Having children is a major milestone in most couples’ lives. Many couples look forward to that moment when they find out that their family is going to grow, and that a new bundle of joy will be entering their home. Unfortunately, having children is not always an option for every couple. Some couples try to conceive for several years without success.
This is exactly what happened to a Tennessee couple, Tina and Benjamin Gibson. After being married for seven years, and realizing that having their own children was not an option for them, they decided to foster children instead. They loved their role as foster parents, but one day when a relative mentioned the option of embryo implantation, called IVF, they decided to give it a bit of thought. Little did they know that a year later they would be making history by giving birth to the oldest human embryo to ever be born!
The Gibsons did not even know they were going to be breaking records until the day of the embryo transfer, when the doctor informed them of the embryo’s age that they chose. Out of 300 different profiles, they just happened to choose a 24 and a half-year-old embryo that was created when Tina was only one year old. Now, the Gibsons are still in shock, and call their newborn daughter, Emma Gibson, a true miracle.
The first successful IVF baby was born in 1978, and since then there have been millions of babies around the globe born in this method. It is becoming not only increasingly popular by the minute, but the success rates are also much higher than they ever were. The story of the Gibsons has raised many questions that can not clearly be answered such as, how long can frozen embryos last? Doctors do know however that there is no set limit on the longevity of frozen embryos, or “snowbabies,” but this case of Emma Gibson is the oldest known embryo to be successfully born to date, and that is really something.
When news sources heard about Tina and Benjamin’s incredible story, the new parents got bombarded with interview requests. They felt overwhelmed to say the least, but were more than willing to share their story, in hopes that it will give other couples who have suffered from infertility a chance to consider trying IVF.
Continue reading in order to hear the remarkable story of Emma Gibson for yourself.
In November 2017, history was made in Tennessee after a mother gave birth to a 24 and a half-year-old embryo, the oldest human embryo known to ever result in birth. On November 25, 26-year-old Tina Gibson gave birth to an embryo who is technically only one year younger than her. The embryo was frozen in October 1992- only a year after Tina was born. Tina and her husband Benjamin Gibson, 33, happily welcomed their healthy and beautiful baby girl, Emma Gibson, into the world and their story went viral.
Could have been friends
When Tennessee natives Tina and Benjamin Gibson first heard how old the embryo was, they were shocked. However, the young couple, who had been trying for a baby for some time, didn’t care about the unique situation- they just wanted to have a healthy baby. When Tina was first told the news, she recalled saying, “Do you realize I’m only 25? This embryo and I could have been best friends.”
To call their own
Tina said that after some thought, she and her husband decided to adopt the embryo. They didn’t care about making history or breaking a world record- they simply wanted what they have been praying for all along, a healthy baby to call their own. They were more than ready to start their family. Tina recalls, “I just wanted a baby. I don’t care if it’s a world record or not.”
A healthy baby
The happy couple’s bundle of joy was brought into the world weighing a perfect 6 lbs, 8 oz and at 20 in long. To her parents’ delight, she was born healthy, and is extremely adorable if we do say so ourselves! The Gibsons see Emma as a miracle from God, and could not be more thankful. “We’re just so thankful and blessed.” Tina said, “She’s a precious Christmas gift from the Lord. We’re just so grateful.”
Falling in love
Although Emma doesn’t share the same genes as her father Benjamin, he said that he feels that she is one hundred percent his daughter, no matter what. Just like his wife, he fell in love with the sweet baby girl the moment he laid eyes on her, and is excited to start his journey as a dedicated and loving father. He said, “As soon as she came out, I fell in love with her.”
The story of Emma Gibson, however, started years prior to the Gibson’s decision to adopt an embryo. She was created almost 25 years ago by a couple for IVF and were saved in storage in order to hopefully one day help someone, or a couple, who are not able to make a baby naturally themselves. Emma was placed with many other “snowbabies,” embryos frozen in ice- future babies just waiting for their turn to be born.
Tina and Benjamin have been married for seven years. They were just like any young, happy newlywed couple, but they had a rain cloud over their bubble of love. Tina and Benjamin were unable to have children of their own. Tina explained, “My husband has cystic fibrosis, so infertility is common.” She continued. “We had decided that we were more than likely going to adopt, and we were fine with that.”
