It’s generally a poorly-timed marriage proposal if one half of the equation is sweaty and exhausted when the other pops the question. There are exceptions, though, and embryo adoption parents Bob and Colleen Leader prove it.
Born to Run
“I could talk about marathons and running all day,” Colleen says. She’s run the most prestigious of all footraces –The Boston Marathon- five times! It’s such a part of who she is that Bob (who himself was a sprinter and captain of his college track team) proposed to her at the finish line back in 2012. All told, Colleen’s run nine marathons and countless half-marathons.
Sure, that much running builds a healthy heart and lungs. But Colleen and Bob learned it could also actually work against the vision they’d laid out for their lives. “Both Bob and I are one of three in our families. We had always talked about having three children. But the facts that I had PCOS and was a marathon runner, I was told, would hinder our chances,” Colleen remembers. “We worked with doctors and, after some trials with medicines and cutting back on running, were able to conceive our daughter Charlotte.”
Searching for a Sibling
After that success, Bob and Colleen were convinced they had the steps down for conceiving their next child. But several years, a laparoscopic surgery, and six intrauterine insemination (IUI) procedures later, they still didn’t have a sibling for Charlotte. “We were devastated and realized that our dreams of three may be dashed, but simply having two children would be a miracle for us,” the Leaders say.
They didn’t have a clue, though, how they would find their miracle road. It was a situation in which sage advice from a wise soul could make all the difference, and that was just what happened. A family friend told Bob and Colleen about embryo adoption. And what an eye-opener! Colleen could essentially become pregnant with her adopted child. That little life getting transferred to her womb would be a frozen embryo remaining from another couple’s IVF; a couple finished building their own family and wanting to pass along the gift of life to others.
Too Wild to Work?
It sounded almost too wild to work. But as they looked into it, Bob and Colleen learned embryo adoption had been an answer for a lot of other families. Maybe it could be for them as well, they thought. The Leaders were also impressed when they discovered the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC). The faith-based NEDC had a great reputation and had facilitated more embryo adoption births than any other organization in the world. These factors all came together to set Bob and Colleen in their new direction. They decided to move forward with embryo adoption through this organization they had grown to trust.
That decision entailed making a couple journeys from their home on the East Coast to the NEDC in Knoxville, Tennessee. And the second of those visits, for their actual frozen embryo transfer (FET), came at an ominous time. “We drove from our house in Massachusetts to my childhood home in New Jersey, to a stopover in Virginia, and finally on to Knoxville. This all started the day Massachusetts shut down due to COVID,” Colleen shares. “It was a scary, exciting drive with hopes that this would work and we could pull it off, despite the unknown of a pandemic.”
A Different Sort of Race
Colleen, of course, was used to running races. But this was an entirely different sort of chase. It felt like a sprint to outrun an intimidating, unfamiliar foe. No one could predict just how extensively COVID-19 would ravage Americans’ health, or how much of daily life it could shut down.
The NEDC and its partner medical clinic cautiously remained open, with enhanced health and safety procedures in place, as the pandemic took hold. The Leaders are inexpressibly glad that was the case. Their FET through the NEDC led to the birth of the miracle for whom they’d been hoping. “It was a long road between travel, the home study, and COVID, but it was worth it to conceive our miracle Hayley Grace. We would do it again in a heartbeat for her,” Bob and Colleen say.
“She got me Through the Nerves and Jitters”
“The day we brought Hayley home from the hospital and Charlotte got to meet her will be one of my fondest memories of all,” Colleen shares. “Due to our struggles, Charlotte was equally as excited as we were to bring an addition to our family. Since she was already 5, she understood much of what was going on.”
And that’s one of the best parts of this story. Pursuing the blessing of Hayley led Bob and Colleen to appreciate even more the rich blessing they already had in Charlotte. “Throughout the whole process, she got me through the nerves and jitters,” Colleen says. “She told me one day when I was worried about the outcome; ‘Mom, if it does work, it will be so fun to have a sibling. But if it doesn’t work, you and Dad and I can have fun and can go on adventures we could not do with a baby.’ At that moment, I knew I could not have asked for a better daughter.”
And with the addition of Hayley, the Leaders say they now have two incomparably delightful daughters. “Hayley has not gotten to meet too many people because of COVID,” they say. “But we know she will be loved more than ever by all.”
Now Bob and Colleen eagerly anticipate spending their best years and energies investing in Charlotte and Hayley. Colleen has run 26.2 miles in as little as 3 hours 20 minutes. But she says there’s no “runner’s high” as satisfying as building a family. She and Bob think of it as the one great marathon in which no one cares about the clock.