Why We Adopted Frozen Babies in Tennessee

I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And my adopted frozen babies are in Knoxville, Tennessee.

(Side note: I literally sing Sammy Kershaw‘s song “Tennessee Girl” in my head EVERY. TIME. I write “Tennessee” because that’s the only way I can spell it correctly.)

Embryo adoption is a unique enough concept for people to wrap their brains around. But when they do, the next question they usually ask us is, “Why Tennessee?”

“Wasn’t there any place closer? Are they the only place that does embryo adoption?” Yes, there probably were closer places and no, they are not the only place to do embryo adoption.

But in our [perhaps biased] opinion, it became clear to us that there is something special about the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) in Knoxville, TN.

So in this post, now on the other side of our very first frozen embryo transfer, I want to take you back to the beginning and share why we chose the NEDC. (And if you want to go back farther than that, you can read about our infertility journey, and you can read why we ultimately chose embryo adoption over IVF.)

As I share in our infertility story, I first learned about embryo adoption through the Joy + Infertility podcast (on which, by the way, I later had the privilege of being a guest (!!!)—check out episode 39! What a “full circle” moment!).

In the episode where I first learned about embryo adoption, the guest talked about donating her remaining embryos to this place in Tennessee after she and her husband did in vitro fertilization (IVF). As I listened intently to the episode, I pondered this foreign and—frankly—weird concept.

Being pregnant with someone else’s genetic embryo? Giving birth to an adopted child? Um… what? (If you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, check out this FAQ.)

But the idea stuck with me. I can only explain that as God planting embryo adoption as a seed in my heart right at that moment—a seed that He would continue to water, and soil, and care for, and grow in the coming months.

I had to look up this weird place in TN and learn more.

From the beginning, something about the NEDC felt like home. I know that’s strange. I don’t even know how to clarify what I mean here. But there was something about it as I browsed the website for the first time.

A peace. A hope.

A Spirit-nudge.

Looking back, there were four main reasons we chose the NEDC.

Faith Commitment: Operating out of Christian Principles

One of the very first things we noticed about the NEDC was the high value they placed on life. When you open their website, you see the tag, “Giving life. Giving hope.” And their mission? “To protect the lives and dignity of human embryos.”

From even a cursory look at the website, it was clear to us that the NEDC demonstrates the highest value of life for these embryos in their practices—from requiring an approved adoption home study for recipients to transferring any viable embryo regardless of grade (quality). They treat their patients—donors, recipients, and embryos alike—with tremendous compassion and care.

As Christians, this perspective was a breath of fresh air. To that point, Brian and I had experienced cold waiting rooms, rushed explanations of medical test results, and textbook “solutions” to fix our “problem” with little to no consideration of our personal story, our hopes, or our commitments.

In stark contrast, I could sense the kindness, compassion, and joy of the NEDC team just from scrolling a few pages of the website.

Even without knowing us yet, I felt like they cared about us already.

And, even though I didn’t notice the explicit references to the Christian faith at first, it wasn’t hard to tell that many who work there are Christians and that the NEDC is operating out of biblical principles. The testimonies from the doctors, the high value of life, and the incredible kindness toward patients all point toward a lived-out faith in Jesus.

Honestly, I loved that I could see their faith in action before I even found their explicit faith commitment in words on the website.

I just knew these were the people I wanted to work with in expanding our family.

Credibility: An Established Reputation

The next thing that I noticed was the NEDC’s credibility. The first sentence under “About Us” reads, “Since 2003, the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) has been the country’s leading comprehensive non-profit embryo donation program.”

The entire country’s leading, COMPREHENSIVE embryo donation program. They handle the many moving pieces—the medical, legal, and social aspects of embryo donation and adoption—and they do it well. An 8-hour drive seemed like a worth-it sacrifice to work with the best.

Some other factors that speak to the NEDC’s credibility:

  • Embryos are stored on site. That means the embryos are under their intentional and discerning care, and that embryos are readily available for adoption.
  • They’ve been doing this for nearly two decades. That’s a lot of experience, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.
  • They’ve performed more than a thousand transfers (!!!).
  • They have higher-than-average pregnancy rates (54% in the most recent reporting year).
  • They are the only medically-based program in the US (they don’t just facilitate the adoption; they also handle all the medical aspects, including the frozen embryo transfer!).
  • They have a large number of donated embryos available for adoption.
  • And I LOVE this: the NEDC Baby Counter is at 980, as of 9/5/20 (that’s already 31 more than when I first wrote this post in May!). They have helped to bring about the life potential of 980 embryos who were frozen in time. COME ON!

