What Should We Do With Our Embryos? One Couple’s Journey to an Answer

Embryo Disposition

Join us on Feb. 25th at 1pm in our Waltham office.

On Saturday, February 25, RESOLVE New England will host its first-ever Embryo Disposition Decision-Making Support Group at 1pm in our Waltham, MA office. If you have excess embryos and have completed your family-building journey, we invite you to come to a safe, open discussion group to ask your questions about what to do with your excess embryos and get answers from two professionals in the field. If you are interested in attending, please email us. More information about this event can be found here.

Below is a post from one RESOLVE New England member who shares her experience of deciding what embryo disposition option was right for she and her husband.

After seven failed IUIs, I sat with my husband in the RE’s office, feeling scared and hopeful to start our first IVF cycle. Our doctor asked us what we might consider doing if we had excess frozen embryos and we were done completing our family. We couldn’t imagine having one child, let alone completing a family, with excess embryos to consider. It seemed too strange to think about. We thought, “Well, we could donate them to another couple or donate them to science.” We decided we would figure it out when the time came and thought that the decision would be easy to make. We were wrong; it wasn’t easy or clear.

Six IVFs and two miscarriages later, we were done with medical treatment. During treatment we had one IVF cycle resulting in excess frozen embryos. Even with the frozen embryos we already had, we were depleted, and needed to move forward with plans to adopt, which had 100% guarantee of success in creating our family. We had done the hard work of grieving and were ready to move on.

We found out a month later that I was spontaneously pregnant. We were anxious, but decided to continue on a trip overseas that we had postponed for years because of treatment. We didn’t rest easy, with signs of an imminent miscarriage throughout our trip. We managed to stay pregnant, and I gave birth at the age of 40 to a daughter. During childbirth I had a rare, but dangerous complication and my recovery was slow, but we were ecstatic to be parents.

As our daughter became a toddler, we decided to try conceiving with our frozen embryos. Before we even got to thaw our embryos, we were pregnant again. I had pre-term labor at 6 months gestation (a risk with advanced maternal age), but with excellent medical care and bed rest, I gave birth full term, at age 42, to a son.

Considering the Options

We were thrilled, so busy, but exhausted with our two young children, and time flew by. At each bill payment for our frozen embryo storage, we discussed when we might be ready to try again, but parenting a toddler and preschooler at 45 and 47, while amazing, was also hard and we put off the decision.

We love our children with the gratefulness and passion that infertile parents have, and we spend lots of time with our kids, so I decided that working part-time made the most sense. We began to doubt whether we could raise more children on a limited income, and whether I could endure any pregnancy medical issues, given my age and pregnancy history. We so loved being parents, but at our age, we felt we were operating on a “reserve tank” and adding more to that seemed insurmountable.

We started researching the options for our frozen embryos, beyond parenting more children. No option was considered lightly, and all were examined in great detail by discussing, thinking, and reading about the issues of each choice.

Here is how we thought about the options, knowing of course that other couples will think about their choices in a way that feels right to them.

Donate the embryos to another couple.

In the past, this option had felt right, but now as parents it felt different and more complicated. I would feel comfortable donating gametes (eggs) because it would feel to me more like a “tissue donation.” However, embryo donation seemed to me as if I would be donating one of our “potential children.” It didn’t feel right to us to have a full sibling of our children out there in the world that they didn’t know.

While there is a choice between “anonymous”, “semi-open” and “known” donation, which determines how much openness and contact one can have, most donations are fairly anonymous. We feel very strongly that children have a right know their origins, and there were no guarantees that the recipient parents would honor that by telling the child how she/he was created. We also had no control over how this information would be given to the child. If it were imparted in a secretive manner, the child could perceive his or her origins as shameful and negative.

Even if imparted in a positive light, we had strong concerns about how the potential child might feel about having been donated as an embryo, with the knowledge that we had chosen not to give birth to them. How would it feel to the child born through embryo donation – knowing that we opted not to parent them, yet opted to parent their siblings? (It felt different to us from adoption, as adoption plans often result from an unplanned pregnancy, because we had planned and desperately wanted to be parents.)

Thaw our embryos, or do a transfer with them to a location that is not possible for conception.

We didn’t feel comfortable with this option. It seemed to us that it would be a sad way to end this process, and that nobody would benefit from our embryos’ creation. We felt there was a more positive road to take.

Donate our embryos to medical research.

These embryos could be used either to further research into better infertility treatments, or be used to create embryonic stem cells. Since we both have science backgrounds, we know the importance and potential of stem-cell research to improve or save the lives of people with debilitating or lethal diseases. This felt like a powerful, positive choice for us. We checked with our clinic and found out that in Boston, one of the leaders in this field was receiving donated embryos from IVF clinics. This was the best choice for us as a couple, and as a family.

Our Conclusion

More than a decade after we began our infertility odyssey, we signed the forms to donate our embryos to research. There were tears in our eyes remembering where we were, and feelings of loss, but also feelings of gratitude for where we are now. Our sadness was buoyed by a discussion of the latest stem-cell research advances made possible through donations such as ours.

I think of all the thousands of frozen embryos (estimates are as high as 400,000) and the couples everywhere wondering what to do, which is a testament to how difficult this decision can be. We urge everyone to think about this issue early on, and research your options. Consider professional counseling if the burden of making the decision becomes too great.

The answer that you will arrive at through research, thoughtful soul-searching, and dialogue, will be the answer that is right for you.

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