Embryo adoption parents Nolan and Christine Southard have a story that simply couldn’t have been written 25 years ago. They wouldn’t have each other if not for just the right electrons zipping strategically through cyberspace. And they wouldn’t have their son without the advent (in the latter half of the ‘90s) of embryo adoption. We live in a time when cutting edge technology and simple strokes on a keyboard can lead to the flesh and blood connections that end up meaning everything.
Nolan and Christine met back in 2011 on an online dating site. Marriage came a couple years later. The year after that brought a devastating diagnosis: Christine had myotonic dystrophy, a chronic muscle-weakening condition with a strong chance of being passed down biologically. Nolan and Christine always planned to have kids together, but this changed their thinking. “We met with a genetic counselor who discussed our ‘options.’ None of those ‘options’ lined up with our morals and values,” Christine remembers.
The suggested options included getting pregnant on their own and, if the baby had the disease, terminating the pregnancy. Another was to do IVF, test the resulting embryos, and discard any that carried the condition. Because of their high regard for pre-born life, the Southards immediately rejected these as viable choices. “If my parents knew my father had myotonic dystrophy and they used this technology, that means I would have been discarded!” exclaimed Christine.
Foster Care First
Instead, to expand their family, they first pursued adoption through foster care. “This ended in heartbreak when a baby we’d fostered from four days old to 10 months returned to her biological parents,” Nolan and Christine share. “We weren’t sure we’d be able or want to go through something like that again.”
The Southards weren’t certain where to turn next. Fortunately, a potential answer found them. “A few weeks after our foster daughter was removed from our home, I was on Facebook and came across an article that was ‘suggested for you’,” Christine recalls. “It was about the National Embryo Donation Center and embryo adoption. After reading it and visiting the NEDC website, I started to get excited. This was something we could do! It wasn’t as expensive as traditional adoption and I would be able to carry the baby and give birth, something I had always wanted to do!”
If you think you know how the story goes from here, think again. Yes, Nolan and Christine started the embryo adoption process through the NEDC. But no, that wasn’t how they welcomed their first child into their arms.
A month before their initial appointment with the NEDC, a family friend reached out to the Southards. She knew a woman who was 10 days away from being induced. The woman wanted to give the baby up for adoption. But she hadn’t yet found a forever family for the baby she was about to deliver. “We jumped at the chance to adopt this baby girl,” says Christine. “We picked her up when she was two days old, and several months later, I was pregnant after our first frozen embryo transfer (FET) with the NEDC.”
What’s in a Name?
They named their daughter Felicity (Latin for good fortune) and their son Knox (after Knoxville, where the NEDC is located). “They love to play outside, read, eat and spend time with family and friends,” Nolan and Christine say. “Knox is always trying to keep up with his big sister and is almost as big as her!” The Southards have also enjoyed connecting with Knox’s genetic parents and hope to meet his genetic siblings soon.
This family’s story shows how God can order the disparate circumstances of life -from challenging medical diagnoses to the technologies that mark our time- to create lasting love and beauty. “None of this was part of our plan. But we’re amazed at how God’s plan has blessed us with two beautiful children,” Christine says. Amazement seems the only fitting response. Because they were willing to rule out ‘options’, Nolan and Christine discovered life-giving possibilities.