“We wanted to experience parenthood,” embryo adoption parents Isaiah and Melissa Anderson say. “The giggles and cuddles, the scraped knees and heartaches, the adventures and camp outs.” And for a while, they got to experience much of that. Then, suddenly, it all went away.
From the start, Isaiah and Melissa had a deep desire to become parents. Yes, they loved kids- Isaiah came from a family of nine siblings, while Melissa was a labor and delivery nurse. But there was significant spiritual motivation, too. “We wanted to be able to raise up a generation that seeks to honor God and has compassion for each other,” the Andersons say. “After two years of watching babies multiply around us and not in us, we sought medical help.”
Taking that step, however, ultimately peaked Isaiah and Melissa’s discouragement. Doctors could only diagnose their failure to conceive as unexplained infertility. Several rounds of medications and an intrauterine insemination (IUI) yielded nothing. That was as far as the Andersons were willing to take their fertility treatment. They had come to a turning point that further refined how they viewed their journey.
“It started to matter less that our children physically looked like us and more that they reflected our character,” Melissa shares. “We are made in the image of God, having been given His tenderness for the broken and forgotten, His servant’s heart for the vulnerable and His compassion for the neglected.”
With those qualities as their guiding light, the Andersons pursued foster care. Two children ended up calling Isaiah and Melissa’s house home. They had one of those children for 4 months. They raised the other from three days to 22 months old. The latter, especially, felt completely like their child. When the foster system chose to send the children back to their families of origin, the Andersons’ grief was profound. “The departure of these two kids created deep wounds of loss and our home felt so empty,” Isaiah and Melissa remember.
How do you move beyond such indescribable pain? The Andersons didn’t really know, but they knew they had to try. “We started to look into adoption when a friend asked if we had ever heard of embryo adoption,” Melissa says. They hadn’t. But the concept intrigued them. Melissa would essentially carry their adopted child, a frozen embryo remaining from someone else’s IVF. There was even a trusted national nonprofit that specialized in facilitating embryo adoption- one that shared the Andersons’ Christian faith.
“Our friend told us about the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC), so we started to research it,” Melissa says. “We saw how the NEDC valued the sanctity of life, and also how they sought to serve the most undervalued and vulnerable population: the unborn.” So they stepped out in faith and applied.
God’s Glory, Their Good
Of course, nothing was guaranteed. Isaiah and Melissa mentally prepared themselves for the possibility of more heartache ahead. “But we knew no matter the outcome, God would use it for our good and His glory,” they remember.
A few months later, the Andersons were in Knoxville (where the NEDC is located) for their frozen embryo transfer. This was during the early days of the nation’s COVID-19 crisis. But the NEDC’s medical partners had quickly established appropriate safety standards, and everything went forward as planned. “We felt like we had just been carried through by divine grace,” Isaiah and Melissa recall. “[NEDC physician] Dr. John Gordon transferred two embryos. Less than a month later, we saw two hearts beating on the ultrasound. We were thrilled! What a testimony it was to how God values and preserves life.”
Months later, that testimony became even more vivid with the births of “two beautiful girls that love to snuggle”, as the Andersons put it: Evelyn and Ivy. “Evelyn is the oldest (by three minutes) and has quite the voice. We can tell she will be the leader as she is always awake first to eat,” Isaiah and Melissa share. “Ivy is very relaxed about life. She loves to observe and enjoys when we sing to her. Both girls have brought such joy and hope into our families during a time where our nation is experiencing division and fear. Rarely does a day go by without a visitor.”
Embryo adoption has also brought the Andersons a bonus blessing. Theirs was an “open” adoption, and the relationship with their donor couple has exceeded Isaiah and Melissa’s expectations. “We already feel like close friends and communicate more frequently than we originally agreed,” they share. “We look forward to meeting them in person someday and watching all of these siblings show the world that life begins at conception.”
Isaiah and Melissa say their NEDC experience has been so positive, they may even come back to try for siblings. “Dr. Gordon was so hopeful and calm,” they remember. “It was so easy to trust him and all his staff. God is using everyone at the NEDC to do His work here on earth: To care for those who cannot care for themselves. Our lives have been transformed because of them.” It’s a transformation Isaiah and Melissa gratefully embrace anew every day. The home that once felt so eerily empty is now wonderfully alive.