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'Snowflake' Giving Leftover Embryos a Chance at Life

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SAN DIEGO -- Thousands of babies-in-waiting currently sit in frozen storage in labs and clinics across America.

These embryos, left over from fertility treatments, are usually donated to science or destroyed. But one Christian adoption agency is offering couples another option... a chance at life.

Welcome to Nightlight Christian Adoption Agency: home to the "Snowflake Program."

"The snowflake program is an embryo adoption program that allows people who have embryos in frozen storage to offer those embryos to another couple for adoption," Nightlight Executive Director Daniel Nehrbass said.

When a couple chooses to freeze their embryos, they're stored in cryotanks like these. There's no limit on how long an embryo can be frozen. Some have even been stored for more than 15 years and still resulted in successful pregnancies.

John and Marlene Strege became the first couple to adopt an embryo through the snowflake program.

"We feel like we honored God because we did adopt an embryo that already existed, we had nothing to do with her creation. She needed a home, we needed a child," Marlene Strege said.

Three adopted embryos were transferred to Marlene on April 11, 1998. On December 31 that year, Hannah was born.

"When I saw her I just thought that she was the most beautiful baby that I had ever seen," she said.

Hannah is now a healthy and happy 15 year old.

"Hannah learned about her unique story at an early age," her mother said. "She was about 5 and in kindergarten and they were planting seeds."

"My mom had bought this packet of seeds and she planted them and froze them. And she was like, 'That was you, you were a frozen seed and we put that seed in my tummy to grow," Hannah said.

"So she had that visualization of a seed and how tiny that is and she was so tiny. And I used to say, 'Only God could see you. You were so tiny.' And she used to say, 'Mommy, tell me that part of the story again, tell me how tiny I was,'" Marlene said.

Now, she can hardly imagine her life without Hannah.

"Once you have your child all the pieces fit together and you go, 'Oh, that's where my child was at,'" Marlene said.

"On average one snowflake baby is born every 10 days. Still, there are a very limited number of people who know about frozen embryo adoption, and the number of embryos going into storage continue to rise."

"We believe that life begins at conception, which means as soon as the embryo is created," Nehrbass said. "For these embryos, they've been placed in frozen storage and that process of developing, being born, growing into adulthood has been halted and interrupted."

Tom and Anabelle Peterson wanted life for their extra embryos. After years of trying to get pregnant they were successful with in vitro and then blessed with a surprise.

Our first born was Andy and we had him in 2007. After that, a year after Andy was born, I found out I was pregnant," Anabelle said.

After the birth of their second son, Lucas, the Petersons decided to stop trying to conceive. But God had other plans.

"So a year later after Lucas was born I found out I was pregnant with Louisa. So in four years we had three kids. We never expected to conceive that fast and it was just really a blessing," Anabelle said.

Still, six of Tom and Anabelle's embryos remained frozen. After much individual prayer, they decided together to donate those embryos for adoption.

"It would break my heart knowing I was giving up on this child. But then it came to me that that's my selfishness," Tom said.

"It's almost like I heard a voice, God speaking, 'They're not yours, Anabelle,'" Anabelle said. "And that just came to my heart and just gave me such peace because at that moment, I just realized that not even my own children that I birthed are mine, and that gave me a lot of peace."

God matched Tom and Anabelle's donated embryos with parents that could give them life.

Meet Amos: He's biologically the Peterson's, but his parents are Bert and Corrina.

"They're just wonderful people, and they're just so happy and seeing them with that child and knowing what they're experiencing is just beautiful," Tom said.

Amos' parents agreed to an open adoption, so Tom and Anabelle are able to watch as he grows.

There can be much joy and peace from the decision, but also some pain, the Peterson's admitted.

"When he gets old enough and sees and realizes that that's not his biological dad, and he says, 'Well, whose my real biological parents,' if he has this thought that his parents don't love him, didn't love him, and they gave him up, I think about that," Tom explained.

"And its so far from the truth because I love the kid so much and I'm not even the father to the kid," he said. "But I love him so much and that pains me that he might experience that."

They say that just as with the children they gave birth to, they've always loved their embryo.

It's because of that love they chose to give them life.

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About The Author

Caitlin Burke Headshot

Caitlin Burke serves as National Security Correspondent and a general assignment reporter for CBN News. She has also hosted the CBN News original podcast, The Daily Rundown. Some of Caitlin’s recent stories have focused on the national security threat posed by China, America’s military strength, and vulnerabilities in the U.S. power grid. She joined CBN News in July 2010, and over the course of her career, she has had the opportunity to cover stories both domestically and abroad. Caitlin began her news career working as a production assistant in Richmond, Virginia, for the NBC affiliate WWBT