For a few years, the Gibsons took in multiple foster children, and loved every bit of it, treating them like they were their own. The couple found themselves with a week free before taking in their next child, and thought it would be nice to go on a mini vacation. Just when they were bringing their dog to Tina’s parents’ home, Tina’s dad said something interesting. “I saw something on the news today. It’s called embryo adoption, and they would implant an embryo in you, and you could carry a baby.”
Of course, what Tina’s father was talking about was In Vitro Fertilization or IVF. IVF is described by the American Pregnancy Organization as “The process of fertilization by extracting eggs, retreivig a sperm sample, and then manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish. The embryo(s) is then transferred to the uterus.” It has become an increasingly popular procedure, especially among couples who are unable to conceive naturally.
Changing their minds
At first, Tina shook her head; it was not something she was interested in, “I was like, ‘Well, that’s nice, Dad, but we’re not interested. We’re knee-deep in foster care right now.'” Tina said that she simply blew off the idea at first. However, while she and Benjamin were driving to their vacation destination, she couldn’t get her dad’s words out of her head. She finally decided to ask her husband if he thought it could work, and he admitted that he was also considering it, and that it actually sounded like a good idea.
During the long car ride, Tina became obsessed reading and researching embryo adoption. She kept sharing what she learned with Benjamin while he was behind the wheel. She said, “I knew everything about it before I got off that vacation.” She learned bout the National Embryo Donation Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, not too far from their home. She researched everything, and knew exactly the steps involved in making an embryo transfer happen.
Time to think
However, the couple was still not completely sure this was the right choice for them. They decided to wait it out a few months and see if they were still just as excited as they were before. They realized that this was a huge deal, and one that required a lot of planning out and consideration before jumping into it. Finally, after much back-and-forth, in August 2016 the Gibsons came to a decision.
Making a decision
Tina said that one day in August 2016, she came home and made her decision- right there and then. She said, “I just came home one day; I looked at Benjamin, and said, ‘I think we need to submit an application for embryo adoption.'” Moments later, the couple were excitedly filling out the paperwork required, “On a whim, we filled out an application and submitted that night.”
By the time December came, Tina was already on the proper medication in order to start with a “mock transfer.” A mock transfer consists of multiple medical exams that are done in order to see if the potential mother’s uterus is physically able to receive an implanted embryo. By January, the exams were finished. Tina did have to undergo a minor procedure in order to get a polyp removed, but when that was done, she was officially an eligible match for embryo implantation.
After the medical tests were complete and passed, the Gibsons had to have a home study. The home study consists of a social worker who comes to the potential parents’ house and is “just the standard home study that mimics any home study that anybody would go through in a traditional adoption process.” Luckily for the Gibsons, they passed with flying colors. Finally, the time had come. They were ready to move on to the next step, the actual implantation.
Choosing a donor
Just like any future parents going through embryo implantation, choosing a donor is often the most difficult task. The couple were given two weeks to choose from a list of 300 different donor profiles. Each profile had general information, including basic descriptions of the genetic parents. Tina said that they started to feel overwhelmed, and there weren’t sure how they could ever choose who their future child will be, “There were so many, and it’s like, how do you pick?”
The Gibsons decided to first “narrow it down in an easy way.” They first chose by weight and height, then they started to look “at some of the bigger things, like medical history.” Tina and Benjamin finally came to a decision, and picked a profile. However, the embryo that they chose was not an option , so they got their second choice. Little did they know that their second choice was actually going to make history, and become their beautiful baby girl Emma.
A world record
The excited parents-to-be had no idea that they were going to be making history, until they were preparing for the transfer. It was then and there that their doctor gave them the news and exclaimed, “It’s a world record!” Tina of course didn’t mind one way or another, but does recall joking “I didn’t sign up for this!” Tina and Benjamin were just praying for a successful transfer, pregnancy, delivery, and a healthy baby.
Impossible to know
The truth is, it is impossible to say whether or not the birth of Emma Gibson is really a world record or not. Dr. Zaher Merhi, the director of IVF research and development at New Hope Fertility Center, said, “Identifying the oldest known embryo is simply an impossibility.” He explained that technically in America, companies do not need to inform the government of how old the embryo is, they only need to report how the birth turned out. So in reality, “nobody has these records.”
