Thursday, October 18, 2012

the teeniest, tiniest babies

This past June, we met with Dr. C to discuss plans for adding another child to our family. I cried in the elevator on the way up to his office. I didn't want to be back there. In some ways, it felt like the happiest place in the world - where Harriet was conceived and spent her first few days in a petri dish. In other ways, it felt so sad. I hated the idea of opening the door to all of the emotions that come along with infertility treatments. I had been enjoying the respite, the celebration, the challenges of having a child rather than the challenges of trying to have a child.

We wanted to talk to Dr. C about doing a frozen embryo transfer (FET) with our one remaining embryo. But that conversation was over before it even started. Dr. C informed us that none of the embryos frozen at our clinic from April to August of last year were resulting in pregnancies. He wasn't sure what went wrong but he did know that our embryo and the rest of the embryos frozen around the same time were damaged beyond repair. Our embryo is still alive and may even survive the thaw but he assured us that it will not result in a pregnancy. They gave us two options. We could have our embryo destroyed and get a refund on our embryo storage fees (at least $1200 so far) or we could continue to pay storage fees and have the embryo transferred to my uterus at some point for free, knowing that barring a miracle, it won't survive. We didn't even consider option #1. Others might disagree, but to Andrew and I, destroying an embryo is destroying a child. So after about two seconds, we told Dr. C that we were going with option #2. 

We will transfer this embryo because when we signed up for IVF, we decided that we were going to give every single one of our embryos the best chance at life. Obviously, transferring the embryo gives it a better chance than destroying it. We only have one embryo frozen but I feel especially heartbroken for the families that had 10, 12, or more embryos. You can make a whole family out of that many embryos. They are having to say goodbye to all of those children. I can't imagine it.

I also feel bummed that I will have to go through all of the shots, all of the monitoring, all of the side effects with very little to no potential for success. I keep reminding myself that it's the least we can do for this tiny baby, and secondly, God CAN do miracles of all sorts. I want to start praying that he will save this embryo but I haven't been able to yet. My faith feels really small and science feels really big in this situation.

Long before we knew that our remaining embryo had been damaged beyond repair, Andrew and I started talking about adopting embryos. When I bring up the idea in conversation, most people say, "I didn't know you could do that!" Yep. You can! I'll give you more information about the process at the end of this post. Back to our conversation with Dr. C...

Andrew and I were both thinking the same thing but he was the one to bring it up. He asked Dr. C if he would be willing to transfer an adopted embryo or two alongside our embryo free of charge. That way, since we had been considering embryo adoption anyways, the frozen transfer wouldn't be wasted. In some ways, it even felt like God was directing our path toward embryo adoption by turning something painful (a damaged embryo) into something wonderful (a free transfer for adopted embryos). Dr. C agreed to it right away and a little bit of hope poked its head into a bleak situation.

Soon after that conversation, I started doing my research. I talked to the agencies, read family profiles, and had a long discussion with Dr. C about the specifics of the process. Then we found the family. They had everything we wanted - a sufficient number of good quality embryos, the desire to stay involved in the lives of the children they were hoping to place in an adoptive home. They had been waiting ten years to find a family for these embryos. Can you imagine? For ten years, these babies have been frozen in time - not living here on earth, not enjoying heaven...just stuck. The sad truth is that part of the reason this family has been waiting so long is their ethnicity. They are African American and non-white embryos can be difficult to place. Ugh. I don't like truths like that.

We wrote our introduction letter and our profile. We agonized over the exact wording and debated which 15 pictures would be best to send. I'll admit that I was overconfident. They've been waiting ten years, I thought, They've got to pick us. Plus, we had everything they wanted.

College degrees? We both have master's degrees.
One child? Yep, Harriet's going to be a great big sister.
Christian home? Absolutely.
Married for five years? Check.
We don't put our kids in daycare.
Our extended families live nearby. 
Andrew's a nurse. 
I'm a family therapist.
Pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding all went smoothly with Harriet.

On paper, we looked really good. But after three weeks of waiting, the agency called to tell us that the family didn't want us. She said that they loved everything about us and had seriously considered moving forward with the adoption, but the thing that held them back was the fact that we still have an embryo left. They wanted their embryos to be the focus.

