Embryo adoption families Brent & Elizabeth Blake (left side of the picture) and Justin & Stephanie Gerhart (right side) have journeys that differ from those of many of the couples walking through the doors of the National Embryo Donation Center. Neither the Blakes nor Gerharts struggled with infertility. Yet both felt deeply called to pursue embryo adoption. Now God has not only blessed each with new life (taking the form of twins in both cases), He’s also created new friendships. The Blakes and Gerharts attend the same church and their children are classmates at the same school. Enjoy their story, shared in interview form.
When and how did you find out about embryo adoption?
Brent & Elizabeth: We first heard of embryo adoption in January of 2017 when some friends of ours were struggling with infertility and they mentioned that embryo adoption might be an option for them. We had never heard of it and wanted to give an informed response so we began researching. Interestingly enough, the bulk of the research was done on a road trip to a conference called Evangelicals for Life in DC.
Justin & Stephanie: We first heard of embryo adoption about thirteen years ago when some dear friends of ours discovered it while dealing with infertility. We loved their story and their family, but never thought of embryo adoption as an option for us, as we hadn’t dealt with a similar issue.
What were the family conversations like as you considered embryo adoption?
Brent & Elizabeth: As Elizabeth dug for more info regarding embryo adoption she was amazed that this was something we were really just finding out about. We certainly believed ourselves to be pro-life, but sadly had not considered the thousands of babies in this suspended state until this time.
Having three biological daughters and an adopted daughter from Ethiopia, we had gone through seasons where we believed our family to be complete. But we’d also taken care to make sure our “yes” was on the table if God desired to add to our family. He made it abundantly clear to us on this trip that He desired that we would pursue Him through embryo adoption.
Justin & Stephanie: In 2016 we considered growing our family through traditional adoption, but ultimately chose not to pursue that path. If we were honest, the decision left us with an ache. Adoption was a frequent conversation in our marriage, and a longing that predated our relationship entirely, so it felt strange to consider walking away from it forever.
Thankfully, in October of that year, an NEDC representative came to speak at our church about the NEDC and its role in embryo donation and adoption. Though the process wasn’t technically new to us, the thought about it being “for” us was revolutionary, bringing us to tears in our seats. Even though we weren’t a family who’d endured infertility, we were still a family, and the thought of these little babies just needing a chance at life was arresting.
That night we went home, talked about the possibility and were quickly convinced this was the direction the Lord wanted us to move in. We gave ourselves a probationary few weeks to get over any emotional highs, but that time only confirmed our convictions. Before we knew it we had begun the process of adopting our children: meeting with the NEDC, planning our home study, and sharing the news with close friends and family.
How did people respond to your decision?
Brent & Elizabeth: When we returned to Knoxville, we sat down with our girls (15, 12, 9, and 8) to discuss what God was laying on our hearts. There were tears of joy and uncertainty shed that night at the dinner table. But we rejoiced to see that God quickly helped those young hearts understand that there were children who needed a family and we should do something about it.
As we introduced embryo adoption and God’s calling on us to other family members, we were often met with awkward silence and pleasant smiles, but not the uninhibited exuberance that our daughters had exhibited. We wanted that, but that did not dissuade us. Maybe God was calling us to embryo adoption not only to grow our family, but to introduce the need to others.
Justin & Stephanie: This time was unique and truly a gift. While the uniqueness of it all made us fall even more in love with the journey, we found that not everyone we told had the same reaction. Though many were incredibly supportive, some loving and well-intended members of our community did not immediately share the same vision of the process that we did. They said:
“You’ve never had issues getting pregnant before. Why do this?”
“Sure, we knew you wanted to adopt, but this sounds a bit… different.”
Even, “The whole things seems a little strange.”
These questions tested our convictions and, thankfully, we found grace in the conversations that followed. The more we learned about and discussed the intricacies of human development, the more we saw reservations fall away, and support take the place of uncertainty. Among our biological children there was no such hesitation, however. Maeve, Abel and Archer have been and remain the greatest cheerleaders our family could have asked for, celebrating their new siblings from day one.
You chose embryo adoption even though you already had several children. What was the main reason you decided on this option?
Brent & Elizabeth: There are billions of people around this world that have been created in God’s image that are viewed as expendable by society. The Church must not allow this to continue. Thousands and thousands of embryos without a voice need the body of Christ to speak for them and take action. This is what the Spirit revealed to us.
