The Birth of Movement: A Snowflakes 1,000 Babies & 25th Anniversary
My journey to pursuing an education in social work started even before I was born and has set me on a journey to protect the sanctity of human life and the value of family. I am the first adopted frozen embryo in the world. My parents, John and Marlene Strege, struggled with infertility, along with many others across the globe. My mother was diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure, which meant she was no longer producing eggs and could no longer conceive on her own. Distraught, my mother asked her doctor if he had any frozen embryos in which they could adopt. Her doctor replied, “Well yeah, I have got tons of embryos,” and proceeded to say that he had never been asked that question before.
Meanwhile, miles away, my biological parents, also struggled with infertility due to a diagnosis of endometriosis. Desperate to give their only daughter siblings, they turned to in vitro fertilization, or IVF treatments, and created 32 embryos. Four of those embryos were considered non-compatible with life and went home to be with the Lord. The doctors transferred four embryos and they became pregnant with triplets. They ended up donating four of their remaining embryos to an anonymous couple through their doctor, who did not get pregnant. Soon after the triplets were born, my biological parents miraculously became pregnant with a baby girl, their fifth and final child. They were now left with 20 lives on their hands, myself included; frozen, and left in tanks of liquid nitrogen, awaiting their next move. At this point, they were raising five children under the age of five and could not at this time parent any more remaining embryos.
My parents John and Marlene were set on getting opinions as whether adopting frozen embryos would adhere to biblical principles. They conferred with the late Dr. Charles Manske, the founding President of Concordia University Irvine, Pastor Bob Dargatz, who was a professor of Religion at Concordia at the time, and Dr. Sam Nafzger, Head of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in St. Louis. All of them came to the same conclusion: That God wants us to value all human life including frozen embryos. My parents also contacted Dr. James Dobson at Focus on the Family to get his opinion on the ethics of adopting frozen embryos. Dr. Dobson called my mom a week after my mom’s original contact. He apologized for taking so long to get back to her, and explained how he himself had to obtain counsel as he did not know what to tell her. He explained how he could not speak for God, however, he felt that it was morally acceptable to adopt frozen embryos if the original family was not going back for them.
My Mom and Dad immediately contacted long-time friend, Ron Stoddart, executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions regarding adopting frozen embryos. Ron was immediately on-board with the idea. My parents started a home study. By now, they were about 9 months into the journey, (this is 9 months after the original contact with Dr. Dobson), and no closer to finding a genetic family who wanted to place their embryos for adoption. Due to HIPPA laws (confidentiality of medical records), doctors are not allowed to give the names of people who had remaining frozen embryos left in storage. Dr. Dobson invited my parents to Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. He thought they might need a break from the emotional stress. He arranged for my parents to have lunch with the Director of the Crisis Pregnancy division at Focus. Six weeks later, the head counselor came to her office and said “I just got a phone call from a woman who has 20 frozen embryos she wants to place for adoption.” The director replied, “I know who the adopting family is!” That woman on the other end of the phone was my late biological mother. The counselor referred my biological parents to Nightlight Christian Adoptions and had them contact Ron Stoddart. God’s fingerprints were all over this.
My parents adopted my biological family’s remaining 20 embryos which was myself along with my 19 siblings. Once the paperwork was completed, we were shipped via Federal Express to my parent’s doctors’ office in California. My parents completed all the requirements for adoption for the State of California. At this time, in the state of California, frozen embryos were considered property. Legally, this was an exchange of property between both couples. My siblings and I had been frozen and awaiting a home for over two years and were blessed to finally fulfill our gift of life.
Frozen embryos are stored in straws, two or three to a straw in my case, and are preserved in tanks of liquid nitrogen. The doctor thawed one straw at a time. I was the only embryo out of 20 to survive the freeze, thaw, transfer, and implantation into my mother’s womb, and finally to birth. My mother is both my birth mom and my adoptive mom.
