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Program matches families willing to donate embryos to those who want children

Families able to adopt, birth, raise child as their own

HOUSTON – For Natalie and Brandon Champagne, the question was not if they would become parents, but rather how they would become parents.

"Brandon had leukemia as a child and some of the treatments that he received, we knew we probably wouldn't be able to have children of our own," said Natalie Champagne.

The two then heard about the Snowflake Adoption Program, a program that matches families that are willing to donate embryos they no longer need for IVF, to families that want to have children. Families like the Champagnes then adopt, birth and raise the child as their own.

"We decided on the Snowflake Adoption because I really wanted a chance to be able to be pregnant," said Natalie Champagne. "We really loved the idea of being able to give an already-created embryo a chance at having life."

Kimberly Tyson, marketing director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, parent company of Snowflake, said a census conducted by Cal-State Fullerton revealed there were 600,000 embryos in storage as of 2011.

Nightlight has worked with more than 1,000 families since 1997 for embryo adoptions.

"To date the Snowflakes Program is approaching the birth of its 400th baby," said Tyson.

The cost for embryo adoption -- anywhere from $6,000 to $15,000 -- is a bit cheaper than traditional adoption, but the donor matching process is very similar.

"They sent our profile to the family that wanted to donate the embryos. They approved us and said yes to us and they sent their information to us...family photos, medical history and a letter from them to us," said Natalie Champagne.

Once the couple accepted their match, their embryos were transported to a fertility clinic for implant.

Dr. Ryan Steward, of Houston Fertility Institute, performs embryo transfers and described how the embryos arrive at the clinic.

"They are arrived in cold storage. It's a dry liquid nitrogen storage that's bar-coded. The embryos are stored in something called a straw, which is then housed in another device called a cane, and those are within a larger drum that's all protected in cryo-storage using liquid nitrogen," said Steward.

Steward said the transfer procedure is relatively simple and has minimal complications for the potential mother.

"The woman's uterus is prepared with hormones," said Steward. "It takes about three weeks or so to prepare the uterine lining of the woman who's going to be receiving the embryo or embryos. At which point, the transfer proceeds. That's the fun part of the process for the couple, they're both in the operating room. No anesthesia is required."

Natalie Champagne's first two embryo transfers were unsuccessful.

"At times we wondered if it was going to happen. If it was the right thing," she said.

And then it happened: Natalie Champagne got pregnant. She delivered her son, Carter, in July 2008.

"It was a very uneventful pregnancy and he was born on his due date by C-section, so not absolutely perfect, but he was born on his due date," she said.

Three years later, the couple wanted another baby but had no more embryos from Carter's family. They used Snowflake to adopt from a second family.

"We were matched with a family. They had two embryos. We did a transfer and it was successful," said Natalie Champagne. "We got pregnant on the first try and we lost that baby at 10 weeks."

Snowflakes Adoption Program allows couples to be matched with up to three families, so Natalie Champagne and Brandon Champagne adopted a third round of embryos.

Natalie Champagne got pregnant and successfully delivered their second son, Harrison, in February 2012.

"We had many nights that weren't so easy but I think any adoption, you're going to go through that loss and pain, but in the end it's worth it," said Natalie Champagne.

Brandon Champagne said the joy of fatherhood is more than he could have ever imagined.

"It's great. I think you can kind of think of how it's going to be, but you never really know until it happens and it's been busy, crazy at times but wouldn't trade it for the world," said Brandon Champagne.

The couple even keeps in contact with the donor families of both their boys. Each donor family decides the level of contact they want to have with the adopting family. For Harrison, they send correspondence to his family through the agency.

They have direct contact with their son Carter's donor family. They share pictures, Facebook messages and Christmas cards with one another.

"We definitely want him to know where he came from, and if he chooses to want to meet the family that he came from, we're open to that as well," said Natalie Champagne.

Some may view their choice as unconventional, but the couple said this was the perfect choice for their family.

"I love the fact that we were able to give them life, and I don't really look at it as something we've done for them. I really look at it as something that we've gotten to be a part of and it's a blessing to us," said Natalie Champagne.

More information on embryo adoptions can be found at nightlight.org or embryoadoption.org.