Roger Marsh: Every January since 1973, has been a bleak reminder of the infamous passing of Roe versus Wade. Following the legalization of abortion on demand, millions upon millions of innocent babies have been ruthlessly murdered. To honor these lives and to speak out against this evil, every January is Sanctity of Human Life month.
And all this week here on Family Talk, our programs will celebrate that concept. One of our ministries primary missions is to defend the right to life, especially in a mother's womb. Now, to kick off this important week of broadcasts, we will be focusing on the revolutionary idea of Snowflake adoption. This is the process of couples adopting cryogenically frozen embryos leftover from in vitro fertilization.
In just a moment, you'll hear Dr. James Dobson's recent conversation with the family who have pioneered this movement. John and Marlene Strege were the first couple to adopt an embryo all the way back in 1999. Today, they will unpack their difficult journey that's transpired over the past 20 years, while their daughter Hannah will share her perspective of being the first "Snowflake."
Let's listen now to their inspiring story, which further affirms the sacredness of life in the womb.
Dr. Dobson: John and Marlene, and Hannah, it's so good to have you here. I've known you for a long time. You've been to this studio before. And back when I was at Focus on the Family, you came repeatedly, so I've kept people up to date on your story and your family for a long time. In fact, it goes back to 1997. Marlene, tell everyone how we first met. What was the very first contact 22 years ago?
Marlene Strege: My husband and I had been through infertility and we came to the point in our treatments where the doctor suggested that we use donor egg with my husband's sperm to create a child. And we were uncomfortable with that. And I asked the doctor at that time-
Dr. Dobson: Because that's creating a life?
Marlene Strege: That's creating a life outside the marriage bond.
Dr. Dobson: Yeah.
Marlene Strege: So, I asked the doctor at that point, "Do you have any embryos we could adopt?" And he said, "Well sure, I've got lots of frozen embryos that remain from other people's infertility treatments." But I wanted to know what does God think about that. So, we talked to several trusted pastors that we knew, but I also wanted to talk to Dr. Dobson because I'd listened to you for years and you were a psychologist, child family counselor.
Marlene Strege: So, I called and I got a person that answers the phone and they transferred me to a counselor and then they transferred me to a chaplain. Nobody could answer my question of what would God think about adopting embryos. So, now I was in tears and I said, "Is there any way that Dr. Dobson would answer this question?" And they said, "If you could get us a letter here by Monday", this was on Friday, they said, "He'll be in the office, we'll see if he'll answer it."
Marlene Strege: So, I Federal Express to you a letter and a week after that you actually called me at home, on a Saturday, which was surprising to me. And you said-
Dr. Dobson: It was a Saturday?
Marlene Strege: Yeah, yes. And I don't think you know this part, but when you first called and you said, "Do you know who this is? Does my voice sound familiar?" For some reason I thought it was ... Because I went to USC, I thought it was USC calling, soliciting a donation. And so, finally I go, "Dr. Dobson?" You said, "Yes." And you said, you had received my letter, you could feel the pain in my letter, but you had never been asked that question before. What would God think about adopting frozen embryos?
Dr. Dobson: Well I hadn't. And I don't think anybody else had either because the idea was brand new.
Marlene Strege: No. It was brand new.
Dr. Dobson: Where did you come up with this idea of adopting a frozen embryo?
Marlene Strege: When we were going through infertility treatments, we were leading up to the point where the doctors were suggesting in vitro fertilization for us. And I just felt very uncomfortable with that because I knew they were going to try to create as many embryos as they could. And I was sharing this with a coworker and I said, "What would we do with those remaining embryos?" And she said, "Well, maybe you could get another Christian couple to take them." And I said, "Oh, are they doing that now?"
And she just kind of shrugged her shoulders. So, that thought was in my head when the doctor told us that we couldn't conceive a child because I no longer had eggs. And I thought-
Dr. Dobson: And you were going through the pain of infertility.
Marlene Strege: Exactly. And so I thought-
Dr. Dobson: And so was John.
Marlene Strege: Right.
Dr. Dobson: You were too, weren't you, John?
John Strege: Yes, yes, sir.
Marlene Strege: So then, I thought to myself, maybe we can adopt embryos. So, that's when I asked, "Can we adopt embryos?"
Dr. Dobson: And what did I say?
