In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), I am straying a bit from my “typical” book reviews and focusing on an issue that is near and dear to my heart: infertility.
My husband and I had our own struggles with infertility and while they were more minor than many people endure, I feel like my experiences gave me a small peak into understanding at least a little bit about what people struggling with infertility face on an emotional level.
I met Whitney Williams a few years ago through a mutual friend and was impressed by her strong faith, calm and steadfast mothering skills (honestly, nothing seemed to phase her), and her open and honest demeanor. I was further delighted to find out about her experiences with embryo adoption and also that she had been called to write books for children on the subject.
I hope you enjoy this closer look at Whitney’s life and books. Her sweet story is both inspiring and uplifting.
And if you are facing the loneliness of infertility in addition to the isolation of quarantine life, please scroll down and watch the video of Whitney reading one of her books with one of her precious little boys (born through embryo adoption).
There IS a light at the end of this dark tunnel, friends.
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Q&A with Children’s Book Author, Whitney Williams
Hi Whitney, it’s an honor to talk with you about your experiences with embryo adoption and your books. First, I thought we should explain a little more about the subject. Can you tell us: What is embryo adoption?
Sure. First of all, let’s talk about embryos. An embryo is a fertilized egg; a human in its earliest form—microscopic, but growing bigger by the day.
Next, let me try to explain how and why these adoptable embryos are created.
When couples experience infertility, many turn to in vitro fertilization to create embryos for themselves. Typically, doctors suggest creating more embryos than a couple wishes to give birth to when doing IVF, because the odds are that several of the embryos will not make it to the point of implantation, and couples also want to consider that the embryo may fail to implant in the uterus, miscarriages happen, they may want to have several children eventually, so why not go ahead and create them and freeze them, etc.
Oftentimes, embryos beat these odds though, meaning that couples end up with more healthy embryos than they feel they can birth and raise. Embryos that are not implanted in their mother’s uterus right away are frozen until their parents decide to implant them and try for another pregnancy, discard them, donate them to science, or allow them a chance at life by giving them to another family.
Embryo adoption can be a beautiful and affordable option for couples struggling with infertility, couples who do not wish to pass on a genetic disorder, or for couples who feel a special calling to adopt.
With embryo adoption, the recipient parents legally take possession of the frozen embryo(s) from the donating family. Their doctor then transfers the embryo(s) into the intended mother’s uterus (or in some cases a gestational carrier’s) and she is able to carry the child and give birth just as if the child were conceived naturally.
Why is it important to have books like yours for talking to children born through embryo adoption?
The psychology of talking to children born through third party reproduction (egg donation, embryo donation, gestational surrogacy, etc.) has evolved quite a bit over the past few years. Many years ago, it was more common for people to stay quiet or keep it a secret. Then, when children found out about the circumstances of their conception and birth later in their life, they would sometimes feel resentment towards their parents causing anger and other problems in their relationship.
In more recent years, a more open attitude towards informing children born through third party reproduction has emerged. Mental health experts now encourage parents to talk to their children about their conception from an early age, ensuring that there is a healthy exchange of thoughts, feelings and emotions, helping foster truthfulness and an open attitude as they grow.
Expert opinion aside, I want my boys to be able to celebrate their story in the same way we do. We rejoice over their lives and how God brought them to us, and we thank God for their biological family, who saw their value even when they were microscopic, protected them, and prayed over them for so many years (and still do). We love their biological family and want Jake and Luke to feel free to love them and ask questions about them, as well.
You have two boys through embryo adoption! How wonderful! Tell us a little bit more about you and your family. How did you meet your husband? How old are your kids? What is your daily life like (job, kids, etc.)?
I work full-time from home in donor development for WORLD News Group, a Christian, non-profit news organization. My husband, Mix, and I have been married ten years. We met online and got married a year later. We have three children: Colt, our biological son, who is 6, and Jake and Luke, our three-year-old twins, whom we adopted as embryos.
We came to embryo adoption because our first son was born with a terrible and rare genetic disorder – recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB) – which caused him a lot of suffering, especially in the beginning of his life … and of course, we suffered alongside him. God has been very gracious in that we now see he has a less severe form of RDEB, but we didn’t want to see another baby suffer like that.
Several friends suggested we do IVF and pick and choose the embryos that didn’t have RDEB and discard the ones that did. However, we felt like that was saying that those babies, like Colt, were not worthy of life—and of course, we think he is amazing.