Luckily for the Gibson family, the transfer of the embryo “worked out perfectly,” on the first try. Tina said, “It’s a miracle.” However, Tina had a difficult pregnancy due to having a short cervix, and was put on high risk. Luckily, the pregnancy and delivery were a success. After 20 hours of labor, Emma was born and both baby and mom were doing great. “So it all just fell into place,” said Tina. “It’s our new normal; it’s crazy to think about it.”
Chances of survival
According to studies, there is an estimated 75% rate of survival when unthawing frozen embryos, but only a 25% to 30% chance of successful implantation per embryo. To the Gibson’s luck, all three “snowbabies” ended up survivng, beating the odds. Tina and Benjamin adopted all three embryos, however, out of all three only one implanted, which ended up being their precious baby girl Emma.
IVF is becoming an increasingly more popular and common procedure than ever before. The first baby born through IVF was Louise Brown from England, on July 25, 1978. Since then, more and more couples from all over the world have been turning to the procedure to help them have children. A recent study confirmed that since the birth of Louise, over 6 and a half million babies have been born worldwide via IVF.
Tina admitted that she and her husband were thinking of adopting prior to Emma’s birth, and that they are still considering it. “We wanted to adopt, and I don’t know that that isn’t going to be in our future. We may still adopt,” she said. “This just ended up being the route that we took. I think we would have been equally elated if we were able to adopt.”
A doctor’s privledge
Dr. Jeffrey Keenan, the medical director of the National Embryo Donation Center, and the one who conducted the transfer, said that “The NEDC has been privileged to work with the Gibsons to help them realize their dreams of becoming parents.” He continued, “We hope this story is a clarion call to all couples who have embryos in long-term storage to consider this life-affirming option for their embryos.”
Dr. Jason Barrit of Southern California Reproductive Center, explained that only about “15% to 20% of the time there are additional embryos” that are not used in IVF. “Usually couples have leftover embryos because they have complete their families and no longer need additional embryos,” He continued, “They remain frozen until the patient asks for some other disposition.” According to Dr. Barrit, couples with extra embryos can either leave them in cryopreserved storage tanks or donate them to a couple who wants to have a baby- as did the anonymous couple who the Gibsons adopted from.
Frozen in time
Many experts have stated that the last embryo that held the record for being the oldest known embryo to result in a healthy baby, had been frozen for 20 years- nearly five years less than the Gibsons’. Carol Sommerfelt, the lab director who thawed the embryo, said, “It was very rewarding for me to see that the techniques that we were using 25 years ago to freeze the embryos did preserve them to the extent that they could survive being thawed.” She continued, “If embryos are maintained correctly… those embryos could be good indefinitely. In other words, they’re frozen in time.”
How long can embryos last?
IVF has been perfected over the years, leading to endless possibilities in the field. Dr. Keenan said, “When I started over 27 years ago, the success rates were about half what they are now.” He explained the longevity of a frozen embryo, “People can’t know how long human embryos can last, but we don’t know that there is any definite time limit.” However, the Gibsons don’t think it was science that brought their baby girl to them, but faith. “24 years ago, God already knew that she was going to be part of our family.”
After Emma’s birth, media sources went wild spreading the news of the Gibson family. They have been asked to give multiple interviews, and have been written about in news sources such as Time, CNN and BBC news- and their story has been getting attention all over the world, and has been shared millions of times on various social media platforms. Of course, the Gibsons are more focused on their adorable newborn than the media attention they have been receiving.
A perfect miracle
Tina, Benjamin, and Emma are all safely settled into their home now, but are still in shock at the miracle of life they have been blessed with. Tina, while holding back tears explained, “It’s just so special. It just shows you that that is the kind of God that we served that he would do something like that for us.” She continued, “She’s precious, she’s perfect.” Tina says she will never take for granted the gift she has been given, and that Emma will have quite the story to tell her children and grandchildren one day.
When the Gibsons were asked if they would like to try implantation with the two remaining embryos, Emma’s genetic siblings, Tina said that two months prior to the birth she would have said yes. However, for now Emma is bringing her and her husband all the love that they could ever possibly need, and then some. Also, she isn’t too keen on going through the pain of child labor again, “After having natural childbirth, I’m like, ‘I’m never doing that again!'” Then she continued, “But I’m sure in like a year, I’ll be like, ‘I want to try for another baby.'”