Patient Stories

Infertility and Embryo Adoption

Jul. 27, 2020

How the worst time in life became the best time for Kari and Chris Stewart.

Kari and Chris Stewart married in May 2014. They were both young at 22 and 28 years old respectively, marathon runners and in fantastic health. That December, they decided to try to build their family. They imagined the journey to start a family would be incredibly easy. They never realized how difficult, yet rewarding, their journey to having a child would actually be.

Kari did not become pregnant the first or second month. She was beside herself as the months continued on without becoming pregnant. Having a baby was all she really wanted in life.

In September 2015, Kari had an appointment with her OB/GYN, who agreed to start basic testing. It quickly became clear that nothing looked out of the ordinary with her health, so the doctor suggested a semen analysis for Chris.

“In Chris' entire semen sample, only six sperm were identified. And of the six, only one of them was moving,” Kari shared. “For reference, a typical man has 40 to 300 million sperm in a single sample.”

Kari and Chris realized becoming pregnant was not going to be easy, and might be impossible. They were devastated.

Kari’s OB/GYN recommended seeing a specialist who deals with male factor infertility. After a quick consultation, they left with a three-month plan: strict dietary and lifestyle changes, a litany of vitamin supplements and a prescription for Clomid, a medication used to try to increase Chris’ testosterone levels. In December 2015, Chris had a repeat semen analysis and they were hopeful to find a miraculous change over the past 90 days. But once again, results were not optimal. In his entire sample, there were seven sperm, and none were moving.

Considering the condition was male factor infertility, the doctor did not believe Kari and Chris would be candidates for assisted reproductive technology procedures, such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or IVF with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), which both involve a collection of eggs and sperm from each partner to achieve fertilization.

Kari and Chris were asked if they wanted a brochure on traditional domestic and international adoption or a sperm donor.

Finding themselves at a complete loss of what to do, Kari and Chris had no one to help them navigate the situation. They decided to seek a second opinion at another reproductive endocrinology and infertility practice in Cincinnati. Physicians there completed an evaluation and agreed with the initial findings. The message was that IVF was not in the cards for them. Sperm donation was suggested once again.

After seeking counsel from friends, family and their pastor, Kari and Chris ultimately felt like a sperm donor was not the right choice for them. “We wanted to enter parenthood on even footing, and we couldn't anticipate what that biological difference in parenting would do to our marriage long term,” the couple shared.

“Doors kept shutting, one by one. Until after receiving a tip from my mom, we called Snowflakes Embryo Adoption,” Kari explained. “They gave us the first ‘yes’ we had heard in months.”

Embryo Adoption Becomes the Perfect Solution

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.

On the other hand, 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.

“We immediately knew that this path was the best one for us, and we began the process. Ultimately, we adopted 14 beautiful embryos,” Kari said. “I could experience pregnancy, and we could have children!” For Kari and Chris, they viewed the donated embryos as blessings who would be ‘neither of ours’ so that they were equally ‘both of ours.’

Kari and Chris experienced one final road block - the reproductive endocrinology and infertility practice they visited for their second opinion refused to accept the embryos. Kari and Chris now possessed embryos without a doctor who was willing to help them. “The thought of never having a child was the death of a dream,” Kari explained.

Luckily, Kari and Chris were led to the UC Health Center for Reproductive Health. Kari called, being sure to ask very specifically about UC Health's willingness to partner with the embryo adoption center to help build their family. 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, immediately and eagerly agreed to help them.  

“Our practice is truly unique in our ability to provide patients with all versions of fertility options,” Dr. Thakore said.

Also serving as the center’s director of the Third Party Reproduction Program, Dr. Thakore is thrilled that UC Health is able to offer this reproductive option to all of its patients. “It’s sometimes very difficult for a patient to come to terms with their infertility diagnosis,” Dr. Thakore said. “But, it’s very important for us to introduce third-party options (donor egg, donor sperm, gestational carriers and embryo adoption) to our patients to help them complete their journey and achieve the family they always dreamed of having.”

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.

“I met Kari at her initial consult to discuss embryo adoption, soon after first starting as a physician at UC Health,” Dr. Thakore shared. “Kari and Chris will always hold a special place in my heart because they are the first couple that I provided care to who were interested in embryo adoption through an adoption agency. This was a process that I was familiar with between people that know each other, however I had never worked with a larger agency to provide these services.”