Embryo adoption seemed like a beautiful option because they were babies that were already created and in need of a family. I loved that I could carry and give birth to my “adopted” child, to nurse that baby and bond in that way. And it was much more affordable than traditional adoption. We told our pastor about our interest in adopting embryos and he happened to know someone with several frozen that they didn’t feel they could birth/raise.
So our babies just kind of fell in our lap right away—it was a God thing, for sure. Something that we at first thought was Plan B, not having more biological children, actually has turned out to be Plan B(eautiful), Plan B(est), Plan B(lessed) beyond all measure. There is no difference in our love for our bio son vs our sons whom we adopted as embryos. God used the most heartbreaking situation of our life (our son being born with a terrible genetic disorder) to bring us our second and third son, whom we never would have had otherwise. The enemy meant it for evil, but God used it for good.
My eldest son attends a university-model school for kindergarten, meaning he goes to campus two times a week and homeschools three times a week (although he is homeschooling every day right now, due to the coronavirus).
Home life is crazy—two potty-training three-year-old boys … Please send bleach wipes!!! I tend to be very hard on myself and can also get discouraged, because the day to day of being at home with little kids can feel so insignificant, but I have to remind myself that mothering my three boys is one of the most significant jobs I will ever have. Maybe people aren’t seeing everything I’m doing … I’m not getting rich and famous … but it matters. My mothering matters more than any job I will ever have … more than any book I will ever write. So when I remind myself of that, that helps me prioritize my time during the day and to let go of some of the things that don’t matter so much.
How did you get started writing books about embryo donation? How did you come up with the idea for this book?
I thought the baking analogy worked well to explain embryo donation/adoption … In my latest, Made with Love, the “ingredients” symbolize sperm and egg, cookie dough balls symbolize a human embryo that simply needs to bake in an oven (womb) in order to grow into a cookie (baby).
Nothing is added to cookie dough for it to become a cookie. It just needs time and heat. The same thing is true for a human embryo. The egg has already been fertilized by the sperm, and right then, a baby in its earliest form starts to grow. Nothing more is added, no other ingredients needed, for the embryo to develop into a human with skin. It just needs time and a womb to grow and develop.
I wrote my first book about embryo adoption with hope in my heart that I would one day have a baby to read it to. I had endured several losses with adopted embryos, and writing that book was a leap of faith, of sorts. We ended up enduring five frozen embryo transfers and multiple losses before God blessed us with our twins. I’d never written or self-published before, but I thought the book was too good not to share, honestly. There weren’t a lot of books out there, so I studied up on self-publishing.
Even though you did not come to embryo adoption because of infertility per se, how do you see your books being important in the context of infertility and NIAW?
Most people come to embryo donation and adoption because of infertility. “Made with Love” works for donor and recipient families alike, showing both sides of the story—why a family might choose to donate their remaining embryos to another family and why a family might adopt embryos.
There aren’t many books out there specific to embryo donation and adoption, and even less that show a donor family’s side of things.
If you are going through or have gone through IVF, there’s a big chance you may end up with more embryos than you feel you can birth and raise. Choosing life for your remaining embryos by giving to a mommy and daddy who will love and cherish them is not only a beautiful, selfless, loving, pro-life choice as it pertains to the embryos, but you also have the opportunity to change a family’s life forever by giving them a chance at children, and I believe it can bring you great healing and joy, as well.
If you haven’t gone through IVF yet and are still on the fence, or if you’re thinking about using donor sperm or donor egg, I’d encourage you to check out embryo adoption first. These embryos are already ready to go and waiting on a mommy and daddy. They are precious little lives, each unique and wonderfully-made. One or more of them might be your future baby!
What do you tell your own kids (or plan to) about their conception? Do you use your books as a tool with your own children?
Our EA boys are three. We have met their bio family, including the bio parents, siblings, and both sets of grandparents, multiple times and will continue to throughout their lives. It is such a blessing to see Jake and Luke’s bio family delighting over them. Several of them even came to Jake and Luke’s third birthday party.
I refer to them as “bio family” or “biological family” even with the boys as little as they are. Their bio fam has never been threatening to us, just loving and supportive, cheering us on as we parent and love Jake and Luke. Through Jake and Luke, we’ve gained a beautiful extended family. I talk to our eldest about Jake and Luke’s conception, as questions arise, answering truthfully, in an age-appropriate way.
