who already recognize the worth and importance of this special form of adoption. More than that, I hope it can inspire many new families to seriously consider embryo adoption.

For those of you who’ve pre-ordered, thank you. You should expect your copy to arrive in the mail in the next few weeks. Fun fact: In book world, this is called a limited release, and it means you get your copy before anyone else. To those who’ve ordered via Amazon or another bookseller, you’ll have to wait until April 1. (Or you can pick up the e-book right now while you wait.)

To be fully transparent, this book isn’t for everyone. Over the past several months, there’s no doubt that something I’ve written on this blog or in the pages of my new book that will offend someone.

If Christian themes offend you, this book isn’t for you.

If pro-life ideals offend you, this book isn’t for you.

If tough subjects that often linger in a gray space—neither black nor white—offend you or make you uncomfortable, this book isn’t for you.

But there are many people for whom the message contained in “Frozen, But Not Forgotten” will resonate.

If you are a couple facing infertility and deeply interested in growing your family, this book is for you.

If you are a couple with no infertility challenges yet a sincere interest in giving human embryos—I call them babies because they are—they best chance at life, this book is for you.

If you believe God has a purpose for each and every person, no matter how small, this book is for you.

If you are curious about the intersection of the latest medical technology and the ethics of helping families grow, this book is for you.

If you care about the family, parenting, children, adoption, community or nurturing future generations, this book is for you.

My book won’t change the hearts and minds of those who are squarely on one side of the fence or the other. But for those who are ready to take the next step in their adoption journey, or curious about what they can do to care for families even from the sidelines, “Frozen, But Not Forgotten” can be a useful tool. That’s my hope.

It isn’t for everyone. But it might be just right for you.

Let's Make 2019 The Year Of Embryo Adoption

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In his book “Building A Storybrand,” Donald Miller describes the importance of businesses explaining to their customers the risk of not taking action. The purpose isn’t to drive fear and peddle misinformation. The purpose is to spell out the consequences of failing to move forward.

The consequences of failing to raise awareness about embryo adoption are enormous. We are at a time in history when it has never been easier to create, manipulate or destroy human life.

By working together to shine a light on embryo adoption in 2019, we can:

  • Foster a culture that recognizes human life begins at conception, whether in utero or in vitro

  • Create opportunities for moms and dads to bring these beautiful babies into the world

  • Encourage more policymakers to take a stand for adoption and the agencies that facilitate it rather than pushing for policies that force more families into physical and financial hardship through in vitro fertilization and other forms of assisted reproductive technology

  • Donate to organizations such as Sacred Selections that raise money to directly support Christian couples pursuing adoption in all forms, including embryo adoption

  • Locate and stand on national platforms such as TV, radio and social media to reach a broader audience with these important messages

In reading through John C. Maxwell’s “Life@Work” over the past few weeks, I’ve learned a new phrase that Maxwell uses: God-skill. He’s referring to the fact that people of God can do extraordinary things with their time and talents when every action is taken with our divine calling top of mind. God works through us and arranges time and space in such a way to fulfill His purpose.

You and I will never turn embryo adoption into a movement on our own. But with God, all things are possible.

Let’s make 2019 a year to remember. And let’s do it for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40, ESV) while we still have an opportunity to calibrate our collective moral compass.

Procter & Gamble Champions Embryo Adoption

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Big brands too often are treated as villains. But now major global brand Procter & Gamble (P&G) has taken a heroic step by taking a stand for embryo babies and their adoptive parents. The changes for its employees will take effect Jan. 1, 2019.

Quoting from an article this month in the Cincinnati Business Courier:

“…Employees will be reimbursed for eligible expenses up to a maximum of $5,000 perembryo adoption … with a family maximum of $15,000 during a 12-month period.” (emphasis mine)

What’s more, adoptive parents will be eligible for 16 weeks—count ‘em—of paid leave.

Never before have I seen a global company with $66.8 billion in annual earnings take such a proudly public stand on the topic of family planning, and embryo adoption in particular. Whereas many public organizations and figures deride embryo adoption as a last-ditch effort of the pro-life community to sway the hearts and minds of the public, P&G sees it for what it is: a legitimate and important option for couples seeking to grow their families.

"Support at work means recognizing everyone has a life outside of it, and this requires flexibility from both the employee and the employer,” notes P&G spokeswoman Katie Stahlheber in the article.

That’s precisely it. Those of us who are parents ideally love what they do at work, as I do. But at the end of the day, those professional goals must align with life at home.

If you want to support P&G for taking a stand in favor of embryo adoption, you can purchase these P&G brands—which include Pampers and Luvs diapers, Tide detergent, Crest toothpaste and Old Spice deodorant. You can also share this blog post to tell a friend.

Adoption Tells A Global Love Story

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No family is perfect. I know from experience. But for families with the giving and receiving of love at their core, there can be no safer destination.