Justin & Stephanie: There were parallel dilemmas when we considered traditional adoption. First, Stephanie still hoped she’d be able to physically carry another baby; second, there was an almost prohibitive cost associated with that process, foreign or domestic.
To our surprise, embryo adoption addressed both of those factors in a unique and meaningful way. Yes, there was a real financial cost, one that took the help of our friends, family and church to accomplish, but it was not so atmospheric a target. And because Stephanie was fortunate to have had healthy, enjoyable pregnancies up to that point, adopting at the embryonic stage was a restful solution.
What would you say to other families who’ve not had fertility issues? Why is embryo adoption a route they should prayerfully consider?
Brent & Elizabeth: There is no rank regarding what is most important in the world of adoption and foster care. Millions of at-risk children need a home and we pray that brothers and sisters in Christ will see that as something the Church cannot ignore. We are just hoping that frozen embryos will begin to get a seat at the table, so to speak, when believing families are considering their call to adopt and the avenue God might have them pursue.
Justin & Stephanie: A life is a life. If the Lord is leading your family to adopt, there are thousands of embryos literally waiting to be brought into the world. As we explained to our children, even though some of the microscopic embryos have been frozen for 1, 5, 10 or 20 years, they still hold fully fledged souls. You can’t see their picture, know their personality, or kiss their faces (yet!), but the Lord knows exactly who they are. At this moment they are image bearers without an image, but He knows who they’ll grow into and for what purpose!
Scripture overflows with the Father’s love toward the fatherless, and we all begin life unaware of the steps He’d already taken on our behalf. In a similar way, the donor parents have graciously walked the most difficult part of the path already, long before any of us adoptive parents came onto the scene. They saw their embryos as people instead of property, loving them so much they chose to preserve their lives until someone else could bring them home.
For us, Wren and Gaelin did not simply fit into our family, they build it as foundationally as any other member. Adoption has been and continues to be the most humbling experience of our marriage, seeing the love of God through so many wonderful people — biological parents, friends, strangers, siblings, our church family, and the NEDC — played a part that we could never have ourselves. Each had a hand carrying our two children further along in their journey.
Explain how your two families connected.
Brent & Elizabeth: Our four older girls all attend River’s Edge Christian Academy in Knoxville. One day at school Elizabeth was sharing with another mom that we were going to adopt embryos. That mom excitedly shared that someone else in the school was pursuing embryo adoption and we immediately got a little more familiar with the Gerhart family. This was such an encouragement through the whole process to know that another family in the same school our kids attended was in this same season of life as us. We often joked that in such a small school, it is amazing that one day a class at River’s Edge could have four children who were adopted embryos.
Justin & Stephanie: We knew of the Blakes because several of our children attend the same school, but didn’t know them personally. After hearing from a mutual friend that both our families were pursuing adoption, Stephanie and Elizabeth connected and realized that not only were we both adopting embryos, but we were even scheduled for the same transfer cycle!
It was a priceless gift from the Lord to have another family (who are now our friends!) going through the same things leading up to and throughout the journey. We were able to pray specifically for one another, encourage one another, celebrate and grieve together, and to our great delight now each raise a set of twins together. Not only did the Lord join our families in this unique way, but He brought us both to the same church. It is funny and wild that we worship and fellowship together in the same building, and we have been doubly blessed by a kindred relationship that our entire family gets to enjoy.
Describe the personalities of your embryo adoption kids.
Brent & Elizabeth: Talitha and Haddon have been used by God to bring much added joy to our home. They are amazing. Their beauty, their smiles and their dependent cries all remind us of the goodness of our Father in leading us to embryo adoption.
Talitha likes to cuddle, loves to look at books with her sisters, is a tad emotional, and maybe a little mischievous. Haddon is an explorer and climber and is always on the go. He is our first boy, so we are definitely seeing some traits in him that were not in our girls.
Justin & Stephanie: Wren and Gaelin, our adopted twins, are the physical embodiment of the virtue of life. Wren took the first steps and is still the loudest. Her eyes are big, bold and hazel, expressing more with a glance than her mouth can with words. Gaelin is still a bit behind physically, but he’s sprouted so much from the little bean we brought home, with a smile bright as the sun and even quicker to shine. Both laugh like they share the same heart, and squabble like they’ve never seen each other around the home before.
We see nothing less than the artistry of God the Creator and Storyteller at work in both of them… and yes, they poop like normal people.