Scientific advancements are nothing short of miraculous in our world today. We have x-rays, CT and EKG scans, and genetic testing. Diseases are cured and even completely eradicated from the population. Got a bad infection? There’s an antibiotic for that.
One area where science and technology are coming together is that of infertility treatments. A woman can take hormones or be prescribed medications to help increase the chances of a pregnancy. There is artificial insemination, egg and sperm donors, surrogates, and in vitro fertilization (IVF). Couples who have trouble conceiving are now able to explore so many different options to help make their dream of a family come true.
Something new and exciting has been emerging on the horizon as another process for starting a family: embryo donation and embryo adoption. Embryo donation/adoption is one method many couples are utilizing to grow their family. It combines our modern technology with the age-old tradition of adoption.
To describe it in an easy, simple sentence, embryo donation or adoption is adopting a child before he or she is born. The adoptive parents are able to experience the joy of a pregnancy, even if a natural pregnancy had previously been seen as unachievable. The risks and probability of success are the same as any couple going through the IVF process.
Of course, a woman looking into embryo donation or adoption would need to discuss this option with her doctor to talk about her own body and the viability of a healthy pregnancy, but this has been a successful option for now thousands of families in the world.
Sound interesting? A little bit strange? Read on to learn more about the process!
15 Donor Couple’s IVF Cycle
A couple experiencing trouble conceiving after one year is considered “infertile.” Usually an OBG or fertility specialist will recommend fertility medications to boost the woman’s chances of conceiving, or even go so far as utilizing artificial insemination (AKA the turkey basting method). In many cases, these strategies produce a successful conception and a healthy pregnancy.
Sometimes, however, these still do not result in pregnancy. One option chosen by couples with infertility troubles is in vitro fertilization. Under some form of anesthesia, eggs are retrieved from the mother. The egg and sperm are put together in the laboratory. Successful embryos having been created, some are placed into the mother’s womb.
The number of embryos used depends on the doctor, the fertility clinic, and the parents. Yet, as many eggs are retrieved and as many embryos are created as deemed sensible, because of the cost of each round of IVF is expensive – financially and health-wise on the mother.
14 After IVF
Most often, when a couple goes through IVF, they don’t use all of the embryos immediately, to avoid the mother having a large number of embryos implanting in one pregnancy.
In other words, typically a couple will successfully produce more embryos than they are willing to use in one IVF cycle. What happens to the others at this stage? Any remaining embryos are cyropreserved, or frozen, to put it in simpler terms.
Embryos not being used immediately can be frozen up to five days after implantation. The embryos are slowly cooled down to -196 degrees CELSIUS (that’s exceptionally cold!) and stored in liquid nitrogen. When the couple wishes to try for another pregnancy, the embryos are thawed and implanted into the mother’s uterus.
13 Decision Time
When a couple who used IVF is finished building their family, they have a decision to make: what happens to the leftover embryos now? Should the family donate the embryos to science? Should the embryos be kept in storage just in case they want to use them sometime in the future?
Current research shows that the embryos can stay in the “frozen” state indefinitely and still have about the same success rate, although, of course, this technology hasn’t been around for more than several decades. Beyond that, there is no way to know for sure. Some are left to thaw and pass naturally, with the thought that nature accomplishes this through miscarriages anyway.
If the couple doesn’t want another pregnancy and doesn’t want to let go of their potential future children, should the embryos stay frozen forever? But, if the couple wants the children to have a chance at living, but doesn’t desire to add more children to their own immediate family, there is another option. Donating embryos to another couple is becoming more common.
12 Registration for Embryo Adoption
If the biological parents wish that another couple be given the embryos, there are two options: straight-forward donation, and adoption. With donation, there seldom is contact or communication between the donating family and the receiving family. Fertility clinics that perform IVF will often have a donor list and work to match donated embryos with those who are seeking them.
The clinic handles the matching. The amount of information shared between donors and receivers in these cases varies. In an embryo adoption situation, the process is more like a “typical” adoption: the donors work through an agency, look through files, and choose the couple they want to raise their biological child.
There are of course pros and cons for the donating couple, and everyone should consider the many factors that must be weighed while considering which route would be best for each situation.
11 Adoptive Family Registers
The family who receives the embryos also needs to decide which path they wish to take. If the embryos are strictly donated, the recipients may wish to try to find out general health information. They will learn basic racial and ethnic identifiers, but not much else, especially if the donating family wishes to remain anonymous.
There are many reasons why someone would choose a more unidentified than not, and many reasons why families would choose to know as much information as possible. The organization assisting will help both sides determine the best course of action. The recipient family will be put on a waiting list, and matched to the facility’s specifications – whether first-come-first-served or by a more subjective means.
The Snowflake Embryo Adoption is the most well-known organization to treat the process as an adoption. Prospective adoptive parents fill out paperwork, complete a home study, and begin to create some sort of file or scrapbook sharing information about themselves.
10 Fees and Paperwork
Every organization has a different process and a different fee schedule. It is most definitely sensible to find out as much information on that end as possible before choosing an entity to perform the embryo donation or adoption. Yes, it does cost, but no, the donor family does not receive the money as a “bounty” for providing a child.
Any fees to the fertility organization itself will go towards administrative costs accrued in the process. Some groups require a home study, as in a typical adoption. There will be additional fees for the storage and transportation of the embryos, as well as any costs in the actual transferring, which unfortunately probably will not be covered by insurance.
The recipients do not cover any of the donor’s medical bills, and vice versa. Each organization will have their own policies on refunds or discounts for future transfers if the first attempt does not result in a viable pregnancy. Once all of the paperwork is done and the fees are paid, the receiving family is put on a waiting list as well, until they are chosen by a donating family.
