A couple's newborn son came from an adopted embryo frozen 20 years ago

Kelly Burch
·2 min read
Newborn
Getty
  • Kris and Emily Burns experienced infertility before turning to embryo adoption, a process in which a couple adopts a fertilized embryo that often has no biological relation to them.

  • The embryo they chose had been frozen twenty years prior to being implanted in Emily's womb. 

  • Emily gave birth to son Ellis, who the couple refers to as their 'snowflake baby.'

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Twenty years ago, Kris and Emily Burns weren't yet thinking about having children together, but the cells that would one day become their son were already growing. 

The Louisville, Kentucky couple turned to embryo adoption after experiencing infertility for more than two years. The process allows couples to adopt embryos - fertilized eggs - that have no biological relation to them.

Oftentimes, the embryos were created and frozen during other couples' in vitro fertilization process, and later donated to people who are unable to create their own embryos. The frozen embryo can then be implanted in a gestational carrier, oftentimes the mother-to-be. 

"It's the only form of adoption where you can carry your adopted baby," Emily Burns told her local ABC News affiliate. 

The couple was matched with an embryo that was frozen nearly two decades before. When embryos are frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen, they do not age. So although the Burns' son Ellis is only twenty months old, in some ways his life started more than twenty years ago, something his mother reflects on from time to time. 

"There's so many times where I'm like, he was frozen suspended in time for twenty years and now he's just, like, running around our living room," Burns said. "He was just sitting there in a freezer waiting for someone to call him their own and now he's our perfect little child."

Like many other parents who conceive using frozen embryos, the Burns sometimes refer to their sons as the "snowflake baby" - one frozen in time just for them. 

It's hard to come by reliable data about embryo adoption in the United States, because it falls under the wider umbrella of assisted reproduction, alongside infants conceived with donor eggs or sperm. In 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, there were nearly 2,000 adopted embryos implanted (although not all implanted embryos lead to birth). That's up from less than 400 in 2000. 

As Ellis grows up, embryo adoption is likely to become more common, especially since there are up to one million frozen embryos stored in the United States currently. The Burns say that they plan to be open with him about his conception story and his biology - as well as the time it took for him to find his family. 

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