Kelly Burke looks upon her babbling baby and ponders the unique reality that his biological siblings, created from the same embryo cycle and born to another family 2,500 miles away, will be of voting age at the time of his first birthday this November.
The 45-year-old NASA research scientist gave birth to Liam James using what her doctor believes to be the second oldest cryopreserved human embryo in history. Her son's story could, possibly, only be conceived by a rocket scientist.
Burke tried numerous fertility treatments and after trying to become pregnant for years, abandoned the idea of using her own eggs. The Virginia Beach resident discovered a couple from Oregon looking to donate four embryos.
"Embryos are not easy to come by and the opportunity came unexpectedly. I was excited by the idea of carrying my child," Burke said.
Although embryo adoption is significant in itself, the embryos Burke would adopt had an even more amazing story.
Nineteen years earlier, a woman donated her eggs at San Ramon-based Reproductive Science Center of the Bay Area (RSC). In 1994, the couple from Oregon had been struggling with infertility and decided to use the eggs while going through in vitro fertilization (IVF). They transferred two embryos and froze the remaining embryos that had been created during the process.
The couple delivered fraternal twins from that IVF cycle.
The embryos remained frozen until 2012 when the Oregon couple was put into contact with Kelly who went through a rigorous adoption process.
"I think the couple knows more about me than some of my family," Burke joked.
Kelly adopted four embryos and flew to RSC for the implantation.
"We were all very excited about the procedure," said Dr. Deborah Wachs, a reproductive endocrinologist at RSC. "As was practiced in the early 90s, the embryos had been developed to
the day-two stage and then frozen. Currently, we commonly transfer and freeze embryos at the day-5 stage because it allows us to better select the embryos that are more likely to result in a pregnancy."
Wachs said technicians successfully thawed four day-two embryos and cultured them to the day-five blastocyst stage.
The embryo donors and Burke agreed to have an open embryo adoption, which means her nine-month-old will one day have the chance to know his siblings.
In 2010 the medical journal Fertility and Sterility reported, "19 years and 7 months represents the 'oldest' cryopreserved human embryos resulting in a live birth to date."