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.