Jessica DiZane and Emma Austin with Henry Austin, four weeks. Picture: Liam Kidston

Mum’s priceless gift to a total stranger

26th May 2019 5:11 AM
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A QUEENSLAND woman has given the most priceless gift imaginable to a complete stranger: her precious leftover frozen embryos.

One Sunday afternoon over a drink in a Brisbane back yard, Jessica and her husband John met Emma Austin and Richard for the very first time.

Within a few hours it was agreed Jessica would give Emma her precious leftover frozen embryos - six little test tubes each containing the chance of life.

Just months earlier, with the advice of her fertility doctor and after a decade of endless, fruitless procedures, Emma heartbreakingly had decided to close the door on ever having a baby.

Today, Emma is holding her newborn baby, four-week-old Henry. The series of sliding doors that led to this moment is a miracle by anyone's standards.

Embryo donation comes with complex emotional and psychological upset, perhaps more so than egg and sperm donation or even surrogacy as the child is fully the DNA of the donor couple.

"So many people have said to me "Wow, that is just weird how on earth could you let someone else have your child"?" Jess told The Sunday Mail.

"But honestly it is not weird and I could not be happier that life has led my husband John and I to Emma and Richard. It feels right. I was lucky that fertility treatment allowed me to have two successful pregnancies and two beautiful children, IVF just didn't work out for Emma and I can empathise with that kind of searing pain," she said.

"Our embryos were more than just a group of cells created through science," she said.

"We went through so much to have them and there was a strong emotional connection.

"I could not bear the thought of disposing of them. That would have kept me awake at night."

The amazing feel-good story started a few years back in Melbourne when Jess and her husband John were going through their own personal IVF journey in the bid to have a baby.

Dad Richard with Emma at the birth of Henry
Dad Richard with Emma at the birth of Henry

Jess is now 35 and had her egg collection when she was 31. The couple finally had two healthy children now aged three and 18 months. Their family complete, the couple had six embryos left on ice.

"We moved to Brisbane and it was a constant worry to me as to what would happen to the other embryos," Jess said.

"I was chatting to a friend over coffee one day and brought up the dilemma to her. She said she knew of a Brisbane couple who desperately wanted a child but it looked like a lost cause.

"Through this friend we then set up a meeting and it all happened quickly from there.

"I had considered putting the embryos on a donor registry but I didn't like the idea of never knowing where the child would be or who was raising it.

"I just wanted to be reassured any child born from the embryos would be raised in a good home.

"If I had felt that Emma wasn't right then I would not have gone ahead.

"But somehow we all clicked. It felt right and I had an immense sense of relief."

Emma was gifted all six frozen embryos and even though she turns 40 this year has not completely ruled out trying for another pregnancy.

"The first egg my fertility doctor used did not thaw properly but the second one was perfect and my Henry turned out perfect. It could not have had more of a happy ending," Emma said.

Henry is welcomed by dad Richard.
Henry is welcomed by dad Richard.

The new mum said she was unsure initially of receiving such an enormous gift.

"I wanted to make sure that I felt comfortable with Jess and John. I wasn't going to just jump in but it all seemed seamless. When I first mentioned to my fertility doctor about using a donated embryo he was hesitant and said that leftover embryos are leftover for a reason. Thankfully these embryos were healthy and strong. I can't even put in words what I feel when I look down at this baby in my arms," she said.

They may have been strangers just over a year ago but now Jess and Emma's family are connected forever.

"Henry is Emma and Richard's son. That is straight in my head. My children will know of their connection with Henry but are unlikely to call him a brother, perhaps more like a cousin. I know that these new parents are incredibly grateful for what has happened but I can't explain that for me, I am just as grateful.

"The dilemma hanging over me as to what I would do with the extra embryos is solved. To give someone the gift of a baby is like no other feeling," Jess said.

Jessica's IVF specialist Lynn Burmeister, said it was a privilege to have helped Jessica achieve her dream of having children and then to see that gift passed on to Emma was inspiring.

Jessica DiZane with Savannah, 3, Emma Austin with Henry, four weeks, and John DiZane with Cohen, 1. Picture: Liam Kidston
Jessica DiZane with Savannah, 3, Emma Austin with Henry, four weeks, and John DiZane with Cohen, 1. Picture: Liam Kidston

"There are now two families who maybe had given up on the hope of having children who are now celebrating the gift of life and a lifelong unbreakable bond," Dr Burmeister said.

"Jessica and John's decision to donate their embryos was the ultimate selfless act of extraordinary generosity."

The Brisbane families are speaking out about their experience to show that embryo donation is very doable.

"Think of all the tens of thousands of embryos that are destroyed and think of all the women in Australia who feel empty inside as they struggle to be mums. Surely this is a process that should be better facilitated and made easier for women. The dilemma of what to do with extra embryos is an agonising decision that hits women out of the blue. When letters arrive from the clinics asking what you want to do with the treasured embryos every six months it is like a knife to the heart," Jess said.

Meanwhile Emma Austin is on cloud nine. She has fallen in love again, this time with an unexpected chubby cheeked little man who has stolen her breath away.

Dump or donate dilemma:

Fertility expert David Molloy
Fertility expert David Molloy

MORE than 100,000 lives are in limbo in Australian fertility clinics.

Freezing embryos is a common practice in the fertility industry but it can throw out an agonising dilemma for couples who have completed their families and have many embryos leftover - dump or donate are the options and both are fraught with emotional trauma.

As one in every 23 children in Australia are born as a result of IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies and rates continue to rise, fears grow that the number of unwanted and ultimately destroyed embryos will blow out.

Surrogacy Australia president Sam Everingham, who sees up close the pain of childless couples desperate for a baby, is calling for better practice in this fertility area.

"Embryo donation needs a national database so that donors can be connected with recipients more easily. Currently just a few clinics nationally run an active embryo donation program," he said

He also suggests that clinics are more restrictive in the use of stimulation drugs which promote the harvesting of eggs leading to the production of embryos.

Queensland fertility expert Dr David Molloy says that couples are well counselled about the possibility of having extra eggs on ice and having to make the decision of what to do with them.

His clinic at Queensland Fertility Group does offer an embryo donation program.

"Clinics send out letters to couples asking if they want to continue paying storage fees," he said.

"If we cannot contact the couples, and we make great efforts to do so, then the clinic has the right to dispose of them."

"Some people believe that the embryos are life and will view disposal as an abortion.

"We try to modify their treatment accordingly," he said.

Wendy Francis from the Australian Christian Lobby believes there should be more consideration given to the embryos themselves as she believes that life begins at the moment of conception and so an embryo that is destroyed is a life that is intentionally ended.

"There should be a better information process for the prospective parents to assist them to make choices upfront in regards to the lives that are being created," she said.

"Perhaps there should be a promotion of adoption in the case of excess embryos giving the chance for life and love."

Frozen in time - the facts

*120,000 embryos are on ice in Australia

*Couples will revisit some for further pregnancies

*30 per cent likely destroyed

*Rarely they are gifted

*Donation to medical science an option

(Currently no scientific probe using embryos)

*No limit in Queensland to storage time

*Clinics have right to destroy if embryos abandoned

*40 per cent birth success rate in embryo from 32 year old