TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — When President Bush vetoed a bill June 20 that
would have provided federal funding for embryonic stem cell research,
Mike and Nicole Bell of Traverse City, Mich., were among those Americans
The Bells have two children,
17-month-old twins Michael and Paige, born via a relatively new method
called embryo adoption. Michael and Paige once were so-called leftover
embryos, stored frozen in a lab -- the same type of embryos many
scientists want to use for research. They very well could still be
there, if not for Mike and Nicole.
"They were orphans in a different sense of the
word," Nicole, 35, told Baptist Press. "Embryos are not just cells.
They're little people.
"We are opposed to embryonic stem cell
research but we are in favor of other types of stem cell research --
adult stem cells, [umbilical] cord blood stem cells. I wish the general
public would understand that more, and that's part of why we are
involved in this, trying to get the word out."
The Bells adopted Michael and Paige as embryos
through the National Embryo Donation Center (embryodonation.org), a
Knoxville, Tenn.-based organization that works to promote both embryo
donation and adoption. The nonprofit center stores embryos donated from
couples who have undergone In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and then matches
those same embryos with infertile couples. Some adoptions are open;
others are anonymous.
Other organizations, such as the
California-based Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption Program (www.Snowflakes.org)
and Ohio-based Embryos Alive (www.EmbryosAlive.com),
perform similar services.
"They didn't ask to be created in this manner,
but they do ask for the chance to be born and to experience life as we
know it," Nicole said. "They deserve that. For the parents who create
them, it's an honorable choice for them to be able to see to fruition
the lives that they were a part of creating. The donor parents benefit
by knowing the children can have life, and we as a family benefit by
having children. But the babies obviously benefit the most."
Michael and Paige actually have an older
sister, 5-year-old Leah, who came to the Bells as an infant through a
traditional adoption. Married in 1994, the Bells tried to give birth the
natural way off and on for approximately seven years, but even with the
assistance of fertility treatments had no success. Years of emotional
angst were intensified when they finally did conceive once, only to
discover it was an ectopic pregnancy.
They began exploring other options, and knew
about embryo adoption, but they wanted to avoid anything medically
related and opted instead for traditional adoption. Leah's biological
parents were a young unmarried couple.
Adoption was not a difficult decision for the
"My husband actually was adopted as an infant
as well," Nicole said. "I'm the only one in my [immediate] family who
Just before Leah turned 2, the Bells began
examining various ways they could add to their family -- either through
domestic adoption, international adoption or embryo adoption. They kept
"being drawn back" to embryo adoption, Nicole said. It would have an
added bonus, allowing her to experience a pregnancy.
The embryo adoption process moved fast. The
Bells contacted the National Embryo Donation Center in August 2004,
filled out the paperwork and then had their adoption home study, all
within a few months. The most difficult decision along the way, Nicole
said, was choosing which of approximately 12 groups of embryos they
would choose. All were donated anonymously.
"That's probably one of the hardest decisions
we've had to make in our lives, because you know that you can't give
birth to all of them, but yet you know that the ones you pick are going
to have the chance," she said. "You hope and pray that somebody's going
to pick [the other ones], but in the meantime they're still sitting
The group they chose included eight embryos
that had been frozen since November 2002. Three of them were transferred
into Nicole in May 2005, and, defying the odds, all three implanted in
the womb. However, one of them was lost early on, before the fetuses had
even developed a heartbeat. But from there on out, the pregnancy went
"We were a little afraid of getting too
excited [about the pregnancy]," Nicole said, referencing the earlier
ectopic pregnancy. "Also, there's always the hurdle with twins, because
it's a high-risk pregnancy. You're always waiting to get past certain
dates to know that they would be viable if something were to happen and
they were born [premature]."
But there were no complications, and Michael
and Paige were born Jan. 13, 2006, at 37 weeks.
"Hearing them cry for the first time, my
husband and I both cried," Nicole said. "It was the most emotional
experience, and the greatest day. And they were both healthy and they
didn't have any medical complications. They didn't need any oxygen or
feeding tubes -- nothing."
An embryo adoption pregnancy, obviously,
created for some unique moments, since Nicole gave birth to someone
else's biological children. But from the beginning she and her husband
have been open about the situation with friends and family members, and
remain open about the unique way their twins came into the world.
The little boy, Michael, has strawberry blond
hair — something that Mike and Nicole don't have. Just recently, when
Nicole was visiting her parents, a neighbor asked about the little boy's
"I told her they were an embryo adoption, and
she knew what that meant," Nicole said. "Most people respond very
positively. I've never really had a negative response. It's always been
positive — especially when people are seeing the kids there."
The Bells hope to encourage couples with
excess embryos to donate those embryos for adoption, and for couples
desiring for children to adopt them.
"We're passionate about our little ones, and
we feel like this is a way that God can use us — even if we just save a
couple of lives," Nicole said.