The books are great conversation starters and the baking allegory is easy for children to understand. I have discussion questions in the back of each book for parents to go over with their children, and even a hands-on family fun creating/freezing cookie dough balls/thawing them project to take the allegory even further. I do read my books to my boys, although, I tend to be more critical of myself and my work than I think most of my audience would be. For instance, a not-so-great Amazon review can make me start to question every word and page … I think this is a struggle for a lot of artists/writers when it comes to their own work … we are so close to it, we’ve spent years with it, tossed and turned over it. But they are books to be proud of, for sure.
My twins are just now getting to the age where I think I can start explaining things and some of it might stick.
Do you have ideas for a new book? Do you plan to write more on the same subject or branching out into a different one?
I just had an idea for another book that would work for babies who were born via IVF, embryo adoption, fresh or frozen embryo transfer, etc., a more general title, but I’m not sure if I want to flesh out the idea and go for it or not. It is a lot of work, and I’m definitely not getting rich off of it.
I’ve thought about writing a book for adults about our journey, with the aim to give hope to people who are hurting, in the middle of the storm, wondering if God is going to let them slip through His fingers, etc., but self-publishing is mentally exhausting—I don’t take critical reviews well, I’m not great at marketing … it all takes a lot of time and hustle—and that’s hard to take on with three littles and a full-time job.
Would you ever try and write an adult book or are children’s books more your “thing”?
(See above.) Also, I put a lot of heart and creativity into my writing, but I wouldn’t say I’m the best technical writer … meaning, if I were to write a book for adults, I’d have to have a much smarter person than myself editing for me … making sure my sentence structure and grammar is correct, etc.
What does it mean to you and your family to have these stories out in the world?
Ready for some honesty? It depends on when you ask me. If I’m hearing from people who like my books, I feel very proud. On the other hand, if someone has given negative feedback, even if I’ve gotten 20 compliments, I can get to the point where I wish I had never tried. You have to have really tough skin to do this. But overall, I’m proud. People love all three of my books—they really do!—hundreds of families are using them to explain embryo donation and adoption to their children—and their children love my books—and that is something to be proud of!
It’s hard to be proud of yourself sometimes, especially hard for us, as women. I think we tend to be overly critical of ourselves. As far as book writing and self-publishing goes, I’m learning and getting better as I go.
Proud that I went for it. Proud that I took on something that I had no experience in. Proud to say I’m an author … even though sometimes it feels scary to put yourself out there, to mess up, etc.
This is National Infertility Awareness Week and many people are struggling with the double whammy of infertility plus being isolated in quarantine. What would you say to people who are facing these tough issues but still considering embryo adoption?
Through all of my heartache and loss (between our son’s genetic disorder and the pain, emotional turmoil, and fears that came along with that to losing multiple babies we’d adopted as embryos) I can honestly say that God was my refuge and hope, my “ever-present help in time of trouble,” as the Bible says in Psalm 46.
When you are hurting and don’t even have the words to pray, when you are on your face on the floor, only able to cry “help,” the Bible in Romans 8:26 says that the Holy Spirit intercedes for you with “groanings too deep for words.” I wasn’t always happy with God. I wrote prayers in my Bible so bold and brash that a less-gracious God might have struck me down with lightning. I cried out to God, reminding Him of the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18. I told God at times that I didn’t feel he was near or that he cared.
But you know what? Now I look back on those times and realize that He was closer than ever. Holding me up. Comforting me. Meeting me right there in my pain. And now, I’m thankful for those prayers in my Bible, because I can go back and write an “update” underneath, praising God for his faithfulness and graciousness and mercy toward me. Keep the lines of communication open with God, even if you are angry with Him. He is not scared of our anger. He is a good father to you. And He has good plans for you.
I also started my blog during times of grief and loss. It helped me to write out my feelings, to get real about my pain, to let it all out. The blog posts in the beginning are very raw, you can identify with the hurt, but the Lord always met me in those moments of ache and gave me hope, which I try to pass along to the reader.
Author, Made With Love & Ready-Made Sweetie
Whitney Williams is a Christian wife and mother to three boys, the youngest two of whom she and her husband adopted as embryos. She works from home for WORLD Magazine. She graduated from Baylor University in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. You can read more of her family’s story on her blog, Frozen Love.