Thursday, March 6, 2008

Book Review: Embryo Donation and Embryo Adoption, Loving Choices for Christians

Embryo Donation and Embryo Adoption, Loving Choices for Christians, by John and Sylvia Van Regenmorter, is a book with a noble purpose. It aspires to educate readers on both sides of the Embryo Adoption process--the processes involved for both the Genetic and Adopting Parents. I was excited to discover such a recently written book on the subject, and purchased it earlier this year.

However, as a tool for anyone who has more than a cursory knowledge of the process, this book is unhelpful.

First, the book is not at all scholarly. While the conversational tone and simplistic writing make it easy to read, it results in underdeveloped logic and assertions. Almost nothing is cited, and they offer strong opinion statements about about anonymous donation and about the level of openness in adoptions without any depth, substantiation or development. It is irresponsible to make blanket statements about the morality or Christian-ness (or lack thereof) of certain choices if one is not going to take the time to logically outline and support those statements. Where they do offer explanation, I found the logical arguments to be weak. For example, in their case for open adoption, they offer that it will be satisfying to the adoptive parents to know "Maybe that explains why he enjoys hunting while I have never owned a gun." I have never met anyone who thought gun ownership was hereditary and frankly, that example doesn't even make logical sense. There may be good reasons for open adoption, and there may be good comforts to the adoptive parents, but this is not one of them. And since they only presented two examples for how open adoption benefits the adoptive parents, and the other example was almost as weak, I would have preferred they leave the subject closed altogether because it was wholly insufficient to offer any useful examination of the topic.

Further reinforcing my impression of the nonacademic nature of this book was the casual, inconsistent, and almost lazy way sources in their "research" list were offered. I try hard not to fault a book for not being something it wasn't intended to be, and I realize this was not designed to be a lengthy treatise (the book is only 50 pages), but in this case, a more responsible, researched and detailed explanation was the only way to properly handle this subject from the beginning.

Second, it is very evident that the authors have very little personal knowledge of or experience with Embryo Adoption. I found their summation of why couples might choose Embryo Adoption (over traditional adoption) to be superficial at best, which indicated to me that they spent little time trying to understand the hearts of Embryo Adoption Parents. It is true that I have some of the reasons they mentioned as my own reasons for pursuing Embryo Adoption, but as soon as I read their explanation of those reasons, I was frustrated with their obviously underdeveloped or non-existent understanding of the actual thoughts of people who have truly been there. This was solidified by the fact that there are virtually no interviews with or references to real families who have adopted embryos. The only reference to real people is a short anecdote about a Genetic family and even that is too brief to be useful. This book would have been stronger if written by someone with first hand knowledge of the process, be it a donating parent, adoptive parent or employee/volunteer specifically of an organization's Embryo program.

Third, the book focuses almost exclusively on Bethany Christian Services. While I think what Bethany does is admirable, they have only been publicly active in the Embryo Adoption world since 2005, and so are most definitely not the experts, nor do they have the historical foundation to offer much depth of perspective. If one endeavors to write a "primer" on something, one should consult the experts, or at the very least, multiple sources. This wouldn't have even troubled me as much as it does were it not for the glaring evidence that they did not even attempt to understand the programs of other organizations, including the pioneer of Embryo Adoption, Nightlight Christian Adoption Agency. This was communicated through subtle nuances such as referring to the "Snowflakes Organization" (no such entity exists), their claim that some organizations such as Nightlight, "will accept a traditional-adoption homestudy for their embryo adoption program," (which is contrasted with the fact that Nightlight requires a traditional homestudy), the fact that their outline of the Embryo Adoption Process for Adoptive Parents describes only Bethany's process and the fact that their index in the back describes Bethany in depth and Nightlight in just 5 sentences, three of which are exact duplicates of Nightlight's own description of its statistics, easily available on their website and with no direct interpersonal contact with Nightlight required. I really doubt that these authors communicated at all with anyone from Nightlight, which I think is a gross oversight considering the fact that not only did Nightlight pioneer the concept of Embryo Adoption, they have been facilitating these adoptions for 11 years, and have had hundreds of successful placements and births in that time wherein Bethany's number can realistically be no higher than the dozens, given the youth of their program.

