Adoption of frozen embryos, known as "snowflake" babies, slowly rising

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GREENSBORO, NC (WFMY) -- Thirty-five years after the very first so-called "test tube baby," it's estimated 5 million other children have followed this groundbreaking delivery.

But as would-be parents benefit from in-vitro fertilization, they are increasingly faced with an agonizing decision: what to do with frozen embryos they do NOT want implanted.

One option is to offer them up for adoption.

"It's crazy to think about," said Steffany Reeve.

As Reeve and her husband tell their story, a stranger in Durham N.C. is about to have their baby. But the baby won't be a Reeve once born.

"I as a mom just have to keep telling myself this embryo would still be frozen in a freezer if she did not give it life," Steffany reasoned.

And that's how this story began.

Steffany was one of the nearly 7 million women who struggle with infertility here in the U.S.

Years of trying, numerous medical tests and thousands of dollars later, Steffany and David say they found their miracle in-vitro fertilization or IVF. That's when doctors create an embryo in a lab using a couple's sperm and egg and then implants it back in the woman to grow it to full term.

After 6 tries and four years, IVF worked. The Reeves have three children and 13 embryos left over. Researchers say that's not uncommon.

There are an estimated 600,000 frozen embryos in limbo right now in the United States.

The Embryo Adoption Awareness Center says 70 percent of couples eventually come back and use their own embryos, 8 percent donate them to research, 14 percent abandon or discard them and another 8 percent donate them for struggling couples to adopt.

"We love embryo adoptions but the problem with embryo adoptions is, the availability of embryos," said Dr. Jeffery Deaton, with Premier Fertility in High Point.

"I do believe the thought of having someone else raise what they consider their child, can be a little tough for some of them to handle so they choose to discard."

Not for the Reeves.

"We were like, what a waste to destroy them. I thought, man, if we could help other families along and they don't have to go through the struggle of just getting to that point it would be a big help," David said.

That's when Wendy Clarke came into the picture.

"I didn't want to create life outside of marriage," she said.

At the time, Clarke was 39 years old, wanted to have a baby but just hadn't met the right man.

"Last summer, a friend called me and said 'I have a friend of a friend who has embryos that they are looking to donate, are you interested?'"

Clarke says that's when she was introduced to the Reeves.

"I think she'll be a good mom and I think, ultimately, those feelings, sort of that gut feeling, led us to donate the embryo to her," said Steffany.

And now Clarke is ready to start a family of her own.

"I get that people can say it's weird and untraditional. But it's the world that we live in right now," she said.

Nightlight Christian Adoptions is a child placement agency which pioneered the embryo adoption process 17 years ago.

The adoption service calls the frozen embryos "Snowflakes" and says there have been more than 360 so-called "snowflake babies" born.

"In who I am and who I've been created to be, this was a better fit and that's…will there be cons, yes. Am I going to be a single parent, yes. But I'm a single parent out of promise, not out of pain. Out of choice," Clarke said, of her choice.

"Now it's all my baby and I'm looking forward to meeting him."

Wendy didn't have to wait too long. Viktor was born 3 weeks ago at 8 pounds 7 ounces.

The Reeves have met little Viktor. At this point, they say they don't know what kind of relationship they want to have with Clarke and Viktor but they do know they want more than Christmas cards and pictures.

The two families are working out those details.

.Follow WKYC's Senior Health Correspondent Monica Robins on Twitter: @MonicaRobins

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