'It's so miraculous': Local parents hope to inspire others with embryo adoption success

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As families get ready to celebrate Mother's Day, it can be a tough time for couples struggling to have a baby.

More Americans are spending thousands of dollars to have children and as procedures like IVF gain more popularity, doctors are also seeing a rise in another technique -- embryo adoption.

Local couple Scott and Leigh Foster were in their 40s, trying for their third baby and struggling with fertility issues when Leigh said she set her heart on embryo adoption.

"My first reaction was I've never heard of it," Scott Foster said. "If this is something that is real and not a crazy thing, why haven't I heard about it before."

Statistics show most people looking for assistance try in-vitro fertilization using their own embryos.

Embryo adoption is the process in which a family that has gone through IVF donates leftover embryos to another family.

One the Fosters selected embryos, they went to the National Embryo Donation Center in Tennessee, where the staff handled the medical and legal steps that allowed Leigh to carry and give birth to their daughter Evie.

"When you are in the moments of pain and failed pregnancies, you get to Evie and experience this life and you realize, she was God's plan all along," Scott Foster said.

The couple said now, they are encouraging others to consider embryo adoption.

"When I look at Evie, I think 'Oh my gosh, that is a life waiting and that's a lot of lives,'" Leigh said. "I feel it's so miraculous and so incredible, I still get chills. She is this bright life that came out of storage."

Industry experts estimate there are 600,000 to a million embryos in storage right now.

When families complete IVF, many have to decide what to do with leftover embryos. They can choose to destroy them, store them indefinitely, donate them to research, or donate them.

Dr. Tyl Taylor, who helps families trying to have babies at REACH in Charlotte, said embryo adoptions are becoming more popular and as many as 60,000 could be available for adoption. There were roughly 1,900 donated embryos transferred in 2017.

"It's cheaper and has a higher success rate," Taylor said.

Taylor hopes that couples who struggle with fertility for years will see embryo adoption is a viable option earlier and not as a last resort.

"From a society perspective, there is a lot of pressure to have your own genetic baby," Taylor said. "Once you get over that pressure, I think everything falls into place."

A cycle of IVF can cost $12 to $18,000. Embryo adoption costs, on average, $8,000.

REACH recently started an embryo adoption program and has 30 up for adoption.

The CDC estimates one in eight couples have trouble getting pregnant.