Creating a Family is dedicated to providing education and support for all parts of infertility–including the little discussed parts. And one of the least discussed aspects of infertility is what to do with the remaining frozen embryos after fertility treatment is completed. When you are living in the famine of infertility, it’s hard to even imagine having excess embryos, but many infertility patients are in just this position. Here is how one couple decided to donate their embryos to another couple, Lindsay and Rick Alford. (Lindsay uses the term “embryo adoption”, while others prefer “embryo donation”.)
Our story began seven years ago when I gave Rick Alford my forever. During the infancy of our relationship, as with most couples, Rick and I explored each other’s hopes and dreams. Neither of us desired anything out of the ordinary, I wanted to get married and have children. Little did we know, this simple dream would lead to major challenges and test the best of relationships.
I remember November 17, 2008 like it was yesterday. It was the day I learned I wasn’t pregnant after six failed intrauterine inseminations (IUIs). I literally dropped to the floor and cried for five hours straight. My poor mother had to listen to me cry for the first hour knowing my heart was breaking into a million pieces and there was nothing she could do or say to make me feel better. I was devastated. I had to face the harsh reality I may never be a mother. Somehow I managed to pick myself up and press on. On February 1, 2010, my life changed forever. It was the day Rick and I decided to try in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Ten and a half months later, I gave birth to beautiful twin girls. The IVF process, however, created five grade A embryos, Liv and Mia were just two of the five.
An Unimaginable Decision
We were faced with an unimaginable decision to determine the fate of the three remaining embryos. We knew we couldn’t keep them frozen forever, we also knew we couldn’t afford five children. The next option was to destroy them, but that option didn’t sit well with us either. We couldn’t imagine destroying them simply because our family was complete. The last option was to give them up for adoption–embryo adoption.
I dug deep and thought about the four years of tears, medication, pain, and frustration I went through to get the embryos to this point. I just knew there was another female out there who wanted them – a loving woman fighting for the opportunity to become a birth mother.
Yet, I still felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. How could we let another couple give birth to and raise our children? Children we created out of love. If we gave them up, would they grow up to understand we made our decision out of love? For months, sleep seemed impossible and I would often cry myself to sleep. There was no way around it, my heart hurt and I wondered if I could find the strength to be selfless.
We opted to give our genetic embryos up for adoption to a couple in the Midwest who had been trying to get pregnant for 10 years. We realize it’s not the right choice for everyone, but we knew we had to do what’s best for them while they were in our care and if given the opportunity to speak, I bet they would have told us to give them a chance…somewhere, anywhere at life. I also couldn’t help but look at Liv and Mia playing with their toys and think, they could have easily been two of the remaining embryos and are only here by chance.
Open or Closed
Our clinic only offered closed adoptions, which we weren’t comfortable with. We placed our embryos with an adoption agency because we knew we wanted an open embryo adoption. We wanted these children to have access to their full medical history, where they came from, what they may look like and most importantly, they’ve always been wanted. We also wanted Liv and Mia to know their genetic siblings and for all of the children to determine the extent of their relationship.
Parenthood is a privileged denied to many. To experience the joy of easing someone’s heartache and give life is incredible, indescribable actually.
The Rest of the Story
Sadly, the transfer of our embryos to the other couple was unsuccessful. Ironically, this news was so much harder to handle than the decision to donate our embryos to this couple. The adoptive parents had been trying for so long…
I shared the sad news with a few close friends. One friend replied, “You were meant to give your embryos up for adoption so God could help you come to a peaceful closure.” I wish it were that simple. We didn’t make our decision to give the embryos up for adoption for peace of mind. We were captivated by the adoptive parent’s love story and truly wanted this to work for them. Sure it’s hard to imagine someone giving birth to and raise your genetic child but we were willing to unselfishly take the chance.
~Lindsay Alford is content strategist by day, loving mom by night. In her spare time, she enjoys blogging, outdoor adventure and coaching couples through the journey of fertility woes.
Could you donate your unused embryos to another infertile couple?Image credit: Emi Caroline
Add Your Comment
Late to the party, but I found this post as my husband and I are contemplating donating our leftover embryos to another couple. It was very helpful to read Lindsay’s journey. As for Marilynn’s comment at the top: I take exception to the statement that children conceived via donor gametes are not really “ours.” We used donor egg IVF, and my son is completely mine even though he does not share my genetics. In fact, I have a harder time contemplating the donation of the remaining embryos than does my husband (who is their genetic father).
Hmm. I wish she’d been more specific. Some how I suspect it is easier for people to give away children that are not really theirs that were conceived in a lab by only one member of a couple and a clinic donor or possibly two clinic donors. Its hard to imagine a woman who kept and raised one of her children allowing some other woman to give birth to her child and raise them separately from her own. That’s straight up adoption no different than regular egg donation I guess but she’s in the mindset for motherhood how does she detach when she’s already in the mind set? People generally migrate from unprepared to prepared rather than from prepared to unprepared.. It would be much easier to never let the life get started then to allow the life to develop and then walk away. Then there is a person a real living person to answer to.
I have given a child up for adoption, had two of my own and now am donating my embryos – made from my husband and my DNA. I have a choice between destroy or donate – I would rather bless another couple with the potential to have a child than destroy 8 embryos out of selfishness. I am also contemplating an open donation, meaning I will answer to those children eventually about why I did what I did. Just as I do my first son, who I see on a regular basis. If you have not been there, don’t speak about it.
