As Glenda and Scott Lyons and their twins step out on, their deck in Eau Claire, Wis., to greet weekend guests—Susan and Bruce Lindeman and their twin toddlers—the couples seem like college buddies who haven't seen each other for ages. The women hug, the men unload baby gear from the car, and the adults make small talk—until Bruce says out loud what everyone's been thinking: "Look at your Samantha! If our Chase had hair, they could almost be twins!"
In fact, these people have never laid eyes on each other before, but they share a unique kinship. Two years ago, after giving birth to twins Samantha and Mitchell with the help of IVF, the Lyonses were faced with a dilemma: What to do with 14 embryos left over after the successful procedure. Rather than discarding, storing or surrendering them anonymously, as happens in most cases, the Lyonses took another route. Relying on the Internet and instinct, they reached out to a pair of strangers 1,000 miles away and—once convinced that the Lindemans were the kind of people they could trust—sent them their extra embryos. On July 1,2003, when Susan Lindeman gave birth to healthy babies Chase and Jack, the Lyonses celebrated too. The couples exchanged e-mails and presents, and this summer the Lyonses took the extra step of inviting the Lindemans to visit their home in Wisconsin, where the couples and their two sets of siblings met face-to-face in August. "I am beyond grateful," says Susan Lindeman, 42. "There aren't any words that you can truly say to someone who has given you two amazing children. Glenda and Scott gave us our future."
Though approximately 400,000 embryos are now in storage around the country, the practice of adopting unused embryos is still in its infancy and is almost always done anonymously. For a set of donor parents to actually meet the recipient couple and their kids is, if not unprecedented, extremely rare. "This is still a giant social experiment," says Lori Andrews, a professor of reproductive law at Chicago-Kent College of Law. "The children might grow up and want to be with their genetic parents, even if they're being raised by a perfectly good family. They may feel they've been given away. We don't know what the ramifications will be."
None of that mattered for the Lyonses. "No. 1, we wanted to know the outcome of the adoption," says Glenda, 35, a former accounting manager. "Whether any children survived, where they were, whether they were healthy. We just needed to know for peace of mind." Married in 1997, she and Scott, 37, a mechanic, already had one child, 6-year-old Matthew, when they found they were unable to conceive again and turned to IVF. Doctors at Minnesota's Center for Reproductive Medicine implanted two embryos into Glenda in '01, producing twins. The couple, who wanted no more children, were then asked by the clinic what they wanted to do with 14 embryos left over from the procedure. "Those embryos deserved to live," says Scott. Glenda agreed, with one caveat. "We wanted to find the right home," she says.
Glenda turned to a Web site she had used for support during her fertility problems. Though the site forbids embryo brokering, she inquired where she might donate embryos—and got 18 e-mail replies. One was from the Lindemans. Susan, CFO of a Virginia baby-furniture firm, and Bruce, 43, an IT consultant, were childless after three IVF attempts. "It had been devastating for both of us," says Bruce. The Lyonses' offer "felt like a divine intervention," says Susan.
Glenda and Scott, meanwhile, were charmed by the Lindemans and even, says Glenda, "their gorgeous English setter Joey. We're dog people, too." After just nine days, Glenda e-mailed Susan: "Good news. I talked to Scott, and he agreed on choosing you and Bruce."
For the next four months the women worked through the logistical problems and had a legal document drawn up granting the Lindemans full rights to any children born from the embryos. In October 2002, frozen embryos shipped via FedEx arrived at the Lindeman's Richmond clinic, and 35 weeks later, Bruce saw his new son for the first time. "He was holding my little finger, and I thought, 'This is my child. No one can tell me he's not.' Then Chase came, and it was the same thing."
For the Lindemans the whole process was so positive that they have passed along the favor. Last fall, after consulting with the Lyonses, they posted an Internet offer and donated the eight remaining embryos to a couple in California, who now have twin girls. For now, the Lyonses and Lindemans agree that someday, when their children are old enough to understand, they will be told about the special circumstances of their births. Until then, "none of us can predict how this will all turn out," says Bruce. "It's going to be fun. This isn't the culmination of something. It's the beginning."
Susan Schindehette. Giovanna Breu in Eau Claire
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