As the bracing fall breeze whistling through an Indiana apple orchard lightly scraped against their skin, eventual embryo adoption parents Brad and Cate McFarland charted the course to change their lives. Amid the miniature mountains of hay and faintly sweet smell permeating the grove, Brad and Cate made a decision: They would pursue parenthood through the foster system. It had all the makings of a landmark day for, in the immortal words of native Hoosier John Mellencamp, two American kids growing up in the Heartland.
Except it didn’t work out. And they weren’t exactly kids.
It was 2017 and they were, as Brad put it, “that couple” in their thirties still trying to build a family. “Having been diagnosed with Kallman Syndrome at 18 years old, we knew going into our marriage that a traditional means of building a family might present some obstacles,” Brad explains. “And it did.” By the time they found themselves at a crossroads in the apple orchard, the McFarlands had a long history (several years) of frustration in their rearview mirror. But 2017 seemed to put a fine point on their struggles. Earlier in the year, a physician deemed it highly unlikely that medical intervention of any sort would help them achieve a natural pregnancy. Turning to the foster system seemed to make sense.
Becoming certified for home placements, however, proved to be a long slog in itself. After almost a year of working toward that goal, it still hadn’t happened. A strong sense of defeat was starting to set in. Brad and Cate felt like they needed something to bring a change, but didn’t know what. Right then, as they hit their low point, someone in a position to help took notice. “Some gracious friends of ours shared their own infertility journey, prayed alongside us, and encouraged us to consider a new and different approach,” Brad and Cate remember.
These friends must have seen their younger selves as they watched the McFarlands’ struggles. 16 years earlier, they had been down a similar path. They knew the heartache of every infertility journey. So they introduced Brad and Cate to a local fertility specialist who suggested a new option: embryo adoption. The McFarlands learned Cate could become pregnant with an embryo, frozen and just waiting to be given a chance at birth, that remained from another couple’s successful IVF. The specialist also outlined a couple ways Brad and Cate could go about adopting embryos. One of those paths was the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) in Knoxville, Tennessee.
“We sat down for lunch at Chick-fil-A. We began perusing the NEDC’s website and Facebook page and were shocked at all the positive testimonials,” Brad and Cate say. “Was this too good to be true? We started the process, made our initial appointment and never looked back.”
“Is This Real Life?”
There was no reason to look back. Their very first frozen embryo transfer (FET) at the NEDC was a success. Jameson entered the world, and the McFarland family, in November 2019. “He has personality for days and is a foodie just like his parents,” Brad and Cate explain. “He loves when Mommy reads to him. And he gets super-excited when Daddy plays the guitar and sings his original tunes about bedtime or a much-needed diaper change!”
Brad sums up the whole experience of parenthood as bringing on a sort of ‘pinch me’ sensation: “Cate and I still wake up in the morning asking, ‘Is this real life?’”
Circles of Support
Brad and Cate’s journey to Jameson has really been a story about circles of support showing up when they were desperately needed. Where would be the McFarlands be, after all, without the generous, sacrificial gift of those friends who treated them like family? And of course, upon choosing their path for embryo adoption, they also joined the large, loving NEDC Family. “Our new extended family was a huge answer to prayers,” Brad says. “We also take comfort knowing the NEDC’s continued work will be a blessing for other families to come.”
Real life can be surprising sometimes. In finally achieving the dream of building their own little household, Brad and Cate learned something. The lesson? If “family” means those who have your back and are there for you to lean on, they have more far more family than they ever knew. Those relationships -the familial and spiritual bonds we embrace and nurture- give our souls their very purpose. It’s the big stuff of life- and it’s hardwired into tiny, tiny embryos in frozen states as Jameson once was. And isn’t that just like God? Using the microscopically small to help Brad and Cate –and all of us- experience a concept so large.