You may not realize it, but couples wanting to adopt a child can actually adopt embryos that have been placed for adoption by the couples who conceived them through advanced reproductive technology. The very first person in the world who was adopted as an embryo is current Biola student, Hannah Strege. Join Scott and Sean for a conversation with Hannah and her adoptive parents about their experience with embryo adoption.

This episode was recorded prior to the coronavirus shutdown.

More About Our Guests

The Strege family, the first family to adopt an embryo, lives in Southern California. Hannah, is a current Biola student. Her father, John, is long time writer for Golf Digest and author of five books on golf related subjects.

Episode Transcript

Scott Rae: Welcome to the podcast, Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. I'm your host, Scott Rae, Dean of Faculty and Professor of Christian Ethics at Talbot School of Theology here at Biola University.

Sean McDowell: I'm your cohost, Sean McDowell, Professor of Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.

Scott Rae: We're here this afternoon with some very special guests. We're actually a lot more crowded around the table-

Sean McDowell: We are.

Scott Rae: ... then we normally are because we have the Strege family who is with us. We'll let them tell you their story. But Hannah is 20, 21, which one?

Hannah Strege: 21.

Scott Rae: 21, and she was the first, what's called, Snowflake Baby. If you're wondering what that is, you can stop the show right for about 15 seconds and Google the Snowflake Program, and you'll find out exactly what it is. Hannah was the first child born out of an embryo adoption program.

Scott Rae: Now, her parents, John and Marlene are also here, so delighted to have all three of you with us. John has written a book about their story called, A Snowflake Named Hannah, the unique story that Ignited the new pro-life movement. So, welcome all three of you. Really super delighted to have you with us, and to give you an opportunity to tell this incredibly unique story.

Marlene Strege: Thank you for having us here.

Scott Rae: Now, I suspect, I could be wrong about this, but I suspect that many of our listeners don't even realize that embryo adoption, even that there is such a thing as embryo adoption. What exactly is involved in, let's say, a couple adopting embryos, and why would somebody want to do this?

Marlene Strege: We found that typically we have to define was an embryo is first. So an embryo is egg and sperm that come together and creates a new life, one cell that is a new life. Embryo is the developmental term for that one cell to eight weeks of development, and then the term changes to fetus from eight weeks on to birth.

Marlene Strege: These frozen embryos remain from other people's infertility treatments. They go through in vitro fertilization or IVF.

Scott Rae: Okay. Which is the process by which eggs are harvested from a woman, either a donor or a spouse. Then sperm is obtained, and they conceive in a Petri dish.

Marlene Strege: Right, so they give the woman drugs to stimulate her ovaries so that she produces multiple eggs. These eggs are retrieved and put in a Petri dish mixed with sperm, and then embryos, new human lives, are created. Some of those are put back in the woman, hoping that she will get pregnant, but the remaining ones are frozen for future transfers in case she doesn't get pregnant.

Marlene Strege: What happens is couples have their family, have their children, and then they can't parent any more children. So these embryos then remain frozen.

Scott Rae: Say, for example, if a couple gets pregnant with triplets on the first try, chances are their childbearing days are probably over.

Marlene Strege: Right, and that's a decision that that couple makes, and-

Scott Rae: So, they might have what, five, 10, 20 embryos?

Marlene Strege: It varies. It varies. Right. We adopted actually, 20 from one family, so it really varies. They could have one. They could have 20.

Marlene Strege: What had happened up until we decided to do embryo adoption was that couples could donate them to their physician, who would then find another couple who would take them. But because of confidentiality rules with HIPAA, that couple would never know what happened to those remaining embryos. They could donate them to science, which is embryonic stem cell research, which we oppose.

Scott Rae: Because the process of the research ends up destroying the embryo.

Marlene Strege: Right, exactly. Exactly. They could leave them frozen indefinitely, or they could thaw them, and they would die.

Marlene Strege: John and I had been through infertility treatments in 1997, and, at that point, the doctor told us that I was no longer producing eggs. I had a condition known as premature ovarian failure, and that our options were that we would use some else's eggs with my husband's sperm and create a child. We were uncomfortable with that because that would be creating a life outside the marriage bond. What we had to do, we felt, first and foremost, had to be honorable before God.

