They could have been classmates – or better yet, best friends.
Just over a month ago, a 26-year old woman in Tennessee gave birth to a baby girl conceived 24 years ago, only 18 months after her own birth. The baby, Emma Wren Gibson, came from an embryo that was frozen and preserved since October 1992; this is thought to be the longest period of time an embryo has spent in icy limbo before resulting in successful birth. The second longest known case is that of a boy in England born from an embryo frozen for 20 years.
The new parents, Tina and Benjamin Gibson, didn’t know they were making a new record until Tina became pregnant. “Do you realize I’m only 25? This embryo and I could have been best friends,” Tina said. “I just wanted a baby. I don’t care if it’s a world record or not,” she told CNN.
“Emma is such a sweet miracle,” Benjamin told WND. “I think she looks pretty perfect to have been frozen all those years ago.”
Frozen until adopted, babies born from cryogenically preserved embryos are called “snow babies”.
Snow babies originally come from embryos of other couples who went through in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Thanks to advancements in the technique, the IVF process now has a high success rate, requiring fewer embryos to be made. Still, couples get extra embryos in 15-20% of cases.
“Usually, couples have leftover embryos because they have completed their families and no longer need additional embryos,” Dr. Jason Barritt, a scientist at the South California Reproductive Center, told CNN. “They remain frozen until the patient asks for some other disposition.”
Couples with extra embryos can opt to donate them to another couple, although Dr. Barrit says this is uncommon. This time, the Gibsons’ embryo came from the National Embryo Donation Center, a faith-based organization which aims “to protect the sanctity and dignity of the human embryo”.
Tina and Benjamin were already foster parents to several children before trying IVF.
“My husband has cystic fibrosis, so infertility is common,” Tina explained to CNN, adding that they had found peace with it. “We had decided that we were more than likely going to adopt, and we were fine with that.”
After hearing about embryo adoption from Tina’s father, however, they eventually decided to give childbirth a go.
Choosing the embryo, the Gibsons say, was “overwhelming”, as they had to sift through 300 profiles in two weeks. The profiles list basic genetic information and medical history of the biological parents. The Gibsons ultimately narrowed down their list of candidates based on physical size, as both Tina and Benjamin are small.
Emma’s biological parents donated three embryos. Surprisingly, all three of them survived the thawing process, and the one that implanted successfully became Emma. The two remaining ones could one day become Emma’s biological brothers or sisters.
Would the Gibsons like to try again with the other two embryos?
“[After] having natural childbirth, I’m like, ‘I’m never doing that again!’” Tina said, when asked by CNN. “But I’m sure in like a year, I’ll be like, ‘I want to try for another baby.’”