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For the Least of These: An Embryo Adoption Journey

When Armand and Jelaine Fondren adopted their youngest two children, they didn’t have a home study. No one checked their references or sought to ensure they would be fit parents, ready to give the new members of their family a warm and loving home. They didn’t need the aid of an adoption agency, or a social worker.

Instead the children were signed over to their new parents as property. Legally, the Fondrens were considered owners, not parents. The process was simpler than purchasing a car on Craigslist.

The Fondrens’ children were not rescued from the foster system. They were not listed on adoption web sites. They were among the millions of leftover children stored in freezers across the United States. Excess children. Extra children. Children who were no longer needed once their parents’ reproductive goals were achieved.

“The paperwork highlights how dehumanizing it is,” Armand Fondren said. “It’s not like adoption where there are thousands of dollars and legal processes. We signed quick paperwork on our iPhone and now we’re the owners of three babies… Not ‘hey now you’re taking stewardship of these children’, but ‘you’re now the owner of this property that’s in a freezer.’”

During the IVF process, a sperm sample is manually inserted into the egg in a laboratory.

Children such as these are the collateral damage created by the in vitro fertilization (IVF) industry. In the IVF process, parents who struggle with infertility pay to have children artificially created in a laboratory and subsequently transferred to the mother’s womb. Couples often create more embryos than they need, in case the first few die during the transfer. When the parents have finished trying to bear the children, any excess embryos are locked away in freezers, donated to science to be experimented on, or discarded and destroyed.

Abolitionists recognize these frozen children as humans – image bearers of God – and seek to rescue them by adoption. But because the IVF industry is sustained by an attitude that views these young children not as humans but as commodities – accessories to fulfill their parents’ unmet desires – the process of placing these orphans in homes looks more like a DMV transaction than an adoption.

Fondren FamilyJelaine and Armand Fondren have both been Christians since they were very young. They met in college, and married in 2004. Since then they’ve had three children – 8-year-old Trey, 6-year-old Penelope, and 4-year-old Oliver.

In 2012, Jelaine began seeing Facebook posts from a friend who shared Abolish Human Abortion memes, and talked about his experiences at his local abortion clinic. “There was a clinic near where we lived and I thought ‘Man, I should be doing something’ but I didn’t know how to go about starting to do something on my own with three kids,” she told the Liberator.

Then, at a homeschool conference in Omaha, she met an abolitionist who had set up an information booth at the conference and began to ask him questions. According to Fondren, the abolitionist introduced her to ideas she had not yet considered, such as suggesting that voting pro-life was not only insufficient but in many cases actually wicked.

“We happened by (his) booth and I thought, ‘You are who I’ve been looking for,’” she said.

“It took me longer to be discerning and be like ‘Who is this guy?’” Armand said. “But we grew to love those guys (The Abolitionist Society of Omaha). If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be where we are now.”

After the Fondrens became abolitionists themselves they learned about IVF, discovered that there are millions of orphans stored in freezers nationwide, and learned that abolitionists often adopt these children, opening their wombs and homes to rescue them from the freezers.

Jelaine was immediately inspired, and hoped the couple could eventually adopt embryos themselves. “I have pretty easy pregnancies but we were having our own children and we weren’t going to stop the natural process to have them,” she said. “But God closed my womb temporarily so we decided to try.”

“We were introduced to the Harmons and many others who had gone through the (embryo adoption process),” Armand said. “God was moving on our hearts specifically… It’s something Jelaine had come to me several times about in passing and one day she said, ‘I think we should do this’”.

Within a week, the Fondrens learned that a friend of a friend had three embryos in need of adoption. The children’s biological parents were unable to give a home to the embryos themselves due to some complications from their first few rounds of IVF. The Fondrens joyfully responded to the opportunity.

The couple who donated the embryos contacted their fertility doctor, who would perform the transfer.

To prepare for the transfer, Jelaine took birth control for a month to regulate her cycle, underwent an examination of her uterus, hormone treatments including progesterone and estrogen, and growth hormone shots.

Finally, on March 3, the doctor transferred two embryos to Jelaine’s womb.

“It was an interesting process,” Armand said. “You sit down with the doctor and the doctor brings a printout of the babies and here they are. A little clump of cells.”

According to Armand, the image the doctor showed them clearly demonstrated one very healthy embryo and a second who looked less healthy. “(We) could see some cells sloughing off and a smaller nucleus of good cells,” he said. The doctor explained that the baby could still be viable, but gave them the option of excluding the less healthy embryo from the transfer.

Fondren Embryos
The Fondren’s two adopted children, the day they were transferred to their mother’s womb. The doctor pointed out that the embryo on the right is healthier than his or her sibling, and gave the Fondrens the option to discard the less healthy child.

“This is where someone doing the IVF process, for the best chance of getting pregnant, would discard the baby,” Armand said. “We said absolutely we want to transfer both of these babies.”

The decision gave Jelaine the opportunity to share her heart with the doctor, explaining that the Fondrens viewed both children as precious image bearers, who both deserved the best possible chance for a loving home, and that discarding either was unthinkable.

Embryos are typically frozen at five days old. The Fondren babies were thawed the day of the transfer, and picked up their development where they had left it off five years earlier. During days 5–7 of natural human development, the embryo would have had time to travel down the fallopian tube and naturally implant on the uterine wall. As children created in a lab forego a portion of this process, Jelaine stayed on bed rest for several days to give the children the best chance to implant.

After 14 days a blood test confirmed that Jelaine was pregnant. At 8 weeks, she had an ultrasound. Sadly, only one of the babies had survived – though whether it was the healthy or the damaged embryo, they will never know.

The embryo who survived the transfer is now developing in his or her mother’s womb and is due Nov. 18.

“We recognized that God is sovereign in that process and we trusted both His justice and His graciousness in that,” Armand said. Though he admitted he and Jelaine felt unprepared to care for twins, they were both grieved that they were unable to provide a safe home for both babies.

“But we tried,” Jelaine said. “We did our best to give that second baby a chance and we know that God is sovereign.”

The Fondrens are expecting to meet their adopted little one in person Nov. 18. They said the adoption process has afforded them many opportunities to spread the message of abolition, and to enlighten friends and family about IVF and its consequences.

According to Jelaine, most people have never thought about IVF as a process that dehumanizes children, creating and destroying human beings and treating them as commodities. She said she welcomes the opportunity to shed light on the subject before couples find themselves tempted to participate in IVF. “Once you’re in the infertility place, and passionately wanting a child… if you haven’t thought about how far you are willing to go, it’s really easy to justify anything,” she said.