On December 31, 1998, my parents welcomed a healthy baby girl into the world – me! From my story, the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program was born. The program got its name from a line in a Christmas performance by the Lambs Players in San Diego. My parents, Ron Stoddart and his wife were in attendance and immediately recognized the line as one that correlated to frozen embryos: “In the intricate design of each flake of snow, we find the Creator reflecting the individual human heart.” Nightlight Christian Adoptions has been my second home in providing me a safe space to know that my existence started a movement of babies being saved from frozen orphanages all over the world, and a chance to fulfill their purpose, to live out their lives for God.
Snowflakes: In My Own Words
Hello, my name is Jonah Vest, a student at Clemson University. For me, being born through Snowflakes Adoption was something special.
It’s not every day you hear somebody say, “yeah I was actually frozen for 5 years!”. At the time I was applying for college, there was a lot of negative political stigma around the term “snowflake”, and that didn’t sit right with me. Snowflakes are something beautiful and each one perfectly unique. I felt the need to express what the true meaning of being a “snowflake” was. In my college essay I outlined what the political stigma meant and explained what being a “snowflake” meant for me.
It means life, love, opportunity, and most of all faith. Snowflakes adoption has not only literally brought me to life, but has granted my family with the opportunity they always dreamed of. I will forever be grateful for Snowflakes and the unique story it has given me, and I am proud to be called a Snowflake.
Meredith and Andy Gray were discouraged when they were diagnosed with unexplained
infertility. They had one child, but they wanted to grow their family. They took a chance in 2002
and adopted 12 frozen embryos. In October of 2003, the 41st Snowflake baby was born. My birth
brought a family joy in the dark pain of infertility. A couple years later, my parents got pregnant
on their own, and we became a family of five. My story was never a secret, and my parents were
sure that I knew. Most kids hide away from things that make them different, but I fully embraced
it. However, it did not mean I was free from insecurities. The Enemy used my insecurities to
plant seeds of uncertainty in my heart. There was a point where I wondered if I was loved less
for not being genetically related to the rest of my family. Unfortunately, this is not the only place
where I felt attacked. At school and by society, I was told that life begins at birth, despite science
proving otherwise. When embryos were labeled as merely “lumps of cells”, it made my life feel
invalidated. I had many conversations with people who vocally expressed that embryos were not
living humans, while still saying how amazing it was that I was alive and frozen for nearly six
years prior to my birth. Obviously, this is a stressful situation for anyone, but to have someone
tell you your life did not matter until you were born, is not an easy pill to swallow, and it was not
the end of my problems. “You’re different, you don’t belong” are words that lived in my head
well into my early teen years. Like most teens, I struggled with finding my identity, but it felt
bigger than that. I was not like other kids in my class because I was adopted, but my adoption did
not feel “real” because I was birthed by my adoptive mother. I sought out comfort in other
Snowflakes, but I was different from them too, for I am one of the first to be adopted as a
double-donor embryo. I was adopted from a lady who used both donor egg and sperm to have
children. My genetic “parents” did not even know each other, much less that they had a child. I
had genetic siblings, but my placing family did not have the structure of other Snowflake
families once again, I was different. I wanted a placing family, like the stories I had heard of
other Snowflakes. I wanted to find my family for years, without realizing I had one right in front
of me. I am so blessed that I was adopted by a family that supported me and my adoption. We
were with the families brought to the White House to oppose human Embryonic Stem Cell
Research, and that has reminded me that I am an advocate for second chances. My life could
have become results on a testing sheet, but I was given a second chance at life, which is
something for which I can never stop thanking God. Society tells us how important it is to fit in,
yet, throughout my story, I have always been different. But different is not something to be
ashamed of. As I have gotten older, I have jumped at the opportunity to share my story and what
makes me different. Also, I got the chance to meet my genetic siblings and the sperm donor. This
helped answer my questions and uncertainties, but it also reaffirmed that, even though we do not
share the same DNA, my family is those who know me and adopted me. I would be lying if I
said there have not been any hard days in accepting my adoption story, but it is all a part of
growth and discovering who I am. A way that has helped me is by celebrating my “embryo day”,
the day I was conceived, to honor my adoption and my embryo siblings that did not make it. I am
so thankful for the opportunities I have been given, as well as the relationships I have formed. I
have met some of my greatest friends through Snowflakes. At the end of the day, I can give
praise to God because I am His child made in His likeness. He made me to be unique, with a
story to shout from the mountaintops.