We are in the early stages of giving up two embryos for adoption and I would love to speak to someone that has been through it. If you are willing, please comment and I will send you my contact information. Thank you so much.
Hi, my husband and I are also thinking of donating our frozen embryo. Would love to hear how you got on.
Jennifer I agree! My husband and I have twin girls as well and 3 embryos in storage…trying to make peace with possible donation. Would love to speak to someone who had been through this process.
We have some fantastic resources at this page, regarding embryo donation: http://ow.ly/TMoD30feYqy We also have a very active online community that might be of interest to you, for that connection of someone who’d been through the process. You can find the group here: http://ow.ly/XSmt30feYD5
I do a lot of embryo donation work, I love it, truly gratifying work. I have been wanting to share about a case I just completed with Nightlife Christian Adoptions. I had considered turning down the case, I spoke to a then prospective client about my position on embryo donation (and my concerns with the adoption model) we spoke for a very long time. We realized we had great chemistry and that we would do well to work together. I dove in curious but firm in my position regarding donation. The case, while still pending, has been a terrific experience, I yielded on nothing, I learned much about the “snowflakes model”, I provided my best possible counsel and, seemingly, it all is going to work out just fine. I learned a life lesson about being open to a process that while counter to my practices surprisingly offered a middle ground. Embryos are so very hard to come by, I encourage all parties, donors and recipients to continue to explore the many options that are available and even if a particular program does not seem like a best fit, please know that if you can engage the right team of professionals (attorneys, mental health professionals other service providers) you can and should be able to move forward with either your disposition plan or your family building plan. I am posting here to share my great surprise and delight about how wonderful the NCA/Snowflakes case has been (with a healthy degree of respect b/w the professionals for our differing positions on “donation” and “adoption”). A new family is hopefully soon to be and already formed family is satisfied and comfortable with how they passed along their remaining embryos. A best outcome for all.
Amy, thank you so much for your honesty and openness–two traits we need more of in this field! The decision to donate your embryos to another couple is a hard one and my experience is that different people look for different programs when making this decision. Some donating couples want no information about the receiving couple/woman, including whether a baby was conceived. Others want to know that the receiving couple has undergone counseling, preparation and been screened through some type of process. Some others, such as Lindsay who wrote this blog, want the option of contact in the future if the child wants it. I’ve found this same degree of diversity exists within those who want to build their family through embryo donation. I find we get so hung up on words, that we sometimes miss the opportunity to help people. Thanks so much for putting your clients first and being open to be pleasantly surprised.
Great post. I wish it had a happier ending. What to do with leftover embryos is such a difficult decision. After 2 fresh IVF cycles, I am now pregnant. We have 5 frozen embryos leftover from the 2 cycles & most likely will not be having anymore children after this. Right now, the embryos are just being stored until we have a live birth. We were only given options by the clinic to discard or donate the embryos to research once the decision is made to no longer keep them frozen. I thought about donating them to another couple because I understand how heartbreaking infertility is, but my husband doesn’t really like the idea of our genetic children being raised by someone else or that we put so much of our money into our 2 IVF cycles & the other couple doesn’t have to spend the extra money or do all the hard work the create embryos. After a lot of thought, we decided, when the time comes, to donate our embryos to research & hopefully by doing so we will still be helping present & future infertile couples.
My husband were blessed with our two sons through embryo adoption. I can’t imagine how difficult the decision is to allow another couple to adopt your remaining embryos and to picture another couple raising your biological children. Words cannot begin to express how grateful we are that our sons’ biological parents made the brave and selfless decision to allow their remaining embryos to be adopted. I know their decision could not have been an easy one, but every day I hold my sweet boys in my arms I am grateful they made the decision they did. We have their family picture on a table that our sons see every day, and we talk about how much they must love our boys when we include their family in our prayers. I was crying while reading this post because the gift this family gave us has completely transformed our lives in such a beautiful way.
Keri, I would like to respond to your husband’s concerns about donating the remaining embryos. I think the majority of couples who would be the embryo recipients have gone through years of costly procedures and infertility treatments, or like my husband and me, have a genetic reason to not want biological children (such as Cystic Fibrosis or another inherited condition they would not want to pass on to their children.) I don’t think many people are viewing it as a less expensive avenue versus creating their own embryos. That said, it is definitely something you both need to be strongly in favor of. We have peace knowing that our sons’ biological parents were not pressured in any way into allowing their remaining embryos to be adopted, and I would never want that to be the case with another couple.
Thank you Dawn for addressing this type of adoption. (We refer to it as embryo adoption because we went through over 5 years of waiting in “traditional” adoption before becoming parents through embryo adoption. In our eyes it is another type of adoption we encountered on our long adoption journey. I guess it just depends on your perspective.)
Keri, you are so right that for many people it is a hard decision, but this is something that many in the medical profession don’t understand or want to talk about, which leaves patients feeling very alone with this decision. I wish your clinic had at least told you about the option of donating to another couple, not that it’s the best option for you, but b/c it might be for some other couple. I’m glad you’ve made peace with your choices. And yes, there is a need for embryos for research, although it is surprisingly hard to donate to research unless your clinic has an arrangement with a lab.
The decision to donate embryos is a personal choice. Period. I do, however, feel it is important to point out, most couples wishing to adopt embryos have tried multiple IUIs, rounds of IVF and other measures to achieve pregnancy. They have spent their savings, are on multiple adoption waiting lists, etc. Thank you for reading this post!
Thanks Lindsay for being willing to share.