Marlene Strege: And you said that you didn't know what to tell me. And that you had to get counsel, so that you had contacted several people, Joe Mcllhaney, being one of them. But you concluded-
Dr. Dobson: He's an OBGYN, longtime friend.
Marlene Strege: OBGYN, infertility doctor.
Dr. Dobson: Yeah.
Marlene Strege: Right. And so you and everyone else that we had asked, the pastors, had all concluded that if the original family is not going to go back and get those frozen embryos, then yes, they need to be placed for adoption. And so, that just set this whole thing in motion, because we first had to answer that question for ourselves of what would God think about this.
Dr. Dobson: John, how unusual for a wife to come home and say, "I've got an idea. I've got something new to suggest"? Did you immediately see the wisdom of it or the potential?
John Strege: The first I heard about it was when-
Marlene Strege: Was in the doctor's office.
John Strege: Was in the doctor's office when she asked the question. And I'm sure we talked about it briefly after we left. Before she asked that question, I was fine with traditional adoption, international or domestic and that's where my mind was at the time. But also, I was aware of the pain she felt not being able to experience pregnancy. So, it was pretty easy to convince me, "Well, let's see where this goes."
Dr. Dobson: What was the next step?
Marlene Strege: Well, once we figured out that we felt that this would be honorable before God, then we had to reach out to an attorney, an adoption agency to do this. And so, we contacted our friend Ron Stoddart. I was a babysitter for he and his wife's children and we knew them from our church growing up. And so, he was executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions and we got an appointment to meet with him.
He walked us through the international adoption program as well as the domestic adoption. And then, at the end I said, "Well, Ron, we want to adopt frozen embryos." And he just took it and ran with it. He didn't even flinch. Right before that, there was a story in the news about England and they were running out of space for these frozen embryos and they were over five years old. They could not reach the original families. So, they went and destroyed 3000 embryos.
And he remembered thinking at that time, that's wrong. Those are human lives. So, when I said to him that we wanted to adopt the frozen embryos, he thought of that story and he's like, "Yes, we need to do this." And so, he took it and ran with it and he had to check into the legalities of how do you do this? It's never been done before. It's always been donor programs.
Dr. Dobson: So, you carried this baby to term and delivered a healthy baby.
Marlene Strege: Right. Right. So, we actually adopted 20 embryos from one family and Hannah is the only one that survived the freeze, the thaw, the transfer, the implantation, and the nine months till birth.
Dr. Dobson: Well, Dr. Mcllhaney made some suggestions to me to pass on to you. One was that you make this a formal adoption process so it's legal, and you have thought through all of the implications, get the permission of the parents of the embryo. But also, to limit the number of frozen embryos that you would thaw and have inserted.
Marlene Strege: Transferred at one time, right.
Dr. Dobson: Yeah.
Marlene Strege: Because you don't want to do selective reduction.
Dr. Dobson: Because you don't want to be in the business of killing those you didn't want. He gave some other good advice there that I passed along.
Marlene Strege: Yeah. One of the other things he mentioned was that all the parties had to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases because they're inputting a bodily fluid into me. And so, that was actually part of the protocol for the clinics too, as well.
Dr. Dobson: Marlene, there are people listening to us who caught just a part of what you just said. People are driving along in their cars and they're thinking about other things and maybe didn't understand what you said. What is a frozen embryo? And where does it come from?
Marlene Strege: So, an embryo is a developmental term of when the egg and sperm come together and you have one cell and that's a new life. That new life has its own DNA. That embryo grows till about eight weeks. And then the developmental term changes to fetus. I think it's-
Dr. Dobson: It's a baby from the embryonic stage.
Marlene Strege: Exactly. And I think a fetus is actually Greek, or something, for little one. So, what happens is couples, families, women go through infertility treatments, IVF, in vitro fertilization. The woman's given drugs to make her produce multiple eggs. Those eggs are extracted from the woman, put into a Petri dish, the sperm is added and then they unite and you have the embryos, which is a new life.
And then, some of those embryos are then put back into the woman with the idea that hopefully she will get pregnant. But if she doesn't, then those remaining embryos are frozen for future transfers. So, what happens is women that get pregnant and then have their families and their families are complete and they find that they cannot parent any more children, but they then have these remaining frozen embryos.
So, that is how those frozen embryos are accumulating in our country and the world. They're just staying there, remaining frozen.
