For Aly Dakin and her husband, JR, the road to becoming the parents of nine children has had many twists and turns. But Dakin's most recent children, 5-month-old twins Jasper and Goldie, have a unique story all their own that begins with their mom making a new friend.
Dakin says she was attending a conference in California in 2019 when she met Desiree Fortin, then a mom to triplets who were conceived via IVF. Dakin was in the process of adopting her seventh child, Della, through domestic adoption the time. Dakin had also adopted her sixth child, Salem, via embryo adoption, the process of carrying embryos stored after other genetic parents' fertility procedures. When she shared this with Fortin, she saw tears form in her new friend's eyes.
"She said, 'I've never actually met anyone who has done that,'" Dakin told TODAY Parents. "Then she told me about her and Ryan's journey and it was a very profoundly special connection that we made that night."
Fortin and her husband, Ryan, conceived triplets via IVF in 2015, then had their remaining 12 embryos frozen and stored. While they were unsure if they would use the embryos to carry more children of their own, embryo adoption was always an option they felt led to pursue.
"We agreed that whatever embryos we didn't use for our family, we should donate to others to grow their families," said Fortin, who contributes to the TODAY Parenting Team. "We knew undoubtedly that one day we would walk through embryo donation...we didn't really know when and who, but we knew God would lead us as we navigated."
Dakin, who had conceived her first three children through fertility treatments followed by two additional biological children without medical intervention, had pursued embryo adoption before with her sixth daughter. After then adopting a baby through domestic adoption a few years later, she and her husband began thinking about having more children so their youngest daughter would have siblings close to her age to grow up with.
During their initial infertility treatments in 2008, the couple lost 13 embryos that were unable to be frozen and stored, something that left embryo adoption heavy on their hearts.
"We didn't pursue embryo adoption because we couldn't have our own kids, we have a lot of our own," said Dakin. "We pursued it because we believe in the value of the lives that were frozen. We believed that the potential child to be born into our family was already created and preserved, and we wanted them."
As the Dakins began seriously considering having another child, she was reminded of her conversations with Fortin.
"I felt a strong nudge to reach out to her," said Dakin. "I sent her a text and asked her if we could chat about my husband and I being considered as a potential family (to adopt her embryos.)"
Fortin was not surprised by the request.
"When I met her, I went home and told my husband, 'I think we will one day donate embryos to her,'" said Fortin, who along with her husband, agreed to the adoption. "There was never a question of whether Aly and JR were the right family, but embryo donation comes with joy and grief as well as life and loss. We stood firm in our decision in donating and having peace about the decision, but it was also a hard process to work through."
While working through their own feelings about the process, the Fortins learned that Desiree was pregnant with their fourth child, daughter Cambria, without medical intervention.
And, after one failed embryo transfer, Dakin was implanted with two of the Fortins' embryos and became pregnant with twins. Dakin's twins, Jasper and Goldie, are now 5 months old.
The friends enjoyed being pregnant at the same time, and although Fortin says there was both grief and joy in seeing Dakin give birth to the twins, the families now often spend time together.
"At first, my heart grieved but it also rejoiced in life — two lives — that came from our desire and decision to give these embryos a chance at live and donate to Aly and JR," said Fortin. "Something happened to me the moment Aly placed Jasper into my arms. It's hard to even describe, but there was so much love and unwavering peace...Goldie and Jasper were in the arms of the parents God had always intended them to have."
The key to making an emotionally tricky situation work is, according to Fortin, love.
"Over the last couple of months, the triplets have had the opportunity to meet the babies as well as their whole crew," said Fortin. "Our relationship is unique: We are fortunate to share such a special bond and we have been intentional, shown grace, had hard conversations and most importantly let love lead the way as we navigate."
As their families spend time together, Dakin says they won't be quick to point out similarities between her twins and the Fortins' children.
"While Jasper and Goldie are growing up, we are using the term 'special family' (to describe the Fortins) and we aren't attaching labels to anyone," said Dakin. "As they grow up and process their own stories, we will continue to unfold what their little hearts and minds can handle — not in a withholding way but in a way that is gentle to their sweet spirits."
"Adoption is painful and beautiful," Dakin continued. "It's mainly beautiful for the adopting family, but for the donor family and the child that has been adopted, a lot more layers exist. We have learned to make space for all story lines. It's absolutely worth it to step into the beautiful mess of embryo adoption because you learn to navigate it all as you go."