Marlene Strege: At that time, I asked the physician, "Well, do you have any embryos that we could adopt?" And he's like, "Well, yeah, I've got a ton of embryos, but nobody's ever asked me that before." That's kind of what started-

Scott Rae: How did you know even to ask that question?

Marlene Strege: Well, when we going through the assisted reproductive technologies, I was concerned that we might have remaining embryos. I was more concerned about that, and I shared with a coworker at that time, I said, "What we do with these 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?" She just shrugged her shoulders.

Marlene Strege: When we in that meeting with that doctor, I had that moment of flashback of talking with my coworker. And so I thought, "Oh, well, maybe he has embryos we could adopt." We didn't want to do a donor program because the donor program-

Scott Rae: Egg donor.

Marlene Strege: No, a donor embryo program.

Scott Rae: Okay, a donor embryo.

Sean McDowell: I see. I see.

Marlene Strege: We could have done a donor embryo program, but, again, that's not in the best interest to child because that child would never know if they had genetic siblings out there. And these are human lives, and so they do need to be in the adoptive process just like any other child. This is really just adoption nine months earlier than a traditional adoption.

Marlene Strege: So we had to find out first and foremost what would God think about that, so we contacted several trusted pastors. We're Lutheran, Missouri Synod, so we contacted a few of those, including Doctor Charles Manske, who was the founding president of Concordia University and had his Ph.D. in social ethics from UCS.

Marlene Strege: I also wanted to know-

Scott Rae: Yeah, we actually know them as a family because all their kids went to the preschool that his wife Barbara ran at your church at Shepherd of Peace in Irvine.

Marlene Strege: Yes, yes! I also wanted to find out from Doctor Dobson, Doctor James Dobson, because I listen to him every day when I went to work, and he's a child and family psychologist. Amazingly, I called his office, and then they said, "If you can get us a letter here by Monday, we'll see if he can answer it." So I did, and he called me that following Saturday at home and said, "I've never been asked this question before," and he had to get council.

Marlene Strege: All those people confirmed what John and I knew is that these were human lives, and yes, they need to be placed for adoption if they weren't going to be taken in by the original family. We then had to find an attorney, so we contacted our good friend, Ron Stoddart, who is executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions in Orange County. We knew him from way back when. I used to babysit his kids growing up, and he and his wife were my youth group counselor in high school.

Marlene Strege: He talked about his international and domestic program, and we said, "Ron, we want to adopt an embryo." He didn't even flinch. He said, "Yes, this needs to happen." At that same time, he had read an article in England where they were running out of space for these embryos, and they had 3,000 embryos. They tried to contact the genetic families. They couldn't, and so they destroyed 3,000 frozen embryos.

Marlene Strege: He remembered thinking, "That's wrong." So when I brought this up, it was right there in the forefront of his brain, and he's like, "Yeah, these embryos do need to be adopted." So he had to figure out all the legal implications of how do you adopt an embryo.

Scott Rae: Basically, your request to him is what started the Snowflake Program. Nightlight Christian Adoptions is in Fullerton, California, which is only-

Marlene Strege: They're in Santa Ana now.

Scott Rae: Santa Ana, yeah, which is not very far from where we are here at Biola University.

Marlene Strege: Right, and they now have 10 offices in 10 different states, so they've totally grown.

Scott Rae: How many embryo adoption arrangements would you estimate that Ron and his associates have facilitated?

Marlene Strege: Well, Nightlight Christian Adoptions is the oldest. It's the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program. I believe there's eight total, and they're not adoption agencies. I believe Nightlight is the only one. There might be one other, but these embryos, these frozen embryos, legally are considered property. So he had to write an adoption agreement using adoption terminology and best practices of adoption, but the legal status of my daughter when we adopted her was personal property.

Sean McDowell: Now, you adopted 19 embryos.

Marlene Strege: 20.

Scott Rae: 20.

Sean McDowell: Oh, 20, my bad. 20. What happened to the rest of the embryos?

Marlene Strege: Once the paperwork was completed by the genetic family, and they had three days to change their mind. Once those three days were up, those were our children. And adoption's not second best. Then they were Federal Expressed to our clinic in Pasadena, California, in canisters of liquid nitrogen.

