WEST FARGO — A couple here recently expanded their family in a way that’s far from ordinary.
Travis and Jamie Reimche “adopted” a frozen embryo — the product of another couple’s in vitro fertilization procedure.
The embryo’s journey to life was a long time in the making. It was frozen, in cryopreservation, for more than five years before being thawed and transferred to Jamie Reimche’s womb in March 2018.
The mother gave birth last November to a 6 pound, 13 ounce girl they named Liberty, who joined older sisters Madysen, 16, and Jenna, 14, at home.
“This child was waiting for us before we were even thinking about being ready for her to join our family,” Jamie Reimche said.
The pregnancy was made possible through the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) in Knoxville, Tenn., a faith-based nonprofit organization. The total cost of an "embryo adoption" is usually less than $10,000, according to the group's website.
There are said to be countless numbers of frozen embryos, also known as fertilized eggs, in storage across the country due to the success of IVF.
Dr. Jeffrey Keenan, president and medical director of the NEDC, said far more embryos are being created than couples can use, and for many, discarding them is not a good option. “It leaves a lot of folks in quite a quandary,” Keenan said.
Being able to receive a donated embryo was a perfect fit for the Reimches, whose faith runs deep. “We’ve been blessed with the means and the ability and the hearts to make a difference,” Travis Reimche said.
Now, they find themselves on opposite ends of the parenting spectrum, buying a car for their eldest and an infant car seat for their youngest.
Searching embryo 'profiles'
The Reimches struggled with infertility after their first two daughters were born and eventually came to terms with knowing they wouldn’t have more biological children.
They began exploring other options and came across the NEDC. The couple applied for the process, and Jamie, 43, received assurance through medical tests that she was healthy enough to endure a pregnancy.
Then, the two went through hundreds of available profiles, looking for embryos belonging to families active in sports, music and higher education — qualities that are important to them.
“It’s a process of us selecting and choosing and then the family choosing us back,” Jamie Reimche said.
Both sides also have to agree on whether they want a closed or open arrangement, or somewhere in between. They opted for middle ground, with set times for communication and the idea that Liberty can meet her biological parents if she wishes once she turns 18.
When it came to the procedure itself, the Reimches had two of the other couple’s embryos transferred. Excited but nervous about the possibility of having twins, ultimately only one embryo “took.”
Screening of couples
The NEDC has requirements for couples receiving donated embryos, some of which fall in line with its Christian belief system. Among them: Couples must be a genetic male and a genetic female married for at least three years.
The center also requires couples to pass a comprehensive home study done by a state-licensed adoption agency.
That process can help weed out anyone trying to seek out a “designer baby,” Keenan said. The center has experienced that before, he said, and subsequently disqualified those patients from the program.
Embryos can be frozen indefinitely, and Keenan said the NEDC holds the record for bringing a frozen embryo out of cryopreservation. In 2017, a Tennessee woman treated at the center gave birth to a baby whose embryo had been frozen for nearly 25 years.
The Reimches are in awe of the whole process and hope other couples faced with infertility will consider having a child from a donated embryo.
“It’s an option that I think not many people know about, and it’s amazing,” Jamie Reimche said.