My wife and I are in the process of starting a family through Embryo Adoption. We have found that many of our friends and family are unfamiliar with this method of growing a family, and so we decided to author this article to educate others. It is a relatively new, unique, wonderful way to welcome an adopted child into your home.
How It All Starts
When a couple goes through In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF), they frequently have fertilized embryos left over that they cannot or do not want to use. For anyone unfamiliar, an embryo is the result of fertilization of a mother’s egg by the father’s sperm. The embryo is a unique individual–separate from the father and the mother. The embryo, if implanted into a mother’s uterus, will grow into a fetus (when all the organs are present, after the 8 week mark after conception), and if all goes well, will grow into a baby (when born). IVF is the process of completing the fertilizing step outside of the mother. This is done usually because the couple has difficulty conceiving on their own. However, couples typically cannot use all of their fertilized eggs at once. They will implant at least one, but then there will be others that are not implanted.
These embryos are frozen and the couple who went through IVF must pay for storage fees for them. Eventually, that couple might be done growing their family. Maybe the pregnancy they went through was too tough, and their physicians discouraged them from implanting another of their fertilized embryos. Maybe they feel that their budget is stretched too thin and won’t likely improve anytime within the years they would feel comfortable bringing another baby into the world. Maybe they simply feel that their family is “complete” with the number of children they have. Regardless of the reason, they likely do not want to pay for storage fees for embryos they have no intention of using.
A Wonderful Gift
There are couples out there who are unable to have children through IVF. My wife and I are one such couple. When we began dating, we discussed this in depth and knew that adoption would be the way we welcome our little ones into our home. In our faith, we believe that families are eternal. We believe that our family, in particular, was formed in the premortal world, where we lived with Heavenly Father before we came to this Earth. We believe that all of our children were our dear friends in the premortal world and were chosen to be our children here. We believe that regardless of the logistics of their trip to enter our family, they have been, are, and always will be ours.
Despite the strength of our faith that this is the Lord’s plan for us, Megan has always had a very strong desire to be pregnant. It is, after all, her chosen profession to be a mother and this aspect of motherhood is something that she has yearned for since childhood.
We learned about Embryo Adoption online. The first embryo adoption birth occurred in 1998, so it is relatively new. The concept is simple: couples who have gone through IVF have something to give, couples like us greatly desire that “something.” When a couple with leftover frozen embryos donates them to a couple like us, it gives Megan the opportunity to be pregnant with the child we will adopt. What a wonderful gift!
It is, on average, less costly than conventional adoption. (The exorbitant costs of adoption is deeply disappointing to us, and we have strong feelings that something needs to change – likely to decrease government involvement in the adoption process. But I digress…) It is estimated that about 1 million embryos are in storage. These embryos will mostly be discarded or used for scientific research once the donor family decides they no longer want to pay for the storage fees, and signs over “ownership” (legally in most states, embryos are considered property instead of individuals). These little ones would make a precious addition to a family like ours, who struggle with infertility and/or the cost of conventional adoption. We urge donor couples to consider reaching out to their fertility clinics about connecting with a social worker who can help them through the process of donation. In most cases it costs the donor couple absolutely nothing to proceed to donate their embryos to a family like ours.
The Matching and Legal Processes
The process of donor and recipient couples finding each other is different depending on the couples’ situations and geographic locations. We can share our experience, and encourage anyone interested to reach out to a fertility clinic to find out how to get started.
We began by visiting a fertility clinic that stated online and confirmed over the phone that they do embryo transfers – the process of thawing and placing the embryo in the uterus of the adopting mother. The fertility clinic completed a thorough medical screening to ensure that Megan was capable of being pregnant in the first place. Then they provided us with the name of a social worker who handles private matching.
We met with the social worker who had us fill out an extensive questionnaire, met with us in person to discuss the process and determine if we were fit for parenthood, and then completed a home study. This process was expensive, but still cheaper than conventional adoption. It is also very similar to the steps necessary for conventional adoption. The social worker let us know that if we were unable to find a donor couple in a reasonable amount of time, we could consider using an embryo adoption agency. The agency we chose to use, if it should become necessary, is Snowflakes. “Snowflake” is a nickname for babies born through embryo adoption/donation (because they are frozen and then thawed, not because they are overly-sensitive Millennials).