Sean McDowell: Wow.

Marlene Strege: They're stored in straws, so there might be, in our case, two embryos per straw, maybe three. I told the doctor. I said, "I want two embryos put in, three at the max."

Marlene Strege: Then they have to start preparing my body to be at the exact timing of those embryos and where they are in their development because they're frozen at different stages of development sometimes. So they have to get the protocol from the originating clinic of freezing, and then they have to match it with a thawing protocol.

Marlene Strege: Then they look, and they start me on progesterone and estrogen to build up my uterine lining. Then they tell me, "Okay, you're going to come in on such and such day," and they start thawing. They thaw a straw. Maybe some survives, and then they just move on to the next straw. The first transfer they thawed 12, and only three survived.

Marlene Strege: They said they didn't look very promising because they had fragmentation, which happens from the freeze and the thaw, but I said, "No, we're going to do the transfer anyway." I didn't get pregnant. I wanted to go again the very next month, and the embryologist was very apologetic. He said, "I had to thaw the remaining eight in order to get three, but two out of three looked really good."

Marlene Strege: Again, this is all timed with my cycle, and we had nothing to do with it. So Hannah was actually thawed on Good Friday and transferred the day before Easter.

Scott Rae: How about that.

Sean McDowell: Wow.

Marlene Strege: When we as Christians celebrate new life is when Hannah came back to life.

Scott Rae: I guess so.

Sean McDowell: That's cool.

Scott Rae: Yeah, so Hannah, tell us a little bit about what it has been like to explain this to your friends. How do you go about doing that?

Hannah Strege: Yeah, it's difficult to explain to anyone. I think my friends and people that are a bit younger and more open to different types of technology and just more understanding. I find when I talk to most adults, they don't know what an embryo is, so we really have to start at square one and really talk about what that means and where I was in my development.

Hannah Strege: In the forward of the book that my dad wrote, I kind of talk about how questions that I get, surrogacy and donors, and people just trying to make sense of my story. Yeah, it takes a really long time to kind of sit down and process it with everyone I know.

Sean McDowell: What is the most common question that people ask you? When they start to figure it out, they ask what?

Hannah Strege: They always ask me, do I know who my real parents are.

Sean McDowell: And the frame it that way.

Hannah Strege: Exactly.

Sean McDowell: And your response, what you say to that? I know graciously, but you want to give them context.

Hannah Strege: Yes, I say my real parents are John and Marlene Strege. If you're referring to my biological parents, I know them too.

Sean McDowell: You do? Now, I've got to ask, tell us about that.

Hannah Strege: Yes, this is an open adoption. For privacy reasons, we try to keep their lives private and just really honor and respect their privacy as well. But through an open adoption, I can have relationships with my biological family and know medical history and just know more about where I came from.

Scott Rae: John, have the two families met each other and gotten together and had a relationship?

John Strege: Yeah, we did going way back because, again, it's treated like a traditional adoption, an open adoption, so they had to choose us. We had to choose them. I'm not sure if we met them before Hannah came along. After Hannah was born, we arranged to meet them in Colorado Springs. I think I was there to cover a golf tournament, and then we visited Focus on the Family and our families actually met. Met a couple times in those early years, so we've kept in contact for 21 years.

Scott Rae: The bio family, that's how I'll refer to them. The bio family has an interest in your life and what you're doing?

Hannah Strege: Yeah, absolutely. They care for me just as I care for them. They have five children, and three of them are part of the embryos that were initially created through IVF.

Scott Rae: I see.

Marlene Strege: She's been to Disneyland with them on social media.

Scott Rae: So you have siblings in another family?

Marlene Strege: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Scott Rae: Hey, John, I'm curious too. I don't know what kinds of relationships you have with your extended family, but I'm curious to know, how did your extended family react when you told them that you were going to do this?

John Strege: You're talking about my parents and ...

Scott Rae: Yeah.

John Strege: They were older at the time, and they're no longer with us, so we have no idea how they were going to react, but they were totally supportive to the extent that they both passed away in 2009, and they're solid Christian people. But I got all their scrapbooks, and they had cut out everything, stories in the L.A. Times that mentioned our going to Washington D.C. for the congressional testimony. They kept everything.