9 Matching with Adoptive Family
Whether the embryos are being donated or adopted, the couples waiting to receive are put on THE LIST. Whether you have adopted domestically or from another country, or if you have fostered children, or know someone in these situations, you know about THE LIST.
The little one’s bedroom has been ready, because the caseworker was required to see it. The house is baby-proofed. Family and friends have been tentatively notified as to the expectant state of potential parenthood. There has been a lot of waiting, and waiting, and more waiting. And finally – THE CALL.
A baby – or in this case, an embryo (or even embryos!) – are waiting to be claimed. A family is ready to be made! The receiving family can feel excited to know that another step in the journey has been made, and the donor family can feel joyful, knowing that a loving family has been found for their biological child.
8 Signing Over Rights
As strange as it sounds, embryos are classified as property under national law. There is no money changing hands in the process of transferring parental rights from the donors to the recipients, but every i must be dotted, and all of the t’s crossed. An embryo donation contract differs from a surrogate contract, in that, of course, the resulting baby that came from the pregnancy does not return to the biological (donor) parents, but is in the care of the parents who carried out the pregnancy.
By signing whatever papers are required by your state or fertility clinic, both families are protected and can feel comfortable going forward. The contract may stipulate what happens if additional embryos still exist after the first transfer; are the recipient parents vowing to implant every single embryo, no matter how many result in a viable pregnancy? What will be the interaction between the two families in the future? These and many other details should be noted in the contract.
7 Pre-Implantation Medical Exam
Most women who are planning a pregnancy prepare their bodies to some extent or another. Implanting frozen embryos necessitates making sure the body is completely ready to undertake a pregnancy, especially one from IVF and not from a natural conception.
The shape and situation of the uterus will be examined, as well as the quality of the uterine lining. A complete medical history will help illuminate any potential issues that may need to be considered before a pregnancy can happen. This may take several months while data is collected, and the best possible points for pregnancy in a woman’s menstrual cycle are determined.
This is where the embryo donation/adoption path looks just like that of a couple undergoing an IVF cycle with their own embryos. Every opportunity to increase the chances of implantation and pregnancy are taken – it’s just that the embryos aren’t genetic matches to the womb into which they are being placed.
6 Preparing for Implantation
Every woman preparing for a pregnancy knows to eat healthy, stay active, and begin taking your prenatal vitamins. While unexpected pregnancies happen, women trying to get pregnant are very aware of doing everything possible to help the process along. Getting a body ready for a pregnancy at a specific time to ensure the best chances of success results in plan of action that is a bit more complicated.
Since the pregnancy will not happen because of events that naturally happen inside the body, i.e. a normal ovulation cycle, conception, and implantation, steps are taken to move the body, specifically the reproductive system, in that direction. There are hormones to take to suppress the natural menstrual cycle (to avoid spontaneous ovulation, which could interfere with syncing the cycle).
Injections of progesterone hormones are taken often after that, if not every single day. (Yeah, start getting your significant other to practice giving you shots!) This makes sure the uterine lining is thick and ready to receive the embryo. Some women enjoy massage and acupuncture to prepare as well.
5 When the Transfer Should Happen
Get ready to have your body poked and prodded and every inch examined! The body, the uterus, and the uterine lining all need to be on the same page at the same time. The mother must be at peak preparedness to have the best chance of a successful transfer.
Ultrasounds and blood tests will be done frequently to monitor the levels of nutrients and hormones in the body. The mother will be taking the prenatal medications (and hormone therapy, if prescribed). Research shows that a higher level of folic acid, iron, and Vitamin E can help to prepare the lining for transfer. This is another time of waiting; some may need to be prepared to wait four months or more to synchronize everything together.
4 The Transfer
Finally, everything in the universe has aligned and the time is right! The embryos will be thawed and assessed to make sure they are still viable. This can complicate matters, because the eggs and the uterus must be ready on the exact same day for a transfer. The fertility team will then transfer one or two embryos after the process of egg thawing is complete.
The procedure is done normally there at the clinic and is an in-patient procedure. Anesthesia usually isn’t used in the actual transfer, as there is little to no pain to the mother, but sedatives may be used.
The embryos are placed into the uterus by a small catheter. The woman will more than likely stay laying down for four to six more hours, for resting purposes, and then be released to go home and follow a regular routine. If by chance there are any remaining embryos that aren’t transferred, the rest remain frozen.
During this time, the hopefully-expectant couple will carry on as normally as possible, undergoing what any other couple may undergo during this time. The mother will take care of her own health and try not to overexert herself. She may also be prescribed progesterone at this stage.
Progesterone is regularly the major medication taken after an embryo transfer. Taking a supplement of progesterone will help increase the chances of pregnancy. Progesterone is also crucial to maintain a pregnancy once one has begun. The mother will take regular prenatal vitamins as well… and enter another time period of waiting.
Just like any regular prenatal progression, there will be a time period around two-weeks before any pregnancy can be confirmed.
2 Pregnancy and Birth
Similar to a pregnancy unaided by reproductive technology, there are always varying rates of success with embryo donation/adoption. If all has gone correctly in a medical and anatomical/physiological sense, the pregnancy test will show a “positive” result after the typical two week waiting period! Now, it’s time to celebrate! Congratulations!
Think of all of the things you get to experience now, nine months of growing a little one (don’t forget morning sickness), attending doctor appointments, seeing ultrasound pictures, deciding whether or not to discover and reveal the gender, picking baby names, having baby showers…
This is one of the major reasons a couple would choose embryo donation or adoption – getting to experience the entire pregnancy just like if it happened naturally. The pregnant couple’s medical insurance will need to kick in and cover the expenses, as per their insurance provider.