A mother has given birth to the ‘oldest babies’ in the world, after their embryos were frozen for 30 years.
Rachel Ridgeway, who gave birth to the twins on October 31, would have been just three years old when Timothy and Lydia were conceived in a US fertility clinic.
Rachel and her husband Phillip, from Portland, Oregon, already had four children, but decided to have more by using donated embryos.
“In a sense, they’re our oldest children, even though they’re our smallest children,” the new mum told CNN.
“We weren’t looking to get the embryos that have been frozen the longest in the world,” her husband added. “We just wanted the ones that had been waiting the longest.”
Five embryos were thawed and three transferred into Rachel. Two were successful.
Timothy was born at 6 pounds 7 ounces, and Lydia was 5 pounds 11 ounces. Their birth marks “a new record for the transfer of the longest-frozen embryo resulting in a birth”, according to the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) in the United States.
But how was all this possible? The UK’s fertility treatment regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), explains how embryos are frozen.
“The embryos are put in a special solution containing substances (cryoprotectants), which help to draw water out from the embryo and provide protection in the cells,” it says.
“This protects them from damage caused by ice crystals forming. They’re then frozen, mostly by a technique called vitrification (fast freezing) and stored in tanks of liquid nitrogen until you’re ready to use them.”
The laws regarding how long you can store embryos for differ in the US and the UK, so we’re less likely to see any record-breaking babies here.
On July 1, 2022, the rules on how long you can store eggs, sperm or embryos changed. Before this date, most people in the UK could usually only store their embryos for up to 10 years (though there were a few medical exceptions).
The law now permits you to store embryos for use in treatment for any period up to a maximum of 55 years from the date that the embryos are first placed in storage. However, crucially for storage to lawfully continue in the UK, both the egg donor and sperm donor will need to renew their consent every 10 years.
The age of the embryo shouldn’t affect the health of the child. What matters more is the age of the woman and health of the sperm at the time of conception.
Little is known about the circumstances of the donors in Timothy and Lydia’s case, but it’s not unusual for couples who’ve undergone fertility treatment themselves to donate their extra embryos to help others.
“There is something mind-boggling about it,” Philip Ridgeway commented. “I was five years old when God gave life to Lydia and Timothy, and he’s been preserving that life ever since.”