John Strege: I'm not sure they fully understood it because it is hard to explain, and, again, they were elderly, but totally supportive.

Scott Rae: I'm glad to hear that.

Sean McDowell: My youngest sister was adopted, and, when we met her biological family, there's certain things that we saw and like, "Oh, now it makes sense. I see just certain personality and character traits that just were wired in the genes or something to that effect." Everyone asks about nature and nurture. In your experience, being with your biological family and your family here, do you see certain traits from both that have just shaped who you are? How do you make sense of that dynamic?

Hannah Strege: Yeah, I think a lot about nature versus nurture in relation to this. I think we are a lot of night and day when it comes to our families. We're just different people that grew up in different places. Yeah.

Marlene Strege: Well, I'll tag onto that because my mother passed away when I was 21, and I missed that mother/daughter relationship hugely. On my second Mother's Day, Hannah was two or so. My dad was visiting, and he wanted me to ... He was looking for a picture, and I had all the family pictures. So I went through them, and I pulled out this picture of my mom when she was Hannah's age, and they looked identical.

Sean McDowell: Oh, my goodness.

Marlene Strege: And it was I had gotten this Mother's Day gift from God.

Sean McDowell: Wow.

Marlene Strege: That he had blessed me again. It was almost like another stamp of approval from God that yes, this was the path I wanted you to take. We got so many confirmations along the way that this was the path that he wanted us to take. Anyway, that was just really neat. And I show those to people today, and they can't believe the resemblance.

Sean McDowell: That's pretty awesome. That's neat. I'm sure that a picture you treasure in particular.

Marlene Strege: It is, and when you look at those donor programs, again, both donor and adoptions save lives, but you're just handed a list of embryos, and you have to pick your child based on hair color, eye color, skin color, GPA like a sperm donor.

Sean McDowell: Wow! Oh, my goodness!

Marlene Strege: When we were trying to find a doctor to do this because no doctor would do this because it was an open adoption and it was new, so our attorney would go with the social worker to infertility clinics. They would do the presentation of this new program, and then John and I would go and meet with the doctor.

Marlene Strege: So this one particular doctor handed me this list, and he goes, "Look, you don't need an attorney," which you don't because they're considered property. I can do a transfer in two weeks. Just pick one. And I looked at this list, and I go, "This is how you choose your car based on options." I go, "This is not how we're growing our family," and I handed the list back to him.

Marlene Strege: Throughout this process, I said no twice to doctors. That was hard because I wanted a baby really badly, but I didn't feel it was honoring God. First and foremost, what we did had to honor God, and I believe what we did honor God.

Scott Rae: Now, John, one of the, I think, really compelling stories you write about in the book was your family's involvement in how the Snowflake Program got its name. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about that?

John Strege: Well, I can. Marlene tells it better than I do, but do you want to ...

Marlene Strege: Yeah, we had wanted to thank our attorney and his wife. We were into this about a year. He had done all this for free, looking into the legal aspects. We paid. We did a home study, and we paid for all of that. So we took him to see the Lamb's Players at Christmastime at Hotel del Coronado. In the play, this actress said, "In the intricate design of each flake of snow, we find the creator reflecting the individual human heart." And she touched a little blond-haired girl on the cheek.

Marlene Strege: I looked at our attorney, and he looked at me. Then at intermission, he goes, "We now have the name of our new program. It's the Snowflake Embryo Adoption Program" because these snowflakes are frozen, unique, and never again to be recreated.

Sean McDowell: Now, you wear a necklace that has a snowflake on it.

Marlene Strege: Absolutely.

Sean McDowell: I could guess that's so people ask and you get to tell them your story and ...

Marlene Strege: It is! And also, it's an anniversary gift from my husband. Yeah, they laugh at me all the time because I'll just be in the grocery store, and I'll start talking to somebody, and I'll tell them about the snowflake program.

Marlene Strege: You know what I found out when Hannah was about four or five? I can share the gospel so quickly through adoption. It's awesome because I say, "Yeah, we tell Hannah that she was adopted just like mommy and daddy and her are all adopted into God's family because of what Jesus did on the cross." So adoption's a really cool thing.

