How to Decide Between Assisted Reproduction and Adoption

Dawn Davenport


One of the hardest decisions for many infertility patients is what to do if IVF using their own egg and sperm fails multiple times. After several failed IVF cycles, many patients face the decision between moving to assisted reproduction (donor egg, donor sperm, donor embryo) or adoption. It can be an agonizing decision.

Deciding between 3rd Party reproduction and adoption if IVF fails

Infertility treatment can sometimes feel like a ladder. You start with smaller easier treatments (oral medications like Clomid and Letrozole) then move up the ladder to intrauterine insemination (IUI), then on to in vitro fertilization (IVF). Most infertility patients willingly take the first steps up the ladder (if they can afford it), but what happens when they aren’t successful with IVF. What is the next step?

At this point, two options present themselves: assisted reproduction, which includes donor sperm, donor egg, donor embryo (sometimes known as embryo adoption), or/and surrogacy, or adoption.  Decisions, decisions! How to decide between assisted reproduction and adoption.

The bottom rungs on the ladder are not necessarily the easiest for many women and not all fertility treatment follows this “ladder.” In fact, there is research to support that following this lock-step approach is not always the most effective or cost-effective for getting pregnant. Also, some patients at this point opt to live a child-free life rather than choosing between assisted reproduction or adoption. Nonetheless, this progression up the fertility treatment ladder is a standard scenario for many fertility patients.

The decision of what to do when IVF fails, and then fails again, and maybe again is one of the hardest decisions for many infertility patients. Do you take the next step up the ladder to assisted reproduction? Or do you step off the ladder completely and move to adoption?

Deciding Between Assisted Reproduction and Adoption

Deciding between adoption and assisted reproduction (also known as third-party reproduction) is complicated. Neither is the next logical step up the ladder of infertility treatment, and neither should be taken without pausing to consider what this means for you individually, for you as a couple (if you’re married or in a relationship), and for the child that you hope to have. In truth, even though assisted reproduction feels like the next step up the infertility ladder, it is a step off that ladder, just as is adoption.

Woman walking up steps

In truth, even though assisted reproduction feels like the next step up the infertility ladder, it is a step off that ladder, just as is adoption.

Differences Between Assisted Reproduction and Adoption

There are obvious and not-so-obvious differences between choosing donor sperm, donor egg, donor embryo, or surrogacy and choosing adoption.


Cost can be a significant factor for most when deciding whether to use third-party reproduction or to adopt. Keep in mind that with all assisted reproduction, you also need to add in the legal cost because almost always you will need to consult with an attorney that specializes in assisted reproduction.

          Donor Sperm

$1-2,000 + medical & legal costs (This includes an average cost for 1-2 vials of sperm from a commercial sperm bank. Your cost would be less if you use sperm donated from someone you know.) Creating a Family has detailed information on the cost of sperm donation.

          Donor Embryo

$4000-$16,000 (Depends on whether you work through an infertility clinic or adoption agency, and how many services you want to be included.) Medical costs are included in these averages, but you may have to add legal costs if not covered with your program. Some programs require that you travel to their clinic for the embryo transfer, so travel cost would need to be added. Creating a Family has detailed information on the cost of embryo donation or embryo adoption.

          Donor Egg

$16,000-$45,000+ medical costs (Depends on whether you use fresh or frozen, how restrictive you are on characteristics of a donor, whether you share a fresh cycle, whether you use a donor or a frozen egg bank, etc.) It is also possible to save money by going abroad for an egg donor, but care must be taken with logistical and ethical issues. Creating a Family has detailed information on the cost of egg donation.


$70,000 – $90,000 (without egg donor); $100,000 – $150,000 (with egg donor). These costs usually include legal and medical. It is also possible to save money by going abroad to find a surrogate, but care must be taken with immigration and ethical issues. Creating a Family has detailed information on the cost of surrogacy.

         Domestic Infant Adoption

$30,000 – $35,000 average (Depends on whether you use an agency or attorney, the services provided by the agency, expectant mother expenses, etc.) The Adoption Tax Credit is available (about $13,000) to reduce these costs by offsetting the taxes you owe the federal government. Creating a Family has extensive resources on the cost and process of adopting a baby in the US.

         Foster Care Adoption

$0-2000 average (depending on if you use a private agency or state agency, the state you live in, etc.) The Adoption Tax Credit is available (about $13,000) to offset taxes you owe the federal government, and most children adopted through foster care are eligible for a monthly subsidy from the state until they are 18. Creating a Family has extensive resources on Foster Care Adoption.

         International Adoption

$40,000- $44,000 average (depends primarily on the country you adopt from) Creating a Family has detailed information on the cost of adopting from the top placing countries to the US.

Creating a Family’s Annual Update on Adoption Data:

Adoption in the US 2018: How Many? How Much? How Long Do They Take?

The Risk that You Will Spend the Money and Not Become a Parent

At the risk of oversimplification, the risk of any type of assisted reproduction is that the treatment won’t work, and you or the surrogate will not get pregnant. The odds of pregnancy per IVF cycle are highly dependent on your diagnosis, age, and history with maintaining a pregnancy, and should be determined with consultation with your doctor. Money is usually not refundable when treatment fails.

The risk with domestic adoption is that the expectant mother will change her mind and decide to parent rather than place her child for adoption. Whether or not you lose the money you have spent depends on the agency or attorney.

The risk with foster care adoption is if you are fostering to adopt, the child may well reunify with birth family or extended family. If you are adopting a child that is already legally free for adoption, there is little risk that the adoption won’t be completed.