One of our favorite adoption organizations sent a postcard just a few days ago spotlighting the many families who have been helped through the generosity of others. Like us, they believe families deserve to grow and flourish through adoption.

It isn’t charity. It isn’t a hand out. It’s a way to love more deeply and seek more earnestly to appreciate fully what Heaven will be like.

Because at its core, Heaven is made up of God’s universal family. What we have on Earth is merely a shadow, a reflection of things to come. And if life can be this good—despite the pain we all experience, some more deeply than others, in this life—just imagine what life will be like on the other side.

Adoption is a celebration of a value people worldwide understand. That’s love.

Never Spank: Thoughts On New American Academy Of Pediatrics Guidelines

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Our popular culture wants the world to work on two spectrums. On the one hand, we insist that we must always do certain activities—such as loving everyone (there’s Bible precedent for this one!), raising the minimum wage universally, etc.—and never engage in other activities, such as spanking, or supporting President Donald Trump, or disciplining children with an element of something even halfway negative.

That last point deserves our attention and serious thought in light of the recent recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that parents should never spank their children under any circumstances. AAP is considered the gold standard for research- and science-based information for nurturing children. I fully endorse their support of vaccines to keep kids healthy and reduce the risk of disease transfer, and I’m confident their depth of experience working with children is vastly more impressive than my own.

Further, I will fully admit that the findings they outline based on research are troubling. For example, the research noted at the above link suggests spanking can promote aggression in children, physically and mentally harm babies and toddlers, and lead to damaging views of self-worth among our young people. All of those parental behaviors are red flags that scream abuse rather than constructive discipline, and each of us—myself included—must always be on guard to be providing clear boundaries and correction in a sober, calm and disciplined fashion.

At the same time, it is troubling from a Christian perspective that there is little to no moral framework clearly stated in the guidelines AAP has issued. I understand it isn’t AAP’s mission to argue on morality but rather on the body of evidence-based research. But consider passages such as this one, which instructs parents in how to coach their teenagers through such positive, non-spanking, non-negative reinforcement:

“Set a good example through your own responsible use of alcohol and other substances.”

Hmm. So spanking is unacceptable in all cases, but it is OK to introduce substance use to my children? We are told to avoid damaging our children physically or mentally—which is perfectly valid advice—yet we are to model the “safe” way to use drugs and alcohol that are responsible for tearing apart entire communities (see: opioid crisis) and contributing to fatal car accidents? For the sake of consistency, AAP should be setting far firmer boundaries when it comes to modeling good behavior. Zero tolerance is a brush that should be broadly applied.

For parents of younger children—toddlers and elementary age in particular—the AAP raises additional questions that merit scrutiny. We are told that in addition to ending spanking, we should limit the use of the word “no” in nearly all cases, avoid conflict rather than resolving it (the specific recommendation is: “Acknowledge conflicts between siblings but avoid taking sides. For example, if an argument arises about a toy, the toy can be put away.”), and liberally apply time outs.

I’m personally a big fan of time outs, but I know from experience that even time outs administered swiftly and with an eloquent conversation about the reasons behind the time out often have mixed results. I am not advocating for liberal spanking. I am simply observing that families have applied spanking for millennia in an effort to provide a clear boundary that may difficult to articulate through reasoning, time outs or removal of conflict.

I don’t expect you to start or stop spanking because of this blog post. I simply want you to think critically about discipline. This is one of the most frustrating parts of parenting, and recognizing that I could make a horribly wrong decision or permanently scar my child is terrifying. So we must approach discipline critically, rationally and completely soberly, and we need to understand the underlying principles governing the guidance of independent groups such as AAP.

Speaking only for myself as a Christian dad, I would argue the guidance appears at first blush as a noble yet flawed attempt to find the good in all of our children. Problematically, though, the guidance fails to reflect the fact that life brings negative consequences that go beyond stern warnings and time outs. People lose loved ones. They lose jobs. They make mistakes. They damage relationships. Each and every one of these things causes deep and lasting pain—yet each can be overcome with proper support and community.

In a similar way, my parents applied spanking only when absolutely necessary to articulate clear boundaries of right and wrong. I remember those occasions not because of any damage emotionally or physically—there was none, I assure you—but because they cared enough to draw a clear line that my behavior had crossed a line. They didn’t remove the conflict or attempt to redirect me or avoid the conversation. I had a brief spanking, we had a conversation and I changed my behavior.

Violence isn’t the answer. Meanness won’t help a child in the slightest. Discipline is hard and complicated and ought to be conducted out of the deepest place of love and devotion for your children. And while I applaud the AAP’s effort to spell out in research-based terms the many risks of persistent, anger-based spanking, I also noticed the following:

“AAP recommends that you do not spank or use other physical punishments. That only teaches aggressive behavior, and becomes ineffective if used often.” (bold text added by me for emphasis)

Does this mean spanking could have merits if used only occasionally? AAP’s vague language suggests it’s a possibility. In a world of no spanking ever, it is troubling that AAP’s recommendations are leading parents toward a future where children learn to avoid conflict and pain at all cost.