Toward the end of the book, they even admit their bias for Bethany (page 42) which in my opinion is completely inappropriate in a book presented as a neutral primer. I would really not have purchased the book had I known it was a case for Bethany in disguise, not because I dislike Bethany, but because we have already decided on Nightlight and in fact, Bethany does not even exist in my state.

However, even AS a case for Bethany's Embryo Adoption Program, I still find the book to be largely useless. Bethany's own website has a much more thorough explanation of their process, and consulting it is free, whereas this book is $13.

Additionally, this book is written exclusively for the adult members of the adoption triad. Thus, the book is also not terribly useful as a primer for third parties such as friends, family or pastors of donating or adopting families or even activists wishing to educate themselves on the options available in their area of interest be it science, adoption awareness or pro-life campaigning.

It should also be noted that this book promotes Embryo Adoption (Homestudy, Court Certification, Matching, etc) exclusively. The reference to "Embryo Donation" in the title refers exclusively to the act of donating done by the Genetic parents, and not to the anonymous/semi-anonymous Embryo Donation process that is offered by many fertility clinics.

My suggestion for anyone considering Embryo Adoption or Donation would be to consult resources such as google searches, the Embryo Adoption Awareness Campaign, ASRM and Hannah's Prayer Infertility Ministries. Consult facilitation programs directly (the big three are Nightlight Christian Adoption Agency in California, Bethany Christian Services based in Michigan, and the National Embryo Donation Center) and request information about their specific processes and requirements. From that information, choose a program and proceed with contact with them. This book is neither generic enough to be a useful introduction or primer for the completely uninformed, or detailed enough to offer new or robust information to anyone who has done even a little bit of research already.


  1. They actually have a book out about embryo adoption? That's great! Embryo donation and adoption was the only reason I was okay with doing IVF. Until I had learned about it, IVF was not an option for us because I could not bear to know that we may have embryos left over someday if we were blessed to have a couple of children and had embryos left over. I don't know if we'll ever get to that point, but I could only move forward knowing that if we did there were good options available to help other infertile couples like us. Embryo adoption is a beautiful process and I can't wait to hear more about your journey. Hope all is well...let me know how you're doing when you get a chance,

    lots of hugs,

  2. I went back and read some of your other entries - I'm intrigued by your pursuit of a degree in Christian Apologetics. I think that explains your very thoughtful analysis of this new book on Embryo Donation and Adoption. I appreciated your insights. I tried to get pregnant for 8 years with various medical interventions. I miscarried six times. It is difficult as a believer to understand the pain we endure in this life. Praise God it has only drawn me closer to Him.

    As I began to explore IVF I actually heard Ron Stoddart, the director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, speak on the topic of Embryo Adoption. Previously I hadn't given much thought to the potential of remaining embryos. For myself (and my husband) we determined that we would not pursue IVF. Miraculously - really! - I conceived our daughter natually when I was 45. She is now three (and the husband left the marriage) and the joy of my heart. I am so thrilled to be her mother! I pray you will experience this joy.

    God bless you as you proceed on your journey. I hope you are matched with a family shortly.

    I was watching YouTube the other day and saw three new videos regarding embryo donation and adoption from Snowflakebabies (aka Nightlight). I would be interested in your thoughts on them since they are specific to embryo donation and adoption issues.

  3. I'm disappointed to read your review. There is a HUGE need for a book on EA. There needs to be a guide for adoption counselors, families considering EA and especially for fertility specialists. Many couples don't think about the possibility of un-used embryonic children and then find themselve in a quandry - one that clinic staff are largely un-prepared to address.
    A good book would address both scientific and social/emotional aspects of EA. A valid discussion of 'nature vs. nurture' is essential. There should sections for placing parents, adoptive parents, and for the adopted children. We can't pretend our children won't have struggles as adopted kids, but traditional adoptive resources may fall short.
    Perhaps we should write such a book. Seriously....