Here's a head-scratcher for you. If a 25-year-old woman gives birth to an embryo that was frozen for 24 years, do they count as roughly the same age? On November 25, that's exactly what happened. Back in 1992, the embryo that would become Emma Gibson was conceived and promptly frozen for later use. More than two decades later, she was transferred to a woman in Tennessee, who gave birth last month. Something tells me Emma will be grow up seeming wise beyond her years.
Her mother, Tina Gibson, was born just a year before her future child was conceived. According to CNN, her husband has cystic fibrosis, and infertility is commonly associated with the disease. The couple assumed they would adopt, but when they learned about a process called embryo adoption, which uses leftover embryos from in vitro fertilization (IVF), they couldn't get the idea out of their heads.
Sometimes, when a couple has a child through IVF, they have embryos left over. They can choose to freeze the embryos for their own later use (which may cost money), donate them to research, or leave them for another couple to start their own family. If the couple chooses the latter, these "snowbabies" are left to linger in storage until they are transferred to their future mother — if they end up transferred at all. Numerous organizations have been formed to adopt out these embryos.
This is the type of organization to which the Gibsons turned. The National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) is based in Knoxville, Tennessee, which happened to be in the same state. Last August, the couple applied for embryo adoption, setting off a series of tests to make sure Tina would be likely to conceive. In March 2017, they chose a donor profile for transfer.
The embryo that stuck around was Emma. Apparently, it was just before the procedure that the doctors thought to inform her future parents that the embryo was nearly as old as her mother.
"If the baby was born when it was supposed to born, we could have been best friends," Tina told WBIR.
The NEDC's director, Dr. Jeffrey Keenan, said that while there is no way to tell for sure whether Emma's birth set a world record for oldest embryo to be born, the center's medical library was unable to find records of anyone older. (One of Emma's closest competitors would be the 20-year-old frozen embryo born in 2011.) On the other hand, fertility clinic records are private, so it's impossible to be certain.
Regardless of whether it set a world record, Emma's birth shows how far reproductive medicine has come in a few short decades. In 2014, NPR reported that births from fertility procedures like IVF hit an all-time high, with more than 61,000 babies conceived with medical help. Meanwhile, the procedure is becoming safer; the same report found that the number of high-risk multiple pregnancies is decreasing slowly. Adoption is always an option, but if someone truly wants to carry a child, there are ways that didn't exist before to make it a possibility. You know, in case you needed a reminder that the future is upon us.
For their part, the Gibsons told CNN they would have been "equally elated" to adopt a child who had already been born. In fact, they might still choose to adopt if they decide Emma needs any siblings down the road. That being said, there are two embryos left from the donor couple who gave them Emma, so who knows? In a few years, you might be reading about the birth of an even older embryo.