No matter your views on spanking, we need AAP to reconsider its position on helping our young people see the world for what it is: A broken place with broken people who need structure, guard rails and a whole lot of hope.

Five Heartbreaking Embryo Adoption Lessons From A British Court Case

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Read the fine print about your embryo adoption before you move forward with the process. That’s the bottom line of a heartbreaking case out of the United Kingdom, as described in BioNews, a British publication that spotlights news involving assisted reproductive technology for professionals and the general public.

An unmarried couple sought embryo adoption counseling in the UK, after which the woman successfully pursued a frozen embryo transfer in Spain. Eventually, the couple separated. The man noted he had no interest in a relationship with the child, despite the fact his name had been placed on the birth certificate as the father. The woman sought to set the record straight and won her request. The birth certificate will be updated to remove the man as the father.

Here are five lessons all of us — casual observers, would-be adoptive parents or existing adoptive parents — can learn from this case.

  1. Commitment to our partners. I get it. Try as we might, not all relationships will be successful. But shouldn’t we give it every ounce of effort to avoid dissolution? The couple in this particular case didn’t have marriage as its foundation. Commitment through thick and thin is a virtue too many have forgotten. Our society needs far more selflessness and commitment to proven institutions that have served families for millennia. It’s uncomfortable. It’s not always fun. Heaven knows it’s rarely easy. But is it worth it, especially when children are involved? Assuming both parties are acting responsibly and trying their best to serve rather than to take, you bet it is.

  2. Commitment to our children. What message are you sending to any children—especially adopted children—when you take the steps to bring them into the world and then bail? What kind of a world are you creating for these young people in their formative years? “Sorry, your daddy wasn’t actually your daddy. He loved you enough to bring you into being, but he didn’t care enough to be here for your birthday, let alone any other landmark moment in your life.” Forget for a moment the legal imperative and reflect on the moral deficit here. In this case, the man had a vasectomy yet—rather than calling it a day on his own reproductive choices—intervened again by taking steps to bring an embryo baby into the world without concern for its well-being in the years ahead. Now, the baby is 5 years old. Eventually, the baby will be a grown adult. How will the choices of this man shape how this young person parents and views the world in the years ahead? We create chaos that ripples across many generations when we make reproductive choices so flippantly.

  3. The importance of reading the fine print. It’s pretty clear this couple didn’t do its due diligence, according to the BioNews article. They didn’t understand the ramifications of British law, in that their adoption wasn’t conducted by the book. The man never completed the proper paperwork to be the baby’s legal father. If you are considering embryo adoption, please work with a reputable agency and read the fine print. Our agency even offered to let us run the contract language by our attorney. We chose not to do this because the contract was written in plain English and made no bones about the fact that my wife and I would become the baby’s legal guardians with sole responsibility for raising our child. At the same time, we are blessed with an open adoption that allows our baby to have a relationship with her placing family as the years go by. Others choose a closed adoption for privacy reasons. Both are OK and should be understood before you make a final decision. Don’t treat the paperwork carelessly. A child’s life is the collateral.

  4. The value of good information, legal protections and regulation. As someone who is generally politically conservative, I’ve been known to bristle at what I view as excessive regulation or government intervention into various activities of the people. But in this case, the situation proved so unusual that the British court “directed that the judgment was brought to the attention of the relevant authorities, including the Department of Health and the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority),” a British entity that regulates use of human embryos, eggs and sperm. Basically, any health clinic has an obligation to clearly explain how a person’s parental rights and responsibilities could shift based on where embryo transfer occurs. Provided you are pursuing embryo adoption in the U.S. as a U.S. citizen, I am very hopeful you won’t encounter this problem at all. But my research suggests more couples from abroad are coming to the U.S. for fertility treatments and even embryo adoption, and it happens frequently that couples go from one country to another in Europe for such procedures. Our flat world dictates that we be more studious before we enter a relationship as life-altering as adoptive parenting.

  5. Learning from other couples. I’m sure the man and woman in question in this case are lovely people who never expected their lives to turn out this way. But that in no way makes life any easier for for mother who the court case makes clear will one day tell her child—known as TSA in the court report—her origin story. Thankfully, the court report notes this young woman is “settled and thriving.” Sadly, though, this is a public chapter in her story that can never be unwritten. Her pseudo adoptive father’s choices prompted her adoptive mother to remove his name from the birth certificate. If nothing else, this case should be a wake-up call to all parents everywhere. All of us make many mistakes daily. But with everything in our being, let’s not make the mistake of losing out entirely on a relationship with these precious souls—and with the men and women committed enough to raise them through good times and bad.

I’d love it if you would share your thoughts on this case in the comments below. What can we learn as parents and people who have a special place in their hearts for adopted children?

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?