Mich. couple publish book, then seek ‘normal’ after extraordinary story of embryo mix-upBy Jeff Karoub, AP
Friday, April 30, 2010
Mich. couple write book about embryo mix-up
UTICA, Mich. — On the drive home from the hospital, Shannon Morell peered at her sleeping newborn in his car seat and wondered, what would be the fastest route back to normal?
The truth is the arrival of every child forces a new definition of normal. But unlike most other parents, Morell and her husband, Paul, had no advice books on what they were going through: Their son was the result of an extraordinary mix-up at a fertility clinic in which another woman was implanted with the Morells’ embryo.
Seven months after their son’s birth, the Morells — who only reluctantly talked to the media in the days before he was born — have written a book chronicling their experience and say sharing the story is a necessary detour on the road to a regular life.
“It wraps it all up,” Shannon Morell said earlier this week in a suburban Detroit hotel room with her husband and a frequently smiling and cooing Logan.
“We didn’t want our experience to go to waste,” her husband added.
The Morells, who live in a Detroit suburb, are making the media rounds after co-writing “Misconception” with author Angela Hunt. The book is due out Tuesday.
“I feel we’ve done our best to help other couples, give them some insight of what we went through, what we’ve learned,” Shannon Morell said. “And let fertility clinics know, ‘Hey, we haven’t forgotten what happened. Have you looked at your security, have you tightened up protocols? What have you done?’”
Embryo mix-ups at fertility clinics are extremely rare. In those few instances, they’ve degenerated into custody battles, ugly lawsuits and at least one abortion. This is one of the only known cases that ended amicably.
Carolyn Savage, the Sylvania, Ohio, woman who was implanted with the Morells’ embryos, and her husband, Sean Savage, didn’t want to have an abortion and had no desire to raise the child.
The mix-up at the clinic apparently happened because Shannon’s maiden name is Savage and she hadn’t changed it until after using in vitro fertilization to become pregnant with twins. After their daughters were born in 2006, the Morells had six frozen embryos left and planned to try for another baby.
The Morells won’t identify the clinic because of a confidential settlement. They also won’t discuss financial terms, though Shannon Morell said the clinic didn’t “accept responsibility until after it had been in the media.”
About three months into the pregnancy, the couples met in Toledo. A breakthrough in their relationship came in August, when Carolyn Savage invited Shannon Morell to an ultrasound appointment.
The Morells initially sought to keep the story private, but in their book they say that Sean Savage noted that “pregnancy is a public event” and can’t be hidden.
In September, shortly before Logan’s birth, Carolyn Savage told Shannon Morell they would soon appear on NBC’s “Today” show. Savage told Morell she wouldn’t mention their names, but the Morells figured their anonymity would soon end.
“It was like a tidal wave was coming,” said Paul, 39, a self-employed electrical engineer, who calls Logan “buddy” and likes to bounce him on his wife’s Pilates ball at home to get him to sleep.
For Shannon Morell, 40, the fear of going public was diminished by the desire to tell their story. Morell, an eighth-grade teacher, said staying silent gave the impression they were just “going to get the baby and live happily ever after.”
On Sept. 23, the Morells appeared on the morning show. In the hours that followed, the phone kept ringing and reporters descended on her house. The media crush made her wonder whether they made the wrong choice.
The next day, their son was born, and the Morells were at the hospital to greet him in a private, guarded waiting area. Before leaving, they visited with the Savages and signed the documents that made Logan legally theirs.
Since his birth, the Morells say the couples have stayed in touch and the families got together in December.
“I’m glad that they’ve taken an interest,” Shannon Morell said. “I wasn’t sure at first. … But I think after the fact, it just seems like, well, you carry a baby, you establish a bond.”
The Savages, who have three children, said in a statement it’s been “much more difficult for us than anticipated” since Logan’s birth. They declined to be interviewed but say they plan to release their own book early next year.
“We pray Logan Morell grows to understand his birth was a blessing and his life a gift,” the statement said.
Shannon Morell said her book is meant to serve as a public thank-you to the Savages. Writing it also helped her deal with her many emotions and provide advice she wished she’d had.
The ultimate goal is to arrive at something approaching normal.
“We’re moving forward, we’re doing what we can to help other people, we’re telling our story,” she said. “Hopefully then, we move off the stage and just go to the park, play with our kids and have a regular life, like nothing ever happened.”