The risk in international adoption is that it may take longer than expected, and every once in a while countries will close to adoption. Whether or not you lose the money spent will depend on the agency.

scientist with dropper & dish

It’s a myth that we have control over genetics whether we conceive naturally or with assisted reproduction or adoption.

Control over Genetics and Prenatal Care

It’s a myth that we have control over genetics whether we conceive naturally or with assisted reproduction or adoption. However, with assisted reproduction, you have some control over the appearance, intelligence, and basic personality traits of the child because you will have access to this information when choosing a donor. Since you will be carrying the child, you have a fair degree of control over the prenatal care and environment.

With embryo donation (embryo adoption) you often have much less information on the donors depending on whether you obtain the embryos from a clinic or agency. Since you will be carrying the child, you have a fair degree of control over the prenatal care and environment.

With surrogacy, you will have a contract with the surrogate that specifies that she follow her doctor’s recommendations about prenatal care and environment. You have to trust that she will follow through.

With adoption, you have little control over the genetics or prenatal care or environment. Knowledge of appearance, personality, traits, talents, and family medical history of birth parents varies by type of adoption and ranges from often a great deal of knowledge with domestic infant adoption to very little with foster care or international adoption.

Emotional Factors to Consider When Deciding Between Assisted Reproduction and Adoption

When deciding between assisted reproduction and adoption, in addition to the practical considerations such as cost, the likelihood of success, and control, you also have to factor in how you feel on a deep level about each method of creating your family. In our opinion, there is no morally superior way to build your family, and there is no correct way to feel. Spend some time individually and as a couple (if married or in a relationship) to think through the following questions.

  1. Genetic Connection- How important is it to you or your partner to have a genetic connection to your child? Do you fantasize about a child that looks like the perfect mash-up between you and your spouse or partner, or do you long to carry on the family line and grandpa’s big nose and grandma’s musical talent?
  2. Pregnancy and Breastfeeding – How important are the physical aspects to you? Do you long to be pregnant and breastfeed? Do you and your partner want to experience together this physical manifestation of impending parenthood? Do you want to have your own labor and birth stories to share at playgroup or around the water cooler?
  3. Exhaustion – Are you sick and tired of the roller coaster of fertility treatment? Do you worry that you simply can’t take another failure? Adoption has its own share of failure and exhaustion, but for some people, it is a welcomed relief.
  4. Familiarity – Adoption is an easier process to explain to the rest of the world since most people will have some basic understanding of adoption. This is not the case with assisted reproduction.
  5. Comfort with telling the story to the child-We strongly recommend that you tell the child regardless of whether you adopt or use assisted reproduction. Which story are you more comfortable telling? Something to consider is that there are more resources to help parents tell the adoption story, but that is likely to change as more children are conceived by 3rd party reproduction.

No Right Answer

There is no one right answer. Each of you will have to decide for yourself what is best for you and your family. Creating a Family has tons of resources on each of these options, and we strongly encourage you to become educated before you make a decision. If you feel stuck, please spend a few sessions with a therapist that specializes in infertility to help you think through the pros and cons of your options.

We also encourage you to listen to this excellent Creating a Family Radio show on Choosing Between Assisted Reproduction and Adoption.

Originally published in 2017; Updated in 2019
Image Credit: wistechcolleges

10/04/2019 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog, Infertility Resources | 3 Comments

3 Responses to How to Decide Between Assisted Reproduction and Adoption

  1. Avatar Sandra says:

    So sorry to hear the news. Don’t give up though. As I’m sure you aware there are many success stories after several failed attempts. It’s never too late. There is a plan… We just don’t always understand it! I’m currently having my first IVF cycle with donor eggs. I’ve got a treatment plan to follow and I’m getting ready for the transfer! I understand your desire to have a child yourself before considering adoption. You should inform your parents that adoption is also devastating. It’s not that easy as it seems, unfortunately. My friends wanted to adopt a little baby girl and the adoption was revoked because her family changed their minds. It too can be a hard and emotional process. I am not saying this to get you down, don’t get me wrong! I’m telling this just to keep you(and your parents) aware of the risks. Keep your head up and follow your dreams. Hopefully, de cycle will be BFP for both of us!

  2. Avatar Amber says:

    Very interesting article I should say. After 3rd failed ivf with own eggs I’m trying really hard to keep it together. Now I’m thinking about using donor eggs. My husband supports this idea and both of us are fully on board. Though this issue is still discussing and we have some doubts, but… We’ve already started our research, neither me nor my husband knows anything about the procedure itself, about costs, where it can be done, etc. I spend most of my free time to find some info on the topic. I’m glad there are such informative articles like yours. Any information is useful for us at this time. We want to start the whole thing asap, bc we don’t want to lose time. The thing is both our mothers keep pushing adoption and it drives me nuts! We haven’t discussed adoption at all. Each family dinner ends up with me crying, because both our parents “explain” in a pushy way how amazing adoption is. Well don’t get me wrong, I think adoption is a good thing. And maybe later we’ll discuss it and adopt a baby. But now we put all our strength and hope into ivf. This is so emotionally hard. We had 3 failed ivfs!!! And now we are considering donor eggs which is also not an easy thing for us to except and start the whole thing all over again. I really like your words “Each of you will have to decide for yourself what is best for you and your family. ” I’m 100% agree. This is our family and only my husband and I should decide how to have a baby.

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      Hi Amber,

      I’m sorry for the struggles you are experiencing to build your family. It is a LOT to research and process when you just want a baby so badly. You are right to take your time and research your options thoroughly. Here’s our Resource Page on Donor Eggs. Hopefully it’s a good starting point for you as you learn more about your options:

      We also have an active online community of folks who are in circumstances like yours – it might be of support to you:

      Best to you and thanks for reading and sharing your story.

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