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My Christian life: The unique path of embryo adoption

A couple struggling with infertility embarks on a journey into embryo adoption.

Leah Bongard will share with anyone the story of how her son, Isaac, entered the world. It is an uncommon journey marked by infertility.

But, as Leah describes it, her journey actually began with a baby.

The struggle with infertility

Leah and her husband, Matt, were married in their early 30s. They found out a few weeks after their honeymoon that Leah was pregnant. “That was earlier than expected,” Leah remembers thinking. Several months later, Leah gave birth to a baby girl named Madison (Maddie).

Knowing that their first child had come quickly, Leah was not at all prepared when a couple years later she learned she had a fertility problem. Her eggs were “bad.” Wanting to have another baby, Leah and Matt decided to begin fertility treatments.

It was important to Leah and Matt that whatever treatment method they chose honored God’s gift of life, so they decided not to use in vitro fertilization (IVF) because unused embryos were destroyed. Instead they tried intrauterine insemination (IUI), where a concentrated amount of sperm is injected into the woman’s body. The couple did five rounds of IUI, more than most people, with no success. “I tried to keep a positive attitude, but infertility is a difficult thing to deal with,” says Leah. “It was very hard, especially the more times you go through it. There are the hormones that are involved and obviously the disappointment of finding out time after time that you’re not pregnant.” But she held close to the hope that she was meant to have more children.

Isaac and Maddie BONGARD
Isaac and Maddie through the years. Isaac was born through embryo adoption.

Little Maddie, now almost age 6, saw the struggle her mother was facing. After Leah’s fifth failed IUI treatment, her daughter told her, “Maybe Jesus just said no.” Those words stung—mostly because they hit a chord with Leah. Maybe God didn’t want them to have another baby.

Christians who struggle with infertility often must wrestle with how far they should pursue their desire to have children. It is a heavy emotional struggle. “There were times I would get so discouraged, wondering if we were ever going to have another child,” Leah says. “To get myself through it I printed off some Bible verses and put them on my mirror.” One of those passages was from Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:6,7). “I would read that every morning and that would encourage me to pray and be thankful for everything I have. [I trusted] that God will guide me and bring peace to my heart. And he always did,” Leah recalls.

After the IUI treatments, it seemed unlikely that Leah would ever carry another child. Leah and Matt decided to pursue adoption. However, after starting the process of domestic adoption, Leah and Matt both felt that this was not the right path for them. “Something told me this was not for us,” Leah remembers, “but now what?” Was this the end of their journey to welcome another baby? Leah and Matt decided to give their journey a rest.

A unique path

A few months later Leah received a magazine from Christian Life Resources that included an article about embryo adoption. Leah had heard about embryo adoption before, but the concept seemed foreign. After reading the article, she decided to get more information.

Leah learned that because of increasing infertility among couples, IVF had become more popular. But through the IVF process, there are often extra unused embryos. Most of these embryos are destroyed, but some are given to science, and others sit frozen in a bank, just waiting. “I started looking into it, and that’s when we really realized how many embryos there are out there that are frozen and in limbo,” says Leah. At the time, in 2009, about 500,000 frozen embryos were sitting in banks from couples who had completed their families through IVF and didn’t know what to do with their extra embryos. Some estimate there are now nearly one million. Some of these embryos are donated by couples for others to adopt.

Leah and Matt decided embryo adoption was a path they wanted to pursue and went to the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) to start the process. The embryos are assigned numbers and have basic medical information along with descriptive information like hair color and eye color. They chose six embryos, which were then thawed. Two didn’t survive the thaw, and two died before the transfer, leaving two embryos left to be implanted. A couple weeks later, Leah found out that she wasn’t pregnant. The first attempt at embryo adoption had failed.

The NEDC allows qualified couples to try three time to get pregnant. Leah and her husband decided that two times would be enough. After that, Leah would put to rest her hopes of getting pregnant.

On their way to have embryos implanted the second time, Leah was feeling anxious. If it didn’t work this time, she felt it was time to stop. Stop pursuing. Stop trying. Just stop. Leah nervously listened to the radio, when the DJ asked people to call in with ways to calm stress. Some callers shared things like drinking coffee and exercise. But then one caller said, “When I’m feeling stressed, I like to think of the Bible passage, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’” Leah remembers thinking, That was meant for me. She knew that at that moment God had used the words of a caller whom she would never know to calm her and give her the strength she needed. Leah and Matt continued their journey to the clinic, but this time with a renewed peace and a strengthened hope.

This time four embryos were thawed; three survived the thawing process and were implanted in Leah. Four weeks later, the doctor called and told Leah she was pregnant.

A happy ending

In March 2010, Leah gave birth to an 8 pound 15 ounce baby boy with blue eyes, whom they named Isaac. “Isaac was one of the first boy names we thought of because we had waited so long for another child like Abraham and Sarah,” Leah shares. “Isaac is such a fitting name because it means ‘laughter,’ and he has brought much joy and laughter into our lives.”

Today Isaac is a 12-year-old who loves sports and video games and pushing his sister’s buttons. He has a thirst for knowledge and fills his parents’ life with joy and sarcasm.

As for Leah, she is grateful for the opportunity to talk about her journey. She prays her story about embryo adoption can give others hope. “I know there are so many people out there [who experience infertility]. The more people hear about this, the more of those little tiny embryos can be given a chance at life.”

God never forgot about Leah, and he never forgot about “frozen” Isaac. In his perfect way, he knew they were waiting for each other.

Learn more about embryo adoption from Christian Life Resources. 

Listen to a podcast with Leah Bongard, part of the Life Challenges podcast series hosted by Christian Life Resources.

Author: Christa Potratz
Volume 109, Number 06
Issue: June 2022

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This entry is part 13 of 51 in the series my christian life

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