People often refer to the first few months –maybe even first year or two- of marriage as “the honeymoon phase.” There’s a newness to the relationship, a joy that can temporarily and artificially lighten the other areas of life. The honeymoon phase isn’t universal, though. For some couples, like embryo adoption parents Ben and Joy Hamilton, beginning a new life together means facing crushing reality right from the start.
Service and Sacrifice
They got married in 2012. Before that, Ben served our country as a firefighter in the Air National Guard. That was where ‘sacrifice’ became more than just an ideal. It defined every step and breath he took.
Following a deployment to the Middle East, Ben’s health started to flat out collapse. He waged battle daily with chronic pain and exhaustion. It was unquestionably connected to his service overseas, though medical experts struggled for years to pinpoint what precisely was hijacking his health. “These chronic issues in the foreground made for a difficult start to our life together as newlyweds,” the Hamiltons remember.
“Really- this, too?”
When Ben and Joy got the diagnosis that they were also infertile, it felt like their load-bearing capacity had reached a breaking point. “I spent many nights lying in bed wavering between faith and even anger, asking God ‘Really- this, too?’,” Joy says. “Our first few years as a married couple were marked by so much disappointment already that we thought surely starting a family would be the one thing that looked ‘normal’ for us. And when it didn’t, I felt lost.”
Ben could sense the overwhelming disillusionment in his wife’s soul. She still desperately wanted to carry a child. He was ready to move forward and find an alternate route to parenthood. But he wisely gave Joy’s heart the time and space it needed to heal. (Since this time, by the way, Ben’s own health has improved considerably.) As Joy’s healing began, their answer appeared.
Huge Weight Lifted
“We saw friends bring home two beautiful twin boys through embryo adoption,” Ben and Joy recall. These friends had walked through the same heartache of infertility for years. They ended up becoming pregnant with their adopted children, who were donated as embryos remaining from another couple’s successful IVF. How amazing, Ben and Joy thought. Could it work for them, too?
“I began researching embryo adoption after we first talked with these friends and the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) was one of the first search results that popped up,” Joy says. “As soon as we agreed that this was the path we wanted to explore for our family, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted.”
In fall 2017, Joy became pregnant after a successful frozen embryo transfer (FET) through the NEDC. “I’ll never forget seeing the love and care in [embryologist] Carol Sommerfelt’s face when she handed us the first picture of our embryos right before the transfer,” Joy says. “I also won’t forget bawling on the phone when [nurse] Lynda McCollum called to give us the positive results of our first pregnancy test. And she was on the other end of the phone crying along with me!” The NEDC team, Ben and Joy say, made an overwhelming process feel much easier than it otherwise could have been.
The pregnancy wasn’t easy, either. Though Joy started out carrying twins, one of the babies was lost a few weeks in. Doctors told the Hamiltons there was a chance they would lose the other baby as well. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
Pogo Stick in the Womb
In Spring 2018, Ben and Joy welcome Elijah Benjamin –Eli, for short- into their family. “He’s been jumping and running headfirst into life since the first time we saw him on the ultrasound screen,” Ben and Joy say. Their nurses even joked he must have had a pogo stick with him in the womb. “We like to joke that the extra energy is making up for the 9 years he spent as a frozen embryo! His boundless energy, wild blonde hair, and bright blue eyes brighten every room he walks into. His light and personality seem to draw people in, and we hope he never loses that characteristic.”
The name ‘Elijah’, by the way, comes from the Hebrew word meaning “Yahweh is God.” It conveys much about God and His character- that He’s eternal, unchanging, supreme over creation and present with His people. These are deeply comforting truths that Ben and Joy have shared with others (Ben is a pastor). But they’ve now experienced them firsthand in a new way with Eli.
“Everything about our journey to becoming parents –from the sustaining grace and strength in the midst of ongoing health struggles and weakness brought on by infertility, to the faith He gave us to pursue embryo adoption, to the miracles worked by the wonderful team at the NEDC to safely transfer those precious little ones- all resound that Yahweh is God,” Ben and Joy affirm. “The Covenant Lord, who is redeeming all things, is writing His story of redemption (even through the pain of infertility) in our lives and in our family.”