Scott Rae: Let me take off on that just a bit because one of the other parts of the book that I thought was so fun to read was you both had a really creative way of explaining Hannah's origins to her. What was that like?

Marlene Strege: Being an adoptive mom, we also had to do other things besides a traditional adoption like how do you tell your child they were frozen, that type of thing, and they were adopted as an embryo and not a newborn, that type of thing. I think she was about five and kindergarten. They're planting seeds. So I had gotten two packets of seeds in the mail, and I thought, "I wonder if we could freeze these and what would happen."

Marlene Strege: So I took them. I put them in the freezer. Then, at their correct planting season, I brought them out. Then Hannah and I carefully counted out 20 seeds because that's how many we adopted. We put them in the egg carton. Then, in a couple days, I said, "Well, not all of them survived just like not all of the frozen embryos that we adopted survived the freeze and the thaw." Then we took them and planted them in the garden, and, again, not all of them took. Not all of them survived.

Marlene Strege: I said, "Just like when the doctors transferred them to me, the frozen embryos, not all of them survived." So I told her. I said, "We adopted you as a seed, and the doctors put you in my tummy to grow." So I started where she was at. Then when she was older, we'd add pieces to that as she could understand. For instance, the seed is created by a genetic mother and father, and this is who your genetic mother and father are. We wouldn't tell her the whole story at once. We'd just add pieces to it as she got older and was able to take it all in.

Sean McDowell: When did you first meet your genetic mother and father?

Hannah Strege: I met them when I was two.

Sean McDowell: Oh, you did, okay.

Marlene Strege: She actually met them at five months, but she doesn't remember that. Yeah. Yeah. We had some visits from five months to about two.

Sean McDowell: So they were a part of that relationship, but, as you got older, you understood the dynamic further.

Hannah Strege: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sean McDowell: That makes sense. Now, you guys bubble over telling this story because you love it. It's been meaningful. It's been a blessing to you. Not everybody sees it that way. Some people are critical of the Snowflake Program. Can you tell us a little bit about some people, the reasons why they wouldn't be, and how you might respond to some of those objections?

Marlene Strege: Well, yes. The media, in general, doesn't want to do stories on Snowflakes unless I'm standing behind the president of the United States, and they have to, as we were there for President Bush's first veto. But then there's churches.

Sean McDowell: Hold on. And why would that be? Would that be because of the ties to the abortion issue and the embryo being a human being?

Marlene Strege: Probably because I'm saying that life begins at fertilization, and I have pictures to show that because the doctors gave me a picture of Hannah the day of thaw and the next day, the day of transfer, before she went into me. The doctor's told me she had gone to her next stage of development called compaction, where those cells are moving to one side, and a fluid-filled sac starts to form.

Sean McDowell: Wow. Before we go onto the next one, how many non-Christian podcasts, TV shows, news stations have you been invited on to tell your story?

John Strege: I would say from the electronic media probably none.

Sean McDowell: Wow.

John Strege: But newspapers have done stories. The Southern California Newspaper Group, which now is Orange County Register, L.A. Daily News, a bunch of newspapers, it was one story, but it appeared in all those newspapers. On the electronic media, non-Christian, probably none.

Marlene Strege: And the other reason too is because I say to them because I was interviewed by somebody. He questioned me of why do you think those embryos are human life. And I said, "Well, if they're not, I would have had to add something with my body to make her a human life. I added oxygen, nutrients, a warm place to grow, and love." It's the same thing she needs now. Therefore, she was a human life.

Sean McDowell: That's a great answer. That's such a good answer. Good for you.

Marlene Strege: Yeah. So the questions that you were getting back to, why would people in churches or church denominations not think that this was moral or acceptable before God.

Scott Rae: Right, it's understandable why people who are on the pro-choice side of abortion would not be in favor of this because they would view the term embryo adoption as an oxymoron because you don't adopt property.

Marlene Strege: Right, however, they have no problem when the state of California says adopt a highway.

Sean McDowell: Of course, that's true.

Scott Rae: Of course not.

Sean McDowell: That is true.

Scott Rae: But I think the point you're getting to is though that some of the folks who don't like embryo adoption come from a distinctly Christian worldview.

Marlene Strege: Exactly. Exactly.

Scott Rae: So what's the objection there?