Honestly, I could go on and on about the stats and their reputation. They’ve been featured in news reports and media coverage—from The New York Times to The Gospel Coalition—so I encourage you to check them out and learn more than just the highlights that I’m sharing here.

The bottom line? These people know what they’re doing.

Process: “This actually seems doable!”

Laying flat on my back in a quiet room with the overhead neon lights turned off, a heat lamp at my feet, and Chinese meditation music playing softly in the background, I needed something to pass the time while I lay there with dozens of tiny needles sticking out of my head, stomach, and feet. And so in one particular acupuncture session, I remember picking up my phone and reading the Embryo Adoption FAQs on the NEDC’s website.

At the time, I still didn’t know why we weren’t getting pregnant (hence, the face needles). Embryo adoption was still a seed in my heart, but it wasn’t yet our story.

And yet, I remember reading the FAQs and thinking, “If God closes other doors and opens this one, this seems strangely doable at this place.” I felt a strange [not-so-strange because it was clearly God-given] peace and confidence about it, even then.

And as one who becomes overwhelmed way too easily (hello analysis paralysis! I literally have spent HOURS reading Amazon reviews on mascaras and it took me MONTHS to pick new bedding), I cannot express how much I appreciated seeing all the steps listed out on the website.

I could envision most of the process right from the beginning. It was still overwhelming as there’s a lot involved, but I knew where to start: an online application and a $400 application fee.

And then, they walk with you step-by-step from there.

Some things I really appreciated about the NEDC’s process:

  • There are only two visits to TN: one for the initial consultation/medical clearance (I’ve since written all about our experience with that here!), and one for the embryo transfer.
  • The process takes an estimated 6-8 months (usually quite a bit faster than traditional adoption).
  • You have three attempts to become pregnant using donated embryos (though you do pay for each transfer attempt individually). If you achieve pregnancy and give birth, you can return for three more attempts for a sibling (again, paying for each transfer attempt).
  • The costs are generally lower compared to IVF or traditional adoption.
  • The NEDC is solely dedicated to embryo donation/adoption; it’s not a secondary function. Translation = you are a priority. There is no waiting list, you have the option to choose open or closed adoption, and they have a large selection of donated embryos for both options.
  • The NEDC has a very organized system in place from start to finish. You’re not left stumbling from place to place, wondering who in the world you call next or trying to play the middle-man connecting doctors, legal counsel, fertility specialists, social workers, and more. The NEDC is a one-stop shop, even performing the actual embryo transfer. (Note: The adoption home study is the only part of the process where you need to find and work with an outside agency.)

The People: A Night-and-Day Difference from my Previous Fertility Clinic Experiences

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it became quickly apparent to me that the kindness, care, and compassion of the NEDC team was unparalleled. At our other fertility clinics, we were one of hundreds of couples in treatment, and that’s exactly what it felt like. We were just a number, and each drive-by appointment left us feeling unseen and unheard.

In contrast, it was clear from the very beginning that the NEDC truly wanted to hear our story and help us expand our family, and they showed that by both their words and their actions. There were no empty promises or trite platitudes. Instead, they answered all my questions (and you KNOW I’m a numbered-list question kind of gal), they LISTENED to us (what a novel concept), and they worked to understand our situation and do what was best for us. And not only that, but they always did it all with a smile (and often a fabulous southern accent too!).

One other fun connection that I’ll mention: as we watched one of the early videos from the website in which the President/Medical Director Dr. Keenan discussed embryo adoption, Brian noticed a Steelers logo on the shelf behind him. And as it turns out, Dr. Keenan grew up in the Pittsburgh area! The Pittsburgh connection was just the little cherry on top of the many God-confirmations we received in choosing the NEDC. 😉


So, could we have gone somewhere else for our embryo adoption process? Maybe.

But I am so, so glad we didn’t. We’re part of the NEDC family, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Rachel

    I whole-heartedly agree – right down to how friendly and calming the southern accents are :). We have not regretted making the drive. I’m glad you found them too!

    1. Jenna Bieber

      So calming, right?! 🙂 So glad to be part of the NEDC family together!

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