Dr. Dobson: And I'm told that there may be a million of those frozen embryos.
Marlene Strege: There's a million. And interesting thing, we had a couple years ago, when Hannah was 18, we went to the celebration of the 500.
Dr. Dobson: Hannah is your daughter who came from this process.
Marlene Strege: Hannah's our daughters. Right. But we went to a picnic where we celebrated the 500th birth and Hannah got to hold a baby, Snowflake baby who was one year old. But both the baby and Hannah had been frozen at the same time, but that little girl had been frozen for 18 years.
Dr. Dobson: And the child is healthy?
Marlene Strege: Absolutely healthy. And Hannah was frozen for two years.
Dr. Dobson: And you were that person.
Hannah Strege: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Dobson: You have been aware that this is your origin since very early in life.
Hannah Strege: Yeah.
Dr. Dobson: How did you find out about it?
Hannah Strege: Yeah. My parents never kept it a secret from me that I was adopted. And I explain this in the foreword of the book a little bit.
Dr. Dobson: Now, you're talking about your dad's book.
Hannah Strege: My dad's book, yes.
Dr. Dobson: We're going to talk about that in a minute. Go ahead.
Hannah Strege: I talk about how my parents decided to tell me that I was frozen and I'm the first adopted embryo. So, my mom decided to take seeds and put them in the freezer. And we took them out and we thawed them and my mom was like, "Just as the embryos didn't survive the freeze, these seeds won't survive the freeze and then implantation into the soil and grow into a plant. And that was just how we decided to do it with you." The embryos didn't survive the freeze, the thaw and the transfer.
Dr. Dobson: How old were you?
Hannah Strege: Five. Five or so.
Dr. Dobson: Did you understand that?
Hannah Strege: Yeah, it made perfect sense and that's exactly how I decided to tell people I was adopted. I would tell them I was adopted as a seed and put into my mommy's tummy to grow. And that just made sense to me.
Dr. Dobson: Since then, you have told it to a lot of people. You've been very open about it. In fact, you have been here on Family Talk and before that, Focus on the Family to talk about this. You are excited about it. This is a wonderful story. You are the very first Snowflake baby.
Hannah Strege: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Dobson: And there are now hundreds of them. In fact, Marlene, we were talking earlier that you know of 700.
Marlene Strege: By the end of this year, they expect, God willing, that we'll have a total of 700 through Snowflakes Embryo Adoption. And there's other organizations that do embryo adoption as well. So there's many, many more children that have been born since Hannah.
Dr. Dobson: And do you know most of those families?
Marlene Strege: We know a lot of them. We visited some here in Colorado when we were here. And we have been to Snowflake birthday parties. We got together this summer with ... How many Snowflakes came to that? About 10 Snowflakes with their families. So, we have quite the Snowflake network.
Dr. Dobson: As a matter of fact, a large number of them went to the White House when George W. Bush was president.
Marlene Strege: Right. We've been to the White House a couple times. The first time, he actually welcomed Snowflakes to the White House to put a face to his policy at that time. And that was against embryonic stem cell research, and for adult stem cell research.
Dr. Dobson: That was one of his most courageous decisions because all of the media was in favor of embryonic stem cell research and he took another path. He was criticized resoundingly for doing that, but you were part of his decision.
Marlene Strege: Right. And then, we actually stood behind him for his first veto in 2006 where he said these children are not spare parts and we won't use federal funding to do this embryonic stem cell research.
Dr. Dobson: Because it inevitably meant the death of the embryo.
Marlene Strege: Exactly. Right. They have to grow the embryo in the lab till they reach the blastocyst stage and then they extract the stem cells, which kills the child.
Dr. Dobson: The day he made that decision, I was on the Larry King Live show to talk about it and explain it. So, I've been watching this and fighting for the lives of those embryos for a long, long time.
Marlene Strege: Well, we thank you so much doctor. I don't even know if I've ever thanked you for this, for taking that initial letter and phone call to me.
Dr. Dobson: That was the right thing to do. John, let's talk about your book. You're writing about this subject even now.
John Strege: Yeah. The name of the book is A Snowflake Named Hannah: Ethics, Faith, and the First Adoption of a Frozen Embryo. And I'm a sport's journalist, written six previous books all on sports. So, this was a very personal book. And I'd not always had wanted to do it, but as we watched all these different things unfold over the years and winding up in the White House, I go, "this is probably a pretty good book." Plus, I wanted something to give Hannah so she knows her whole story.