Marlene Strege: The first one is they say it intrudes on the sanctity of marriage because they're putting something into me that's not of me and my husband. My answer to that is that all of the adoption criteria had been met. We had done a home study. We'd been chosen by the placing family. The adoption agreement was signed, and just like it was buying a house because they were considered property, these embryos, they had three days to change their mind. Once that date had passed, those were our children. An adoption's not second best. John and I had to provide from those children, and the way we did that was with my body.

Scott Rae: Yeah, if you think about it, there's some interesting advantages to embryo adoption over traditional adoption because one is there continuity between the woman who gives birth to the child and the woman who raises it. That's the same person, so there's no break in the relationship at birth.

Marlene Strege: And I'm providing the nutrients in my body, so I know what's going into my body. That's in the best interest of the child.

Scott Rae: The other thing that's different about it is that the one thing that most adoptive families fear the most is that the birth mother's going to come back and reclaim her child at some point. The law in most states allows for that within a reasonable time period. But in the case of embryo adoption, couples don't give up embryos for adoption, generally, unless they're convinced that they're childbearing days are over.

Marlene Strege: Exactly. Exactly.

Scott Rae: The likelihood of your bio parents coming back to reclaim "their biological child" in embryo adoption, I think, is pretty low.

Marlene Strege: We had the adoption agreement, and we were the legal "owners," if you will, I guess the state would say, of these embryos. We were the parents. But then when she was born, we have the birth certificate that shows my husband and I. We don't have an adoption decree from a judge because the state doesn't view these as people. But the law and, in some cases, theologians are lacking of what science is doing. They're maybe behind on some of this.

Marlene Strege: I wanted to get back to the other issue. There's two that I see. We talked about the sanctity of marriage. The other one is people will say, "Well, if we support embryo adoption, then that's just giving a green light, or we're supporting the whole assisted reproductive technology." And I say, "Well, we don't support the whole infertility business because they're doing some crazy stuff."

Marlene Strege: There's no regulation on it. They're not putting the best interest of the child first. They're putting the best interest of the parents because the parents want to be parents. They want a child, so they'll do anything. And it's a business. They're there to make money.

Marlene Strege: I liken it to a birth mom who gets pregnant out of wedlock and has a child. You still support the child even if you don't support premarital sex. But you still support the child. That's the case with these frozen embryos. There's a million in our country right now that need to be adopted, that need to fulfill their gift of life.

Marlene Strege: For those 20 children that with adopted, they all survived. Excuse me. They all fulfilled their gift of life. Six of them actually survived the thaw on two different transfers and the transfer into me, but only Hannah was born. But all 20 of them were given that same chance.

John Strege: Embryo adoption is trying to solve a problem, not add to a problem. In IVF, the doctors are contributing to the problem by creating way too many embryos. Embryo adoption is a way to help solve that problem.

Sean McDowell: There's a million frozen embryos. How many people are lining up to adopt this way?

Marlene Strege: Well, I can tell you with Nightlight Christian Adoptions, they've had over 700 births. I don't know how many they have actively involved in that, but, again, just the everyday person doesn't know about this. It's just constantly getting the word out.

Scott Rae: I would consider this just like traditional adoption. These are rescue operations.

Sean McDowell: Absolutely.

Scott Rae: How the person got into a rescuable situation is beside the point. The question is, do we have the obligation to rescue them, and I think the answer to that clearly is yes. The difficultly, I think, is that it's not that common that couples that have embryos leftover from IVF actually will designate those embryos for adoption.

Scott Rae: I think that reflects this kind of strange ambivalence that we have culturally about what embryos actually are because I think we know. It's hard to look at Hannah and say that embryos are property, but it's also a little counterintuitive to think that something that we have to look at through a microscope is also a human person even though, philosophically and biblically we can make the point that, as you said, that embryo has everything it needs to mature. I wouldn't even use the term develop. I'd say just it matures according to what it already is.

Marlene Strege: And we all started that way.

Scott Rae: We all did, yeah. The idea that we were all embryos at one point, and you don't become something different just by changing location or by stage of development or maturity.

