There’s an unnerving unevenness to life that shakes us all to our core at one time or another. In 2019, embryo adoption parents Sam and Rachel Medaris blazed through the full spectrum of human emotion at warp speed. Their spirits both soared and sank –to crushing depths- at the very same ultrasound appointment.
Just a few weeks earlier, Sam and Rachel had traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee for a frozen embryo transfer (FET) at the National Embryo Donation Center. It was a “mixed” transfer, meaning the medical team transferred embryos from two different donor families (families who had both completed successful IVF and wanted to give their remaining embryos a chance to be born into other loving families). Now, back at their OB/GYN’s office several states away, “The first ultrasound allowed us to see our two growing babies –one Chinese and one Caucasian- and we were beside ourselves with joy,” the Medarises remember.
That joy was only momentary, though. The ultrasound also showed one of the amniotic sacs wasn’t growing. The outlook for that baby’s survival was grim. Three days later, by the next ultrasound, the heartbeat was gone. Doctors told Sam and Rachel the sac had floated and implanted on a scar from an old Cesarean section. To protect Rachel’s health, physicians urged quick medical action resolving potential complications from the baby’s demise. “We were given four options,” Sam explains. “Every option included losing the other healthy baby at 9-10 weeks’ gestation.”
No Good Choices, Seemingly
There seemed to be no good choice on the table, so Sam and Rachel countered with one of their own. “We asked about the idea of watchful waiting, as we do not believe in intentionally losing the baby under any circumstance,” Sam shares. “Our doctor advised against it, but was respectful of whatever we decided. For us there was no decision to be made. We would watch and carry the baby as long as possible for both Rachel and the baby’s safety.”
Where does such outside-the-box thinking come from? For one, Sam and Rachel hold the deeply-rooted conviction that all life is worthy of protection. Even as unlikely as a good outcome appeared to be in this case, they weren’t swerving from that.
Familiarity with Adversity
But there was more. This family had stared difficulty in the face before. Their three biological children (born between 2000 and 2004) all came via C-section, and two were preemies. After those strenuous deliveries, the Medarises had Rachel’s tubes tied and turned their thoughts to adoption, which was something they’d always wanted to pursue anyway.
Sam and Rachel waited two years for a placement with a local adoption agency, to no avail. So they turned to international adoption and welcomed an 18-month-old from South Korea into their family in 2011. A 3-year-old adopted son from Thailand would follow in 2017. In between, there was the heartbreak of a failed domestic adoption in which the birth mother kept the baby, then lost him to SIDS.
Sam and Rachel had given up hope of ever having an infant in the home again. However, not long after their failed adoption, they became intrigued by the idea of embryo adoption. They even started the paperwork for it, but decided their hearts hadn’t healed enough yet. That changed after their second successful international adoption. They were now ready for embryo adoption and applied to the NEDC.
The Road Was Still Long
The tough sledding didn’t let up, though. A snowstorm forced the cancellation of their flight into Knoxville for their first FET. Sam and Rachel went with Plan B, braving the treacherous weather and making the long drive South from their home in the Midwest. That transfer was ultimately unsuccessful. And nothing seemed to be going right leading up to their second transfer. They actually thought it might be called off because Rachel was constantly bleeding. Once their 10-year-old learned what was going on and prayed about it, the bleeding amazingly stopped and the transfer –which yielded the twins- took place.
All that history was bearing down on Sam and Rachel as they made their critical decision in the ultrasound room. They had been formed as a couple not just by their values, but also by long experience with adversity. They knew the little life still in Rachel’s womb was priceless, and they were ready to endure whatever came. “The next weeks and months were full of anxiety and strict orders to not venture too far from the hospital as the idea of a uterine rupture and loss of Momma’s life was paramount,” Sam recalls.
John Jared Arrives
They made it to 33 weeks, when Rachel went into labor (“A very strict no-no for a paper-thin uterine scar,” Sam and Rachel add). John Jared was born via urgent C-section on December 18, 2019. “Rachel’s uterine wall at the scar had gotten so thin, our OB said it was as see-through as cellophane,” Sam remembers. “She could make out the hairs on our son’s head before making the incision.” He was healthy, weighing in at 6 pounds 7 ounces, an early Christmas gift. His ethnicity –Caucasian- was also a holiday surprise. The Medarises had spent months wondering which of their two differing-ethnicity babies had survived.
“John Jared has been a joy to our entire family, the prince with four big brothers, one big sister and two completely love-struck parents looking after his every move,” Sam and Rachel share. “The reality of being parents to this wonderful little baby boy has been the best baby experience of our lives.”
‘Best’ Doesn’t Mean ‘Perfect’
Of course, this side of eternity, ‘best’ doesn’t mean ‘perfect.’ The Medarises have mourned their lost embryos and their Chinese baby, whose remains they cremated and placed into an urn. Still, they view the whole journey as a blessing that’s shown them God’s heart in a fresh way. “As trying and emotional as the experience of embryo adoption and birthing our adopted child has been, it is the perfect expression of our Heavenly Father’s heart for adoption,” Sam and Rachel say. They’re also thankful that the testing of their beliefs reaffirmed the genuineness of those convictions. “They said ‘Mom or baby’, and we said, ‘No, Mom and baby until God makes that decision for us.’”