Twins who were born just a few weeks ago could be months away from turning 30 if they were born when they were conceived.
Lydia and Timothy Ridgeway, who arrived October 31, have set a new world record for babies born from the oldest embryos: 29 years and 10 months.
New parents Philip and Rachel Ridgeway, who already had three kids conceived via IVF, told The NY Post they felt called to have more children, and they especially wanted to help what they call “children in need”.
But they weren’t expecting to set a record.
“We liked the idea that we are saving lives that are trapped,” Philip, 35 and a software developer, told The Post.
The couple chose the oldest available option from National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC), a Knoxville, Tennessee, non-profit that provides donated embryos to couples wanting kids.
“We knew basic information [about the genetic parents] such as height and weight, but we weren’t using that [as criteria] how we were going to choose,” said Rachel, a 34-year-old stay-at-home mum near Portland, Oregon.
But they were more interested in, as Rachel put it; “How long have [the embryos] been waiting — which ones were waiting for parents to come and get them?”
The Ridgeways also knew that the biological father created the embryos with an egg donor and froze them on April 22, 1992, but he passed away before any of the embryos resulted in live births.
The eggs were then donated to NEDC, a Christian organisation that takes embryos — free of charge — and provides them to couples looking to have children.
However, the NEDC will only offer embryos and subsequent IVF transfers to heterosexual couples married for three years after they’ve completed a home study.
Often, after deciding their family is complete, IVF patients are faced with the difficult choice of what to do with their remaining frozen embryos: keep them on ice forever, let them thaw, give them to science for research or donate them to people unable to conceive on their own.
Along with saving frozen embryos from potentially being destroyed, donation can be tens of thousands of dollars cheaper than conventional IVF because the embryos have already been created.
Some, people, including Evangelical Christians such as the Ridgeways, hold the view that embryos are living beings, and many anti-abortion states have enacted “personhood bills” to protect the rights of embryos.
Because of this murky moral ground, many patients who create embryos are reluctant to discard their unused embryos, which has created an embryo storage crises.
“When we went into this process, we wanted to find the embryos that were overlooked or most unwanted,” Rachel said.
“We were looking for embryos that needed a home because they had been overlooked.”
The process is sometimes referred to as “embryo adoption”.
“The idea of giving birth to your adopted child was fantastic to me,” said Rachel.
Although the Pacific Northwest couple already had three children — Naomi, 8; Joshua, 6; Eliora, 3; and Miriam, who will turn 2 in December — they decided to look into embryo adoption in 2020.
“I had three kids with no problems during pregnancy, so I thought embryo adoption was a great opportunity for us,“ said Rachel, who, after starting the process, found out she was pregnant with Miriam.
“I don’t think we ever considered traditional adoption,” said Philip.
“[Frozen embryos] all human beings in the image of God, they’re all in need of a father and mother, and this was a case where we could provide that need.”
The set the Ridgeways chose actually included five embryos, which were thawed on February 28, 2022 — nearly 30 years after they were first frozen. Three survived the process and were transferred to Rachel’s uterus, resulting in a twin pregnancy.
Asked if she felt nervous about the health of the well-aged embryos during the pregnancy, she said, “No more than with any of my other kids.”
“You can freeze embryos indefinitely,” Michael A. Thomas, M.D., president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, told The Post.
“I used to jokingly tell people you can pass your embryos down to your great-great-great grandchildren that you’ve never going to meet because embryos can be frozen for long periods of time.
“The thaw rate has gotten better over time, but the embryos that thaw out should be hearty enough for transfer.”
The Ridgeways’ births of twins frozen for 29 years and 10 months breaks the previous record set by another NEDC couple, Tina and Ben Gibson, their daughter, Molly, was born from a 27-year-old embryo in October 2020.
This story originally appeared on the NY Post and reproduced with permission