Parenting

Australian Woman Wears Extra IVF Embryos in Jewelry

President Donald Trump walks to reporters to speak with them before boarding Air Force One at Morristown Municipal Airport in Morristown, N.J., Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, en route to a campaign rally in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A woman in Australia used in-virtro fertilization (IVF) to get pregnant, and could not decide what to do with the extra embryos created in the process. She turned to a company which makes jewelry from maternity products, and the company agreed to turn her embryos into a pendant hung around her neck.

“After completing our family, we looked into the donation of our remaining embryos,” Belinda Stafford, a 35-year-old resident of New South Wales, told kidspot. “Donating our embryos wasn’t an option for us and I couldn’t justify the yearly storage fee. I’d heard others had planted them in the garden but we move a lot, so I couldn’t do this.”

“I needed them with me,” Stafford explained. She ordered a heart-shaped pendant from Baby Bee Hummingbirds, a Australian company which turns various maternity products — from breast milk to umbilical chords to placenta, and even ashes and embryos — into keepsake jewelry. Stafford’s pendant includes seven embryos she keeps “close to her heart, always.”

The 35-year-old mother has three children, 4-year-old Lachlan and 21-month-old twins, Charlotte and William. She was able to have these kids through IVF, but had many remaining embryos. Baby Bee Hummingbirds provided a solution to the conundrum of what to do with them.

“Finding this has brought me so much comfort and joy,” the mother declared. “I finally [feel] at peace and my journey complete. My embryos were my babies — frozen in time.”

“When we completed our family, it wasn’t in my heart to destroy them,” Stafford said. “Now they are forever with me in a beautiful keepsake.”

Amy McGlade, founder of Baby Bee Hummingbird, told kidspot that her company started in 2014 and has crafted over 4,000 pieces of jewelry, with 50 made from embryos. These keepsakes can cost between $80 and $600, depending on the piece, and can be shipped worldwide.

“I don’t believe there is any other business in the world that creates jewellry [sic] from human embryos, and I firmly believe that we are pioneering the way in this sacred art, and opening the possibilities to families around the world,” McGlade, who has been a midwife for 10 years, told kidspot.

She explained that families send her company “embryo straws” which the company preserves and cremates, creating “embryo ash.”

“We are experts in preserving DNA so that it can be set in a jeweller’s grade resin,” McGlade said. “We knew the costs of storage are huge, and donation isn’t always [a] possible or wanted solution. The families we craft for are very educated, loving people who are aware of the options. We are giving them another option.”

The embryo artist explained what she meant by saying this is a “sacred art”: “It’s special because the embryos often signifying the end of a journey, and we are providing a beautiful and meaningful way to gently close the door.”

“What [could be] a better way to celebrate your most treasured gift, your child, than through jewellery?” McGlade asked. “It’s about the everlasting tangible keepsake of a loved one that you can have forever.”

This sounds wonderful, but if the embryos really are babies, they have been killed by being frozen, cremated, and turned into jewelry. Now, this mother lives her life with human corpses hanging from her neck, and the company makes money by taking the bodies of the dead and burning them into jewelry.

Cases like this illustrate just how differently some people see the world. Pro-life people and activists see life as beginning at conception — since at that point an embryo has the same DNA as a full-grown human being. This view is arguably more scientific (based on genetics) than religious, but many of the most active pro-lifers tend to be religious as well.

After all, Psalm 139 states, “For you formed my inward parts, you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. … Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Passages like this one add a religious awe to the development of a fetus in the womb, building on genetics to bring an unborn person to life.

But not everyone sees it this way. Pro-choice activists argue that an embryo is not a human but a clump of cells, and at some point between fertilization and birth, it becomes a baby. This justifies the creation and discarding of human embryos meant for IVF — these embryos are not considered human, but a clump of cells.

The problem is, mothers like Stafford cannot help but see these embryos as human. She had an emotional attachment to them, and considered them her “babies.” Using IVF, she could not accept the logic behind IVF, and so she could not donate her embryos (something like adoption, which would be a pro-life solution) or merely throw them away.

At this point, the whole idea becomes grotesque. If these embryos are babies — as may pro-lifers believe — then putting them into jewelry is a way of killing them. If they are not babies — as pro-choicers believe — then why should they carry this sentimental value to the mother?

Is the creation of this art truly “sacred,” or is it something grotesque: an acknowledgement of the fact that discarding embryos produced for IVF is a form of — dare I say it — murder? Are these embryos burned to be placed into jewelry similar to ancient pagan offerings to Moloch, the god who took babies in human sacrifice?

Except, of course, this “sacred” sacrifice isn’t for a pagan god, but for a mother’s emotional attachment to … what exactly? Are her emotions a mere irrational holdback from a process which gave her her children, or are they warning signs that, in destroying embryos, modern reproductive technologies are actually killing babies?

These are deep and difficult questions, and it would seem heartless to condemn this woman’s attachment to her embryos. After all, IVF is a miraculous technology that allows women to give birth in spite of complications. But is the creation of keepsakes really the best way to deal with extra embryos?