Tina and Benjamin Gibson wanted to start a family after they got married seven years ago, but due to a medical condition that can result in male infertility, they were unsure if they could ever have kids. Instead, the couple turned their Tennessee house into a home for foster kids until they were ready to adopt.
But last year, something unexpected happened. While taking a break between hosting foster children, Tina's father shared a story that changed their lives forever. Little did she know that she would soon be breaking a world record.
In an interview with CNN, Tina recounted his words: "I saw something on the news today. It's called embryo adoption, and they would implant an embryo in you, and you could carry a baby."
In August of 2016, the couple agreed to apply for the procedure. By spring 2017, three embryos were safely housed inside of her uterus.
Carol Sommerfelt, the embryology lab director at the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) who transferred the embryos into Gibson’s uterus, said she had unthawed three "snowbabies" from the same anonymous donor and was amazed at the results. While only one of the three implanted in Tina's uterus, Sommerfelt said that rate (between 25 percent and 30 percent) is normal. But this is where the story takes a turn.
As doctors were about to transfer the embryos, Tina learned that she was about to set a world record. The embryo that would become her daughter, Emma Wren Gibson, had been frozen for 24 years.
Despite the shocking news, Gibson told reporters she didn’t care about setting any records. All she wanted was “to have a baby.” Still, it was hard not to laugh at the coincidence.
"Do you realize I'm only 25?” she joked. “This embryo and I could have been best friends."
“It is deeply moving and highly rewarding to see that embryos frozen 24.5 years ago using the old, early cryopreservation techniques of slow freezing … can result in 100 percent survival of the embryos,” Sommerfelt said in a press release.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 7.3 million women—ages 15 to 44—have used some sort of fertility service. Embryo adoption is one of those options.
According to the NEDC, approximately 75 percent of donated embryos will survive the freezing and thawing process. Despite NEDC's low overall pregnancy rate—57 percent per transfer and 49 percent live-birth rate—the company maintains that freezing embryos offers the greatest hope for many infertile couples.
In fact, the live baby count on their homepage shows that 686 babies have been born as of today, including baby Emma: the longest-frozen embryo to come to birth, who happens to be a year younger than her 26-year-old mom.
Tina was asked if they might try for a second child, using the remaining two embryos.
"I'm never doing that again!" she laughed, referring to childbirth. "But I'm sure in like a year, I'll be like, 'I want to try for another baby.'"
Image via Southern Charm Portraits