I Put My Unused Embryos from IVF Up for Adoption on Facebook — and It Turned Out Better Than I Imagined

Our family in front of our house in Oklahoma
Our family in front of our house in Oklahoma

Courtesy Lauren Nelson

When Lauren Nelson, a single mom, fell in love and married her husband Kris, they immediately began trying for more kids. After two years without luck, the couple, who currently live in Choctaw, Oklahoma, tried IVF and were fortunate enough to conceive a daughter in 2017. With four embryos left over, Lauren did another IVF transfer of one embryo in 2019 and gave birth to a son in March 2020. Now 41 years old, Lauren decided to "close up shop," but wanted her remaining embryos to have a chance to exist. The couple felt strongly about donating them, but found the agencies specializing in donation had many limitations. Instead, Lauren posted on Facebook seeking a potential adoptive family. She was overwhelmed by the response, which yielded a surprising match. Below is her story, as told to PEOPLE.

After some bad decisions and unfortunate events in my late twenties, I found myself a single mom of two toddlers, living in my parents' basement. In 2012, I joined Match.com, and that's when I found Kris. He was looking for a girl up to 6 feet tall and no older than 30; I was one inch too tall and one year too old, but I messaged him anyway.

Listen below to Me Becoming Mom to hear Jillian Michaels' adoption journey and her unique road to motherhood.

He was so different from the men I'd encountered before, and he embraced the idea of a dad role with the kids. Two years later he adopted my son and daughter, and we were married in Disney World. It felt like my happy ending had arrived.

Kris adopting Harley in Sept 2013
Kris adopting Harley in Sept 2013

Courtesy Lauren Nelson

As soon as we were married, we actively began trying for more children. Kris was 29 when we were married, and I was 33. Infertility came out of left field for us. The sheen of the happy ending started to dim as years passed with no pregnancy. Funny how easy it was for me to have kids when I "shouldn't have," and now when I was doing everything right, it wasn't happening.

We tried for about two and a half years before we sought out fertility doctors at Seattle Reproductive Medicine (SRM) for testing. We were told there would likely never be a pregnancy without intervention. It was a difficult thing to learn about ourselves as a couple. They recommended full IVF for the very first attempt.

We went into the whole process completely blind. It was very overwhelming and expensive, and I wasn't sure if I would be able to do it. But we were fortunate to be in a position where we could try. I have always been very afraid of needles, nervous around doctors, and suspicious of hospitals, so this was a big decision. But I very much wanted to have this experience with Kris. I knew how important it was to him. He gave me multiple shots daily and tried to go to every appointment.

In early Feb. 2017, I went in for my egg retrieval, which was the scariest part for me. They called me a few days later to let me know we had six high-grade embryos; six days later, they transferred two fresh embryos. We were fortunate that it worked for us the first time, and to welcome our daughter, Clover Moon, born in Nov. 2017 — a natural water birth just like her older siblings.

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Lauren Nelson's family Biala, Harley, Bodie, Clover
Lauren Nelson's family Biala, Harley, Bodie, Clover

Courtesy Lauren Nelson

We had four frozen embryos left and hoped to have four children, so we decided to do another transfer in June 2019. The process for the frozen transfer was much easier and faster than the fresh one. It was also a success, and our son Bodie Astro was born in March 2020. Our son Harley Thunder is 13, our daughter Biala Soleil is 12, our daughter Clover Moon is 4. I'm closing up shop!

There were three embryos left, and we knew we wouldn't be using them. We called agencies to learn about embryo donation, but there seemed to be a lot involved: limitations, time constraints, and in some cases, religious disqualifications of certain couples.

Kris and I didn't really like the sound of that, so one day I decided to post on my Facebook just to see if maybe there was a friend who knew someone. I got all sorts of private messages, from friends and from people I didn't know. It was overwhelming. I had no idea there would be such a response.

November is National Adoption Month, and PEOPLE is celebrating by highlighting the many extraordinary ways families can grow via adoption, featuring real stories from celebrities, everyday parents and adoptees, as well as information on the varied ways to adopt. For more heartwarming, heartbreaking and happy-ending stories, visit our Adoption page.

So as many of you know, Clover (and now number four in my tummy) were conceived with IVF.
So as many of you know, Clover (and now number four in my tummy) were conceived with IVF.