Kari and Chris started working with Dr. Thakore at the end of 2016. “She is the epitome of professionalism,” the couple said.

Kari and Chris’ fertility journey prior to arriving at her office was full of complications and new discoveries that seemed to only strengthen their love and bond for each other. Their complete dedication to the embryo adoption process was the reason Dr. Thakore was very supportive of this treatment option. She became a true advocate for embryo adoption in general. “Kari’s desire to provide an opportunity for life for an embryo that was not destined to be used gave me new insight into an underlying concept and dilemma that exists within our infertility world,” Dr. Thakore said. “I am so happy and blessed that they chose me and UC Health.”

In February 2017, Chris and Kari’s 14 frozen and unique "snowflake babies" arrived at UC Health’s West Chester Campus.

Kari and Chris had their first frozen embryo transfer (FET), which sadly resulted in a biochemical pregnancy, a very early miscarriage that occurs within the first five weeks of gestation. Once again, they felt temporarily defeated.

Biochemical pregnancies are very difficult to endure for patients, as they are considered miscarriages just like other pregnancy losses. Dr. Thakore stated that helping patients with the grieving process is essential. “After the miscarriage, it was Dr. Thakore’s suggestion that we see a counselor, which finally helped me realize that infertility is a very, very difficult diagnosis,” said Kari. “Dr. Thakore helped me to feel that my pain was validated, and I will never forget that. We are forever thankful for her care.”

To Dr. Thakore, it is also very important to underline and highlight that that a successful pregnancy was achieved. In many individuals, the ability to even have a positive pregnancy test is a major hurdle to overcome. “Having a biochemical pregnancy means that a pregnancy can occur. It is important to promote optimism and trust in the process.”

“We have so much trust in her medical opinion, even if it wasn't what we wanted to hear,” said Kari. “When we started giving up, Dr. Thakore suggested we try again.”

They did, and that second transfer resulted in their firetruck and dinosaur-loving, outdoorsy son, Miles, who turned 2 years old in May 2020.

“The UC Health Center for Reproductive Health believed in us when no other clinic did. Dr. Thakore said ‘yes’ to building our family when other doctors told us ‘no’. Dr. Thakore never lost hope that we would be parents.”

One Journey Leads to Another

Kari went through four embryo transfers, two miscarriages and has one beautiful 2-year-old boy.

Through this embryo adoption journey, Kari decided she wanted to help another couple achieve these ups and downs of parenting. “I have all of these eggs and we’re certainly not using them!” Kari said.

While Kari and Chris were ready to try for a baby again in December 2019, Kari felt a very strong desire to first donate her eggs to another couple. “I'm 28, so if I were to get pregnant and breastfeed for a year, I would be 30 years old, which in some cases, is too old to donate.” She shared her thoughts with Dr. Thakore, fully expecting she would say no. Instead, Dr. Thakore was excited by the idea. “She was 100% behind my decision, helped me connect with a donor agency, and was with me every step of the way. I was matched with a family in January 2020.”

Kari was slated to start the donation process in March 2020, but it was indefinitely delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Waiting was extremely hard knowing I could have transferred in December, but I chose to wait and donate instead. We almost gave up so many times. Ultimately, I couldn't (and wouldn't) back out on the family who was counting on me,” said Kari.

Kari was finally cleared to start again in late May 2020. She responded perfectly to the egg donation medications and was able to give away 22 eggs.

With the egg donation complete, it was time for Kari and Chris to focus once again on growing their family. They transferred two embryos. “We took some at-home pregnancy tests six days after the transfer and received our first hint that we were pregnant,” they said. “Two rounds of blood work confirmed we were pregnant, and staying pregnant!”

Kari is now nine weeks pregnant with their second baby.

In the coming year, Kari and Chris plan on starting a “Snowflake Scholarship” at the West Chester Campus with the money from Kari’s egg donation to financially help other couples in similar situations.

“We are grateful that the ups and downs of parenting are ours to have, despite the odds and with the support of UC Health,” the couple shared. “The ups and downs can be yours, too.”

To schedule a consultation with the UC Health Center for Reproductive Health, please call 513-475-7600.