Zoe Annadelle Johnson was born on November 9, 2012, but her life began 3 years before that. Zoe was one of six embryos created on May 8, 2009 through the use of In-vitro fertilization (IVF). When she was 5 days old she was frozen. God had big plans for these tiny, unique, pre-born “snowflake” babies.
Embryos #1 and #2 were chosen to be transferred to their biological mother. Both embryos implanted and nine months later they were blessed with the births of a son and a daughter. With their family of four completed, their attention quickly shifted to the fate of the four frozen embryos waiting for their chance to be born.
Zoe’s biological parents were presented with the standard options for her future as a “extra” embryo: destroy them, donate them to scientific research (which would then destroy them), anonymously donate them to an infertile couple, or find a family to adopt and carry them to term. Reflecting on their belief that life begins at fertilization, they quickly realized that destroying them or donating them to research would terminate the precious life that had been created. The fate of the remaining embryos weighed heavily on their minds and hearts for two years until they connected online with Charis & Duffy Johnson in the fall of 2011.
Charis & Duffy had been through the ringer with failed fertility and adoption efforts. In the spring of 2011, they were blessed with a daughter, Julah Dawn, through domestic adoption. Shortly afterwards, Charis’ friend Molly shared that she was planning on doing a "Snowflake" adoption. Molly, a cancer survivor, had undergone chemotherapy that had depleted her egg reserve, however, her doctor affirmed that she would be able to carry a pregnancy with adopted embryos.
Charis questioned the process, “Why not just adopt from a birthmother domestically or internationally?” The answer took her breath away. Due to the dramatic increase of fertility and IVF in the past decade, there are over 600,000 frozen embryos in the United States alone, with over 50,000 of them needing adoptive families. The need was overwhelming. While families were waiting for months or years to adopt a baby through tradition adoption efforts, the reverse was true of embryo adoption. The embryos were waiting. Waiting for a chance to be born and live. It truly was a matter of life or death.
Deeply burdened by the need, Charis began researching the steps required to complete an embryo adoption. She found that what she predicted to be a complicated and intricate process was surprisingly simple. The embryos were designated as legal property which could be given, but not sold. A simple notarized contract was all that was required to make an embryo adoption legal. No lengthy legal processes, court fees, or unending piles of paperwork to fill out.
Duffy, however, remained unconvinced that this was a feasible option. Many of his questions - such as Charis’ health during pregnancy, legal issues, and the cost - came with answers that supported the choice of embryo adoption. Charis would get to experience pregnancy, they would have control over the prenatal environment of their child, they would be recognized as the fully legal parents of the child before he/she was born instead of waiting for months afterward, there would be no chance for a birthmother to change her mind, and the total cost was a mere fraction of the cost of a traditional adoption.
“The bottom line was that these babies needed to be born,” Charis shared. The Johnsons connected with Zoe’s biological family online in the Fall of 2011 and on December 15, 2011, Charis and Duffy’s fourth wedding anniversary, they signed the papers to officially adopted the four frozen snowflake babies.
The process progressed quickly and easily from that point. Charis’ fertility clinic contacted the storage facility and arranged the transportation. The four snowflake babies were shipped via FedEx, and after two years of being suspended in a frozen state, Embryos #3 and #4 were thawed and transferred to Charis. The Johnsons were thrilled to find to find out two weeks later that they were pregnant! A bittersweet sonogram revealed that while one baby had a healthy heartbeat, there was no sign of the second embryo that had been transferred. Nine months later, Charis gave birth to a baby girl.
Duffy explained, “We chose the name ‘Zoe’ for our precious snowflake daughter as it is the Greek word for ‘life’. God purposed her creation, and He has a plan for her life.”
Charis continued, “On March 8, 2009, God breathed life into 6 embryos. He knew from before their first cell multiplied how many hairs would be on their heads and who would raise them. God didn’t accidentally make too many embryos. He made two for their family and four for our family. Zoe was created to be my daughter, and I was called to be her mother.”
Three weeks after Zoe was born, both families gathered together to celebrate Zoe’s first Thanksgiving, giving thanks for the precious bond, open adoption, and love they share. “The Johnson’s openness to being flexible with the type of relationship we would have has given us a wonderful transition. We love that we were able to bless a couple who yearned for children. We couldn't be happier.” –Zoe’s Biological Mother
Charis and Duffy Johnson are co-founders of the National Registry for Adoption, which seeks to connect families with remaining embryos to adoptive families They reside in Dallas, Texas with their two daughters, Julah and Zoe. Their two remaining snowflake babies (Embryos #5 and #6) are scheduled to depart their frozen orphanage November 2013 and be transferred to Charis. If you have any questions, or would like more information, please feel free to contact Charis directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.