History was made in October when a woman gave birth to twin babies created from the longest-frozen embryos in the world. Born October 31, 2022, the twins’ embryos were actually conceived in 1992. 30 years later, these embryos finally became living, breathing babies. This is their story.
Twin Babies Born From The Longest Frozen Embryos In History
There are many ways to have children if a couple are unable to conceive themselves. One of those ways is through embryo donation. This refers to the process of being artificially inseminated with embryos that have been frozen since their conception. The Ridgeway twins, born on Halloween of this year, are the result of just that. They are special, however, because they were not born from any frozen embryos, but rather, the longest-frozen embryos in the world. (1)
In 1992, an anonymous married couple was trying to conceive via in vitro fertilization. The husband was in his 50s and the couple used a 34-year-old egg donor. In this process, often there are embryos created that do not end up being used. In this case, there were five. These extra embryos went into storage on the west coast. They stayed there until 2007, when the original donors decided to give them to the National Embryo Donation Center in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was there that Philip and Rachel Ridgeway went when they heard about embryo donation.
Not Looking To Break Records
The Ridgeways were not looking or trying to break any records with the birth of their twins, Lydia and Timothy. Already with four naturally conceived children of their own, they simply felt called to have more when they first read about embryo donation.
“We’ve never had in our minds a set number of children we’d like to have,” Philip said. “We’ve always thought we’ll have as many as God wants to give us, and … when we heard about embryo adoption, we thought that’s something we would like to do.”
The couple says that they weren’t looking for the embryos that had been frozen the longest in the world, specifically. Rather, they just wanted the ones that had been waiting for the longest. They specifically asked the donation center about the category “special consideration”, meaning that for whatever reason, it had been difficult to find recipients for these embryos.
Next, they went through the database to pick their embryos. It doesn’t show how long the embryos had been frozen. Rather, the list focuses on the donors’ characteristics, such as ethnicity, age, height, weight, genetic and health history, education, and occupation. They often even include the donors’ favorite music and movies, and sometimes include a photo of the donor family, including any children that they might already have. The Ridgeways said they assumed those listed with earlier donor numbers had been there the longest and tried to narrow their selection down to those ones. They ended up choosing 30-year-old embryos.
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How It Works
Embryo freezing first starts by removing the eggs from the uterus and fertilizing them to create embryos. The scientists wait a few days and then freeze them. They use a process called vitrification, which replaces the water in the embryo cells with a protectant fluid. They then flash-freeze the embryos using liquid nitrogen to prevent the formation of ice crystals, which could damage the embryos’ cells. They are then stored and monitored in specific locations until there is a recipient available who wants to undergo insemination. Experts say they can be frozen pretty much indefinitely. (2)
“If you’re frozen at nearly 200 degrees below zero, I mean, the biological processes essentially slow down to almost nothing. And so perhaps the difference between being frozen for a week, a month, a year, a decade, two decades, it doesn’t really matter,” said the Ridgeway’s doctor James Gordon.
When there is a recipient ready, the embryos are thawed and the female is inseminated. This can be the donor couple or someone else. After that, it is a waiting game to see if the embryo or embryos are successful.
Embryo Donation, Not Adoption
Often you will hear people referring to this process familiarly as embryo adoption. Experts, however, say that this is a misnomer. Adoption, they say, is reserved for when a family relationship between a child and parent or parents is established that didn’t exist before. This child occurs after that child is already born. This is why it is called embryo donation – because the embryo is transferred into the body of the parent who then grows and gives birth to that child.
“Adoption refers to living children,” Dr. Sigal Klipstein, a Chicago-based fertility specialist and chair of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine’s ethics committee. “It’s a legal process by which a parent-child relationship is created when it did not previously exist… (embryo donation is) a way by which we take embryos from one couple or individual and then transfer them into another individual in order to build families.”
A Happy Ending
Of the five oldest embryos that the Ridgeway family picked, three of them were viable when thawed. Doctors suggested to them that they only insert two, because the chances of having multiples, and therefore complications, gets much higher. Rachel, however, said that once she saw the photos of each of the three embryos, she knew she had to try all three. Two of those embryos were successful, and nine months later she gave birth to healthy twins Lydia and Timothy. (3)
“There is something mind-boggling about it,” Philip Ridgeway told CNN. “I was 5 years old when God gave life to Lydia and Timothy, and he’s been preserving that life ever since.”
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