We wrote letters, selected pictures, and completed a profile (including reference letters) for the social worker to provide to donor couples. Once a donor couple selects the adopting couple, the social worker refers the adopting couple to a lawyer.
The adopting couple pays the lawyer to draft an agreement to transfer ownership of the embryo(s) from the donor couple to the adopting couple. The donor couple also has an attorney, and in our situation, the adopting couple pays for the legal fees of both (along with any other fees the donor couple incurs, like a psych eval or new storage fees). Once the legal agreement is complete, then the donated embryo is ready to be transferred! It might be that, if the donor couple is in another state or used another medical facility than the adopting couple is using, then the embryo will need to be shipped to the adopting couple’s medical facility. The adopting couple would pay for these fees.
The Medical Process
Megan is, of course, the one most affected by the medical process. After she was medically screened by the OBGYN, she was started on prenatal vitamins and oral contraceptives (birth control pills). She also must prepare herself through injections and other methods of delivering hormones to the uterus that her body is not used to producing on its own. Depending on the reason for infertility, this may vary for other adopting mothers. Any medication not appropriate for pregnancy must be stopped during this preparation period, as well.
Once we are ready to implant the embryo, Megan will go into the office and receive an anti-anxiety medicine (similar to medication given for uncomfortable dental or eye procedures). She is awake during the implantation. Afterward, she will need someone to drive her home. At that point, she is technically pregnant! How exciting!
Because we live several hours away from the medical facility that does the embryo transfer, our local OBGYN will handle follow-up ultrasounds and checkups. Our local OBGYN will also handle the delivery. The facility that does the transfer will be there for us for any subsequent transfers.
The pregnancy will last 9 months just like a conventional pregnancy.
More Legal Stuff
After the baby is born, Megan is the legal mother and I am the legal father. However, we have chosen to legally adopt our baby anyway. This is the right of all parents who grow their family through embryo adoption in our state. Our social worker informed us of this option and after weighing the costs and benefits, we decided that it was right for our family to proceed with legal adoption. We will reach out to our lawyer again after the birth and begin the legal adoption process.
How We Will Explain This To Our Child
We plan to start early and explain often. We feel this is the best way to ensure that our baby’s unconventional trip to join our family is normalized, and certainly not seen as a “secret.” We are also open to having a cordial relationship with the donor couples, including sharing updates about our children, and maybe even arranging meetings. We feel that our family’s strongly-held belief that we were a family in premortality will make the explanation much easier.
To our toddlers, we will introduce them to the concept of premortality just as any couple in our faith would. We will add that we were a family then, and that we chose each other there. We will teach them that families are families even if they do not all look alike. We will teach them that Heavenly Father makes people in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and that He loves everyone the same.
To our elementary school children, once they are old enough to understand that babies typically grow in the mother’s uterus, we will explain that they grew in “Mommy’s tummy” just like every other child, but that they did not start there. They started in premortality like everyone else, and then made a side-trip to another mommy and daddy, whose bodies were able to make a baby. Because their Mommy and Daddy have bodies that can’t make babies, we had to find another mommy and daddy who could and whose family was complete. Then doctors put “tiny little you” into “Mommy’s tummy” so “you could finish growing” and come into our home.
To our middle and high school aged children, we will explain the scientific and legal process just as we did in this article. By that time it will have been quite normalized, and hopefully the child will know that although they took a detour, it was an essential detour to come to their final destination: our eternal family. We hope they will view their biological parents in a very positive light, because they would have given us such a priceless gift, and we will be forever grateful to them.
We are thrilled to welcome our first baby into our home, and Megan is so excited to be pregnant. We cannot wait for that day! We know that as we continue to pray, read our Scriptures, worship our Savior, Jesus Christ, and focus on our health, work, and wholesome recreation, that this day will arrive soon.
To all of our friends and family: thank you for being a part of our journey!