A couple in Tennessee just set the record for the oldest frozen embryo that resulted in a healthy baby. But, to new parents Benjamin and Tina Gibson, the miracle is the newborn herself.
“I just wanted a baby,” Tina tells CNN. “I don't care if it's a world record or not... We're just so thankful and blessed.”
Still, the story of how baby Emma Wren came to be is a remarkable celebration of modern science: According to the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC), embryos for Emma and four of her siblings were frozen more than 20 years ago from an anonymous couple with the hope the “snowbabies” could eventually be transferred via in vitro fertilization to an adoptive mother.
When Tina learned the embryo that would become Emma was frozen when Tina herself was just 18 months, she says she was shocked and rightfully amazed.
“Do you realize I'm only 25? This embryo and I could have been best friends,” Tina recalls of her reaction.
Previously, the oldest known embryo that was frozen, thawed and resulted in a live birth was 20 years old. Carol Sommerfelt, NEDC lab director, tells local station WISH that the Gibsons’ experience should give others hope.
“It is deeply moving and highly rewarding to see that embryos frozen 24.5 years ago using the old, early cryopreservation techniques of slow freezing on day one of development at the pronuclear stage can result in 100 percent survival of the embryos with a 100 percent continued proper development to the day-3 embryo stage.”
Most of the embryos at the NEDC were donated from couples who pursued IVF and had remaining embryos after completing their families. Still, the barriers are high, as there are extensive donor screenings, regulations and legal steps.
But, for families like the Gibsons, the gifts of donated embryos from other couples are invaluable. Speaking with CNN, Tina says they were at peace with the real possibility she would never be able to have a pregnancy because Benjamin has cystic fibrosis, which commonly causes infertility.
After marrying seven years ago, the couple began fostering children and spoke about eventually adopting. Then Tina’s dad mentioned the work at the nearby NEDC. “I was like, ‘Well, that's nice, Dad, but we're not interested. We're knee-deep in foster care right now,’” Tina tells CNN.
Despite initially shrugging it off, the suggestion stuck with Tina and Benjamin, who eventually decided to submit an embryo adoption application. When that was approved, they eagerly moved ahead—through a process that involved a “mock transfer” to determine viability and a home study with the couple.
Once they got the all-clear, the Gibsons were left to review some 300 donor profiles. They selected their family based on compatible heights and weights. Only when they “were fixing to go for the transfer” did they learn about the record-setting possibility.
Embryos for Emma and two siblings were transferred to Tina in March, with only Emma’s implanting, which is common for any age of embryos. After a largely uncomplicated pregnancy, Emma was born on Nov. 25, at a healthy 6 pounds, 8 ounces and 20 inches.
As for whether Emma will be joined by siblings, Tina says she’s glad they have options between the remaining embyros they adopt and traditional adoption.
“We wanted to adopt, and I don't know that that isn't going to be in our future,” Tina says. “This just ended up being the route that we took. I think that we would have been equally elated if were able to adopt.”
Congratulations to the family. All babies are miracles—but Emma especially!