Patient Stories

Hope Comes Through Embryo Adoption

Apr. 20, 2021

Multiple fertility challenges led Jenn and Scott Wagner on a hopeful journey.

Army veteran Jenn Wagner was 38 years old when she and her husband, Scott, married in October 2015. As a veteran, Jenn was familiar with facing challenges. However, she was not exactly prepared for the challenge lying ahead to start a family.

Scott and Jenn began trying to build their family just a month after they married. However, natural conception did not work after six months of trying, so Jenn sought treatment at William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.

As part of her Veterans Affairs (VA) medical benefits, Jenn was entitled to several rounds of intrauterine insemination (IUI), a fertility treatment that places sperm in the uterus during ovulation. After IUI failed, Jenn learned from her local fertility clinic in Madison that there was a VA program that covered in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment for qualified veterans. VA IVF/ART benefits for eligible Veterans cover 6 attempts or 3 cycles of IVF. During IVF, sperm and egg are combined outside the body in a lab. The embryo(s) is then transferred to the uterus. After researching this program, Jenn learned that she qualified and was approved for the program, entitling her to four rounds of IVF. 

Because this was a program with specific VA funding, Jenn and Scott were given a short list of clinics to consider. Believed to be the closest clinic to their Wisconsin home, Jenn and Scott were introduced to the UC Health Center for Reproductive Health, a participating clinic, and Suruchi S. Thakore, MD, medical director of in-vitro fertilization at UC Health and assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

The UC Health Center for Reproductive Health is the only comprehensive academic patient care center in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky that focuses on fertility and reproductive disorders. Their mission is to provide advanced reproductive, endocrine and fertility care in a supportive, compassionate and patient-centered environment.

Traveling the Tough Road to Pregnancy

In late 2017, Jenn, currently a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve and an employee travel coordinator at the Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital in Madison, and her husband, Scott, an assembler at GE Healthcare, traveled from Wisconsin to UC Health’s West Chester Hospital Campus for the first time. They were nervous, yet excited, for their initial consultation and testing. Their visit ended with a plan for their first round of IVF to begin in early 2018.

IVF involves a great deal of specific timing for medications and monitoring procedures. “When we began IVF at West Chester Hospital, it took a lot of planning for each cycle and a significant amount of time away from work, and that part couldn’t be planned,” Jenn shared. But she and Scott decided it was well worth it to travel to Ohio. “We loved the staff at the clinic, so we kept at it!”

Jenn shared her experience with four rounds of IVF treatment.

  • First round of IVF (Winter 2018): “Dr. Thakore prescribed medications, due to my age, in order to recruit and grow as many follicles/eggs as possible. My body did not respond and there was no egg retrieval.”
  • Second round of IVF (Spring 2018): “We changed medication protocol and were able to schedule an egg retrieval. However, it appeared that I had ovulated between the trigger shot and the egg retrieval surgery, so again, no eggs were retrieved.”
  • Third round of IVF (Summer 2018): “We stayed with the same medication protocol and proceeded with an egg retrieval. Although two eggs were retrieved, one was too immature to fertilize and the other one did not fertilize properly. No embryos were created, so no embryo transfer occurred.”
  • Fourth round of IVF (Summer 2018): “During the pre-egg retrieval testing, it was discovered that my hormone levels were not ideal for egg retrieval, so the cycle was converted to an IUI cycle to give us another chance to achieve a pregnancy. The IUI was not successful.”

In August 2018, after these four IVF attempts, Jenn believed it was clear that her body was not going to cooperate in producing enough healthy eggs to create embryos. Although each failure was disappointing and frustrating, Jenn shared that, for the most part, they moved further along in the process each time. 

A Road Less Traveled: Embryo Adoption

For many patients and couples receiving IVF, more embryo(s) are often created and cryopreserved (frozen) than are used to successfully complete one’s family. Embryo donation involves using another individual’s or couple’s embryo(s) that were produced from previous IVF cycle(s) in order to conceive. These remaining embryo(s) are sometimes donated, providing a unique opportunity to help other individuals or couples experience pregnancy and childbirth.

“Dr. Thakore recommended embryo adoption, which we had never heard of before,” shared Jenn.

What is embryo adoption?

Embryo adoption allows the family with remaining embryos to select a recipient family for their embryo gift. The adopting family can then use the donated embryos to achieve a pregnancy and give birth to their adopted child. It’s a way to adopt and experience pregnancy.

“Learning about embryo adoption from Dr. Thakore was very uplifting,” Jenn said. “It gave us hope.”

Jenn and Scott learned that UC Health was a partner with the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program. “We all agreed that adopting embryos would be the best option for us to achieve a pregnancy.”

Just one month later, Jenn and Scott entered the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program. In February 2019, they were matched with two families and adopted a total of four embryos.

That fall, Jenn and Scott would begin the embryo transfer process.

  • First embryo transfer (August 2019) resulted in a pregnancy; however, Jenn miscarried at eight weeks.
  • Second embryo transfer (December 2019) resulted in a biochemical pregnancy (positive pregnancy test, but no baby developing).
  • Third embryo transfer (initially scheduled for March/April 2020, but rescheduled to June 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions) resulted in a negative pregnancy test (embryo did not implant).
  • Fourth embryo transfer (September 2020) resulted in the embryo not surviving the thawing process, so there was no embryo transfer.

Sadly, Jenn and Scott did not have any embryos remaining. However, someone else did.

Another Chance

As with many fertility journeys, the original plan may not have worked, and they tried to come up with another plan.

Jenn recalled a conversation she had with another UC Health patient just before entering the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program, who had shared with her that she had remaining embryos.

In September 2020, Jenn and Scott contacted the patient. “We said that if they were still interested in donating their embryos, we would gladly adopt them,” shared Jenn. By that November, the patient’s embryos were transferred to the UC Health Center for Reproductive Health. On Dec. 10, 2020, Jenn had her first frozen embryo transfer.

“After our experience with the UC Health Center for Reproductive Health with IVF, we chose to continue our treatment with the frozen embryo transfers,” explained Jenn. “Even when there were local fertility clinics in our area that we could’ve worked with, we chose UC Health.”

“As of April 19, 2021, I am in my 21st week of pregnancy,” Jenn shared excitedly. “I am due on August 28, and we just found out we are having a baby girl!”

Like many fertility patients, the journey has not been easy for Jenn and Scott. Although they had to make many trips to Ohio to get where they are today, and have endured many challenges on their journey, they were always excited to see the staff at the UC Health Center for Reproductive Health. “We felt like they were family to us, and that they were always happy to see us.” No matter if they were traveling to Ohio for a baseline ultrasound, a lining check ultrasound and bloodwork, an egg retrieval procedure or an actual embryo transfer, they always had hope for success.

Jenn and Scott made sure to ask a lot of questions and tried to be patient with the process. “Know that it’s OK to not want to pursue every option there is to becoming parents…you have to choose the path that’s right for you and your family.”

Because embryo adoption is a relatively unknown fertility option, Jenn decided to become a strong advocate and educator. While it may not be the right choice for everyone, she explained that knowing it exists as an option can be life-changing.

“We are thankful for the incredible gifts of donated embryos that we have received from these three families. We know that of all of the embryos we have adopted and transferred during our fertility journey, these last embryos we adopted are without a doubt the embryos that were meant to make us parents,” shared Jenn and Scott. “Though we may not always understand it, God has a plan.”