A Tennessee couple made history by welcoming a pair of twins born from embryos that were frozen 30 years ago.
Before the birth of these two babies, the record for longest-frozen embryos resulting in a successful birth was 27 years.
Rachel Ridgeway delivered Lydia (5 lbs. 11 oz.) and Timothy (6 lbs. 7 oz.) on October 31 after adopting the embryos from the National Embryo Donation Center. Ridgeway and her husband have four other children who were not conceived using fertility treatments.
“There is something mind-boggling about it,” Rachel’s husband, Philip Ridgeway, told CNN. “In a sense, they’re our oldest children, even though they’re our smallest children.”
The embryos originally belonged to an anonymous married couple at a West Coast fertility facility and were created using the sperm of the husband, who was in his early 50s, and a 34-year-old egg donor. The embryos were then frozen in 1992.
“We’ve never had in our minds a set number of children we’d like to have,” Philip continued. “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 outlet noted that five embryos were thawed in February and three survived. “You just showed me a picture of my three children,” Rachel said of seeing photos of the embryos. “I have to have them all.”
Following the transfer, two embryos were successfully implanted.
The Ridgeways said they had specifically sought out embryos that had been waiting a long time for parents to adopt them. “We weren’t looking to get the embryos that have been frozen the longest in the world,” Philip explained. “We just wanted the ones that had been waiting the longest.”
The National Embryo Donation Center is a private, Christian-led organization that requires recipients to pass a “family assessment” and matches embryos with couples who are “a genetic male and a genetic female married for a minimum of 3 years.” The group said it has helped more than 1,260 babies from donated embryos find families willing to adopt and birth them.
“Embryo adoption is not a legal ‘adoption’ at all, at least in the sense of a traditional adoption which occurs after birth,” the National Embryo Donation Center says. “However, the term allows all parties to conceptualize the process and eventual reality of raising a non-genetically related child.”
Embryos can potentially survive in liquid nitrogen indefinitely. “It doesn’t seem like a sperm or an egg or embryo stored in liquid nitrogen ever experiences time,” Atlanta fertility specialist Dr. Jim Toner said. “It’s like that Rip Van Winkle thing. It just wakes up 30 years later, and it never knew it was asleep.”
“If you’re frozen at nearly 200 degrees below zero, I mean, the biological processes essentially slow down to almost nothing,” Dr. John Goner, who assisted the Ridgeways, agreed. “And so perhaps the difference between being frozen for a week, a month, a year, a decade, two decades, it doesn’t really matter.”