Scott Rae: Let me ask you another question here. You've had maybe something that you weren't anticipating when you first got into the embryo adoption program, and that is the chance to have a very public voice on the use of embryonic stem cells for research and for medical treatments. Tell us a little bit about your own journey. Hannah, this would be where, I think, you took center stage at the White House back in 2005/2006 when that debate about whether the federal government should fund embryonic stem cell research was at its peak. Tell us about your involvement in that discussion.

Hannah Strege: I just put a face and a name to the problem. People see me, and they see that I was once an embryo, and I was once considered property. When in our country was the last time a human was considered property? Slavery. I really showed America and the world that embryos are worth saving and worth our time and worth rescuing.

Marlene Strege: Yeah, and I testified before Congress in 2001. It should be interesting to note that Hannah was born December 31, 1998, and I was already pregnant when the scientists discovered how to extract the stem cell from the human embryo. So God's plan was well underway for these embryos, this plan of adoption instead of destruction.

Marlene Strege: I went with the second Snowflake mom, who had twin boys. At that time, they were nine months old, Luke and Mark. Hannah was about two. If you come into present day, Hannah is now studying. She wants to go on to get her master's and be a social worker in adoption, and help children find forever homes.

Scott Rae: Very good.

Marlene Strege: Luke, who's Snowflake number two, is a United States Marine. And his twin brother, Mark, is a United States Coast Guard. At that time, in 2001, the message of the day was these frozen embryos are in excess of clinical need. They have no purpose. They're just going to be thrown away. Let's do research on them. Now, you have Snowflakes one, two, and three who are serving God, their country, and their fellow man. There are hundreds of Snowflake children who are about to take their place in the world.

Scott Rae: Yeah. It's such a compelling account. One last question here before we wrap up. What encouragement would you have for couples who are wrestling with infertility and considering options for resolving that?

Marlene Strege: Why don't you say?

Hannah Strege: For couples that are wrestling with infertility, I really say that embryo adoption, Snowflakes, is the best of both worlds because you not only get to adopt, but you get to give birth to your own adopted child, which is every woman's dream. That's just so exciting to hear. For myself and for women across the globe, just that this is a possibility, and that you aren't alone.

Marlene Strege: I would tag onto that to say if there are families out there that have remaining embryos, really look into this because I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. You can choose the family you want to adopt your children. You can have an open adoption, and it's not as scary as it sounds.

Marlene Strege: You want your children to know who their genetic siblings are because when they start dating, they want to know that they're not dating a genetic sibling. It's very, very good for placing families as well.

Sean McDowell: Hannah, I just encourage you. I have enjoyed having you in class here at Biola. You've done a great job. And nobody chooses the family, obviously, that they're born into, but you're born into a very unique situation, and I just love seeing your passion and your heart, and that you're using this opportunity, just whatever that looks like in the future, just to encourage families, to bless people, to help out kids.

Sean McDowell: Love seeing it. Thanks for just your courage and your clarity, for all of you, but especially for you. It's really a thrill to see.

Hannah Strege: Thank you.

Scott Rae: This has been so, so rich. Thank you for coming on with us and for telling your story, John, for writing the book, and Hannah, Marlene, for testifying before Congress. I wish I could say that the need for that testimony is over. Unfortunately, it's not. I so appreciate your advocacy for the unborn who are among us, but in storage in infertility clinics across the United States and around the world.

Scott Rae: We pray for the embryo adoption programs that are springing up, the Snowflake programs that are coming to various parts of the country. It's got to be very satisfying for you all to see the movement that you started with the first Snowflake Baby.

Scott Rae: I want to recommend to our listeners, John, your book, A Snowflake Named Hannah: Ethics, Faith, and the First Adoption of a Frozen Embryo. It's a great read, terrific writer. Thank you for your work on that. In between the stories that you do for Golf Digest, glad that you found the time to get this one down in print too because this is a pretty meaningful story.

John Strege: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Scott Rae: This has been a delight to have all of you with us.

Marlene Strege: Well, thank you for having us.

Scott Rae: You bet.

Scott Rae: This has been an episode of the podcast, Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. To learn more about us and today's guest, John and Marlene and Hannah Strege and John's book, A Snowflake Named Hannah, and to find more episodes, go to That's

Scott Rae: If you enjoyed today's conversation, give us a rating on your product app and share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening, and remember, think biblically about everything.