My life changed forever one night in the fall of 2015 when I received a call from my wife Andrea’s OB-GYN. “There were no reproductive cells,’ she said regarding a recent test done on me. As a final-year medical student, I stood speechless until I could finally say, “Like none at all – not even a few?” She replied, “I’m sorry, but that is correct.”
My mind drifted to the decision that we had made fairly shortly after marriage not to use birth control for reasons other than immediately wanting to have a child. After 1.5 years of marriage, Andrea had mentioned our lack of conception to her OB-GYN after only a handful of months of our being more proactive in having a child; our absence of pregnancy was still completely benign in my mind. Still, on the phone with the doctor, all I could think was, “This is not possible,” but I said “OK,” while she said something about referring me to UAB Reproductive Urology. I was devastated to break this news an hour later to Andrea—to fail her in this regard—although, over the upcoming years, I could not have been blessed with a more faithful, enduring wife.
A few tests and months later, the urologist diagnosed me with Sertoli Cell-Only Syndrome. We would never be able to have children naturally, and I was at increased risk of testicular cancer going forward. We could try advanced reproductive techniques that would involve surgery and specialized IVF technology but would also be very expensive, have possible long-term side effects, and be only about 10% effective. Since we had already decided over those months of testing that we probably would not pursue IVF, it was fairly easy for us to decide for sure that we would not seek this complicated treatment.
Andrea and I discussed, prayed, cried, argued and laughed about what would be the best route going forward. Not knowing at the time whether we were in this situation by God’s divine providence or by a product of this fallen, cursed world, we did know that God’s will was to use this situation for His glory, and we wanted to follow His will—not focused on ours—and glorify Him every step of the way.
We considered domestic adoption, international adoption, embryo adoption, fostering children without adoption and remaining childless. We had so much love in our hearts for a child, but was it God’s will for us to pursue another calling in this life other than parenthood? We wanted to make the greatest impact possible with our situation while considering the profound ethical and theological implications of each, and we read, listened, and meditated upon different viewpoints. We were aware of the long waiting lists for domestic adoption and how there are more people wanting to adopt domestically now than children being given for domestic adoption, and we learned of the bureaucracy, fraud, and exploitation seen frequently in international adoption. We were uncomfortable with several of the practices in Reproductive Medicine and were concerned about complicity with them through embryo adoption. We became aware that there might not be one perfect decision and that decision might even look different for different people, but we did desperately want to seek to fulfill God’s desire for our own life.
After two years, Andrea and I ultimately decided on embryo adoption, firmly believing that life starts at conception and that all human life requires the Breath from the living God for its creation and perpetual sustainment. Embryos that remain after a couple has finished their desired IVF transfers can be discarded, sent for research, stored indefinitely, or donated for adoption. Pro-life and otherwise sympathetic people who have completed their family donate their embryos to help people who have been unable to have children naturally. After preparing with hormone treatment, an adopting mother receives a five-day-old embryo and then carries the baby as a normal pregnancy. Of the up to one million frozen embryos currently stored in the United States, more than 60,000 are currently available for adoption. With only 1,000 to 2,000 adopted annually and an initially estimated average viability of frozen embryos of about 15 years, there will be tens of thousands of embryos that ultimately become nonviable at the current rate —or, as Andrea and I see it, babies that ultimately die—without more couples to adopt them.
We thought that the hardest decision was behind us, but over the next six months, through adoption counseling and much more mutual meditation, we were faced with many more decisions, starting with whether we would use a secular or faith-oriented organization. Then, how many embryos would we adopt and how many would we transfer at any one time? After choosing an organization, we were given profiles with basic information about the donors. Would we purposefully choose the embryos who had waited the longest, who we thought might not otherwise be adopted, from donors that were most like us, from donors who wanted to remain anonymous or to be known, from donors who had a genetic disability, or… the list went on and on. Again, we just wanted to let God use us in our situation, following His will for our lives and glorifying Him every step of the way. We ultimately chose to use the faith-oriented National Embryo Donation Center and two sets of donors.
In the early summer of 2019, Andrea went through her first transfer with the only two embryos from one donor and also one of Vivian’s genetic siblings. Although we had decided that we would generally only transfer one embryo at a time, two of these embryos were very unlikely to be successful—and would not have been transferred at all by a secular organization. Despite initial positive pregnancy tests, the pregnancy tests turned negative at about week six. After such initial positive results and excitement, this was a difficult jolt to our journey that had been years of meditation and prayer in the making.
However, four months later, five-day-old Vivian was transferred by herself and came busting into the world another nine months later – after having been frozen for 12 years! We love her curious spirit, love for nature and playful smile, and we know that she is perfect for us—the only child God has ever created just like her. We love her so much and now know that she was God’s plan for us all along!
Vivian has four frozen embryo siblings in storage, all of whom we are planning to transfer. (By the way, her biological parents had no children born to them). Although we are still traveling this journey, growing and learning each step of the way, it is easy to know now why I received that phone call many years ago now. We were blessed with the precious, unique gift of Vivian, and we have had the opportunity to become ambassadors for embryo adoption, leading others to this wonderful avenue. Again, there will be tens of thousands of embryos that ultimately become nonviable at the current rate –or, as Andrea and I see it, babies that ultimately die—without more couples to adopt them. Maybe, you or a loved one are traveling a similar journey or have otherwise been considering the gift of adoption. Just maybe, you have questions for me. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Nicholas Darby graduated from FHU in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry and minors in Spanish and music. He obtained his Doctor of Medicine from the University of Alabama School of Medicine and a Master of Science in Human Environmental Sciences, Rural Community Health (University of Alabama). He completed his Family Medicine residency and served as chief resident at the Cahaba+ UAB Family Medicine Residency. While at FHU, he served two terms, from 2009 to 2011, as the Student Government Association president. He is married to Andrea Chambers Darby, a 2013 graduate of FHU’s nursing program. They live with their daughter, Vivian, in Florence, Alabama, where Dr. Darby is a partner of Florence Medical Associates outpatient clinic and holds inpatient privileges at North Alabama Medical Center. They are members of Jackson Heights Church of Christ.