Courtesy Lauren Nelson

RELATED: This Couple Welcomed Kids Via IVF and Adoption within Weeks of Each Other: 'They're Unique and Equally Loved'

I heard from one woman in a similar position struggling with the idea of donation because she was worried about the child one day taking a DNA test, learning who her real parents were, and feeling abandoned. This was an aspect Kris and I had discussed; however, we have always been very open and honest. In my experience, children will often react the same way they see you react to a complicated situation.

My two older kids' birth fathers are not in the picture. They were young enough when they were adopted by Kris that they may not have remembered. We could have just said he was always their dad. But neither of us thought that lying was a good choice, as they would grow up one day and find out the truth and probably resent the lie. Instead, we celebrate the adoptions (their "adoptiversary") each year.

We are approaching our embryo donation with the same open honesty. We cannot afford more children ourselves, but we would still like to give the embryos the chance to exist. We care about them, which is why we didn't want to get rid of them, especially with all the money and effort we put into making them.

Lauren Nelson
Lauren Nelson

Courtesy Lauren Nelson

One of the very first messages I got was from a woman named Sara, who happened to have dated Kris' ex Lauren. Though Lauren and Sara broke up, we remained friends with Sara, who saw my post and let me know that she and her new wife were interested in our embryos.

Kris and I were so excited that a friend was interested. One of the things we were nervous about was giving the embroyo to a couple that wanted zero contact. We would respect it, but would always be nervous and hope it was a good home. But this way, we'd know.

Sara is awesome, and we couldn't be happier; we had a conversation ahead of the donation to get a feeling of what we are all looking for, and we really felt we were all on the same page. We let Sara know we're always honest with our kids about things, and it sounds like they will be too.

The fertility clinic required that we draw up a legal document to protect both sides, but we weren't too worried. Though the legal paperwork states that Kris and I specifically didn't ask for any involvement with the kids, we don't foresee problems with that in the future. They've already involved us in really meaningful ways.

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Kris and I holding embryo baby at 1 month old during visit
Kris and I holding embryo baby at 1 month old during visit

Courtesy Lauren Nelson

Their baby arrived in November 2020, healthy and wonderful. We were even able to meet her a few weeks after she was born, which was amazing. They asked us if we were comfortable writing her a letter from us to give her when she's older. We decided to do one better and made her a whole Shutterfly book using the story and baby photos from all of us. Then we all added handwritten letters (from Kris and me, and our two oldest kids — I wrote the letters for the two littles).

We are friends with the moms online; they also text us pics a bunch and we text back pics of our rugrats. We had our son Bodie's first birthday party and the moms came with their baby girl, which was awesome. I held her, Kris held her, Clover cooed at her, and we let her "meet" Bodie. We explained the situation to our kids and sort of said they're "cousins." At their young age, friends or cousins are all the same.

Lauren Nelson's family Bodie, new Baby and Clover
Lauren Nelson's family Bodie, new Baby and Clover

Courtesy Lauren Nelson

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I wasn't sure what it would feel like when [I met the baby] — but it felt like my friend's baby. I think she's adorable, but I haven't ever felt any sort of ownership over her at all because I didn't make her! She grew inside someone else's body, with her blood and her resources, so I've never felt any claim to her. She is absolutely their daughter, and I feel a bit like we're aunt and uncle to a kid we want to see pictures of, but don't live near or see often.

The moms now have two embryos left, and I'm pretty sure they'll use at least one more, as they both wanted a chance to be pregnant.

I believe that genetics don't necessarily make the parent. But that's not the way some women feel. I have spoken to more than one who has hesitations about sending their DNA out into the world. DNA tests are becoming more and more prevalent, and within the next 25 years, it might be something everyone does. We are prepared for that possibility and will welcome any future contact that may come from our embryos with love and explanations.

The decision to donate our embryos seemed easy for Kris and me, maybe because of our history, our experiences with adoption, and feelings about what makes a family. Every couple is different. We all have different experiences, religions, and beliefs that form the right decision for us.

I know ours is a rare situation where we are so open with each other, but I think we all understand that children are smarter than people give them credit for. If you treat [adoption] like it's something to hide or be ashamed of, they will think that it is, but if you are open and loving and celebrate it, they will celebrate with you.