Dr. Dobson: Yeah.
John Strege: And from the very beginning.
Dr. Dobson: And what else is in the book besides Hannah's story?
John Strege: Well, it goes through the whole political issue.
Dr. Dobson: Yeah.
John Strege: The controversy that followed with embryonic stem cell research.
Dr. Dobson: Yeah.
John Strege: And Marlene and Hannah going to Washington DC three times. Marlene testifying in Congress in 2001, in which you consulted with her about whether she should do it. And I've got it in the book, you invoked Esther's story that you were called for a moment like this.
Marlene Strege: "It appears the Lord has prepared you for such a time as this."
Dr. Dobson: Yep.
Marlene Strege: "I have two words for you, do it." I remember that so clearly.
John Strege: Yes.
Dr. Dobson: Well, this has not been without controversy within the Christian community.
Marlene Strege: Yes, yes.
Dr. Dobson: That's hard to believe.
Marlene Strege: People on the other side wouldn't-
Dr. Dobson: Let's make it clear here, you were not creating a life yourselves in a Petri dish someplace.
Marlene Strege: Right.
Dr. Dobson: You were taking a child who was already conceived, an embryo that was a human being in the first stage of life.
Marlene Strege: Right. Right. Yes, even the word embryo, people are confused even of what that means. So, that is when the egg and the sperm come together and then you have new life. So, that is the developmental stage from one cell to eight weeks of development. And at eight weeks it changes-
Dr. Dobson: And we believe and you do too that life begins at conception.
Marlene Strege: Right. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Dobson: And so, that has occurred here.
Marlene Strege: Right.
Dr. Dobson: So, why would Christian people criticize you for giving an opportunity to live to that embryo?
Marlene Strege: Two reasons that I can see. The first reason is they feel that it intrudes on the sanctity of marriage because the doctors are putting something into me that's not of me and my husband. And my answer to that is, when you go through embryo adoption through Nightlight, there's an adoption agreement. And because these embryos are property, that's the legal status of them, is property and not people. They have to do an adoption agreement.
So, once that paperwork is signed by the placing family, the placing family has three days to change their mind. Once that three days is up, those are our children. And adoption's not second best. So, we had to provide for those children. And the way that we did that was through my body. My body then became the home for those children.
And so, actually, we had six children survive the thaw on two separate transfers. So, three were put in the first time, I didn't get pregnant. I went again the next month and three more were put in, Hannah being one of them. And Hannah was the only one that implanted into me. So, that's my answer to that one. I don't feel it does intrude on the sanctity of marriage. It's just adoption at an earlier age.
Dr. Dobson: Yeah.
Marlene Strege: The second reason is because people say, "Well, if we support embryo adoption, we're supporting the whole IVF industry." And I say, "Well, we don't support the whole IVF industry." They're doing some pretty crazy stuff in my view, but I needed a doctor to put Hannah into me and I needed a doctor to take her out of me nine months later.
Dr. Dobson: Yeah.
Marlene Strege: So, embryo adoption is different. If say, a birth mom is placing her child for adoption, you support the child, but you may not support premarital sex.
Dr. Dobson: Yeah.
Marlene Strege: You know, you got to support the child and do what's right, in the best interest of the child.
Dr. Dobson: Well, it's the same thing. You don't kill a baby who is conceived through an immoral act once that baby has been born.
Marlene Strege: Right. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Dobson: Why would you not take the same position to an embryo?
Marlene Strege: Right. Yeah.
Dr. Dobson: Yeah.
Marlene Strege: So, I'm hoping that churches will embrace it.
Dr. Dobson: You have led this cause haven't you? You're one courageous ... John, talk about her. She is one courageous lady. She has fought this battle.
John Strege: She has been fantastic. And she talks to strangers about it. We had met a lady the other day and Hannah and I are in the car and we're going, "I'll bet she's telling that lady about Hannah's story." And sure enough, she was. A great advocate for this. We've been blessed by it. As we've been blessed by you because if you didn't have all these broadcasts with Marlene and Hannah over the years, so many people wouldn't have known about it, that have given birth to these Snowflake babies. So, you've played a huge part in it too.
Dr. Dobson: Wow.
Marlene Strege: Very huge.
Dr. Dobson: I'm grateful to have been given the opportunity to talk to a lot of people. And this is one that my heart and soul is wrapped around. Hannah, your dad talked about the number of times that we did radio programs with you and on your story. I wonder if you remember coming to Focus on the Family. You were two years old and at that age I had you in the studio and I held you on my lap and you sang, "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world."
Hannah Strege: I do remember it. I've heard it and my mom plays it sometimes.
Dr. Dobson: Do you have that recording?
Marlene Strege: I do. Yeah, I do. I do.
Dr. Dobson: How many songs can you sing?
Hannah Strege: Three.
Dr. Dobson: You got three songs? All right. Sing another one for me.
Hannah Strege: "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. They are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world." I love you, Dr. Dobson ...
Dr. Dobson: That is so precious. What did she say right at the end?
Marlene Strege: She whispered, "I love you, Dr. Dobson."
Dr. Dobson: Oh my goodness. Isn't that incredible? And you do recall that?
Hannah Strege: I do recall it. I think that being in the broadcast studio with you is like home because it just reminds me of doing that years ago, too.
Dr. Dobson: Awe, that was so exciting for me.
Marlene Strege: So, that broadcast, unbeknownst to anybody, aired the same day that President Bush gave his decision on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, August 9th, 2001. And so, all day long ...
Dr. Dobson: Let me clarify that one more time. I think we mentioned it. But the reason we're so passionately opposed to embryonic stem cell research, first of all, it doesn't work and has never accomplished anything. Nobody's ever been healed by that approach to research.
Marlene Strege: That's right.
Dr. Dobson: And the other, of course, is at the baby dies, inevitably.
Marlene Strege: Exactly.
Dr. Dobson: And so, we were opposed to it. And George W. Bush got that message. He understood that and he took a stand to be opposed to embryonic stem cell research and to oppose money for that purpose.
Marlene Strege: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Dobson: And instead, stem cell research on adult individuals has been marvelously successful.
Marlene Strege: It's my understanding, too, that adult stem cell treatments have already treated two million people. And embryonic stem cell is zero. And yet, our government is still funding embryonic-
Dr. Dobson: And the state of California allocated, I think $3 billion, wasn't it?
John Strege: Yeah, in 2004 allocated, it was on the ballot and they voted for it. $3 billion.
Dr. Dobson: For embryonic stem cell research?
John Strege: Yes, and that was in 2004. Hasn't produced anything and now they're going back trying to get another measure on the ballot for 2020 in California for an additional $5.5 billion.
Dr. Dobson: It doesn't work.
John Strege: It doesn't work.
Dr. Dobson: John, what has really developed here is really a miracle. Marlene is a go getter and she's not only been part of this process, but she's an evangelist telling everybody else that will listen about it. And that has affected your life, hasn't it?
John Strege: Well, in a positive manner, yes it has.
Dr. Dobson: Yes.
John Strege: But she's the greatest advocate for embryo adoption that I know. Passionate about it. We never intended for this to happen. We just wanted a child. But the passion really kicked in with embryonic stem cell research and that's when we got angry. And Marlene got angry and has stayed angry in that regard. And that fuels the passion to get these frozen embryos adopted.
Dr. Dobson: You have now written a book on this subject.
John Strege: I do have a book coming out. The name of the book is A Snowflake Named Hannah: Ethics, Faith, and the First Adoption of a Frozen Embryo.
Roger Marsh: Well, we hate to interrupt this program but, unfortunately, we have run out of time for today's broadcast. Dr. James Dobson's guest today here on Family Talk have been John, Marlene, and Hannah Strege. Visit our broadcast page at DrJamesDobson.org for more information about their brand new book and also Snowflake adoption.
Once you're there, you can also request a physical copy of this program. Simply click on the Order a CD button on our broadcast page. Your CD will include today's interview as well as the conclusion of this conversation that will be airing on tomorrow's broadcast. You'll find all of this and more when you go to DrJamesDobson.org and then tap on the broadcast page.
Thanks so much for joining us today, and be sure to listen to in again next time, as we continue to hear about the Snowflake adoption concept from the Strege's. They will explain how their groundbreaking precedent has pushed them into the center of the pro-life movement. Don't miss the conclusion of the Strege story tomorrow on Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk.
I'm Roger Marsh. Thanks for listening.
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