I wanted so badly to tell them that their embryos will be our focus, that we had already grieved our damaged embryo and were hoping to move forward wholeheartedly. But we had already said that stuff in our letter. The family had made their decision and it's their right to base that decision on what's important to them. I think I had talked myself into believing that these babies were our babies and that they had been waiting ten years for us. I was wrong. It was tough at the time and because no other family seemed like a good match, we stopped looking for a while.

A couple weeks ago, I checked the website again. There were a couple new families, looking to place their embryos in adoptive homes. We're toying with the idea of contacting the agency again to see whether one of these families would be interested in us. We just really love the idea of embryo adoption and don't want to lose sight of that goal.

Andrew and I both felt called to adoption before we even met. We view God’s command to take care of widows and orphans not as a suggestion but as a personal call to action. Why embryo adoption? We firmly believe that embryos are children with souls, just as valuable and worthy of life as a child who has already been born. But most people who are interested in adoption don’t realize that there are so many pre-born children out there, frozen in time and waiting for parents. Because we’ve lost children early in pregnancy, we understand how priceless those tiny lives are, and we want to use our experience to give embryos a chance. 

Want to learn more about embryo adoption? Here's my own quick list of FAQs. I got most of this info from conversations with doctors and people at the adoption agency. I am doing my very best to present this info accurately, but this isn't a research paper so if you want exact numbers and that sort of thing, google away.

Q: What is the difference between embryo adoption and embryo donation?
A: The terms are often used interchangeably but there are important differences. I've read articles saying that embryo adoption is a ploy to make more money off of the adoptive parents and push the pro-life agenda. I completely disagree. We like the embryo adoption model better than embryo donation because it allows the genetic family to choose the adoptive family. If we had embryos that we weren't able to transfer to my uterus for whatever reason, I certainly would want to handpick the family who got to parent them. With embryo donation, the doctor is usually the one to decide which embryos go to which family. Embryo adoption also allows for an open relationship between the genetic family and the adoptive family. Ideally, if we end up adopting embryos someday, we want our child's genetic parents and siblings to be very present in his or her life. We'd like to exchange updates, pictures, and even visit one another periodically. Studies have shown that open adoption is healthiest for the child because it gives him or her the opportunity to know people who share their genes and eventually ask important questions of his or her genetic parents.  I've heard it's possible to have an open embryo donation but this seems to be much less common. When you adopt embryos, you have to complete a home study, a matching period...basically all of the stuff a family goes through for a traditional adoption.

Q: How many embryos are out there, frozen, waiting for families?
A: hundreds of thousands

Q: Why would a family want to place their embryos in an adoptive home?
A: The IVF process can result in the creation of lots of embryos, but in most states, doctors prefer to transfer only one to three embryos at a time. The rest of the embryos can then be used by the couple, donated to science, destroyed, donated to another couple, or adopted by another couple. Some couples aren't able to use the embryos for whatever reason (their family already felt complete, financial issues, mom's health problems prevented her from being pregnant again, etc.) but they don't feel comfortable destroying the embryos or having them used in experiments and then destroyed. So they decide to terminate their rights to the embryos and give another couple the chance to birth and raise them. Genetic families do not receive any payment from agencies or adoptive families. 

Q: How does it work? 
A: After you're matched and all the legal stuff goes through, the embryos are shipped to the adoptive family's clinic (or the adoptive family travels to the embryos) and the embryos are transferred to the mom's uterus. It's called a frozen embryo transfer and is less invasive and complex than IVF. The mom is simply given drugs to prepare her uterus for a pregnancy. The FET is a painless procedure that doesn't require anesthesia. 

Q: What if the adoptive couple doesn't get pregnant?
A: It's a huge bummer because you've already spent the money on the legal fees (about $9000) and the transfer (about $4000). There are a lot of risks that come with infertility treatment. Embryo adoption is no different. 


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This is so interesting! I hopped over here from your post this week and just could not stop reading it. I am very interested in embryo adoption because we could have some left over if we have a third child with some embryos left on ice. We want them all to have a chance. Prior to reading this, I thought we would donate them - but NO WE WOULD NOT. We would go the adoption route.

    Thank you for this!

    1. Wow! I'm so glad that this made an impact on you! How cool.

  3. Great Post….. I read a few of your other posts.

  4. You write good content, I am looking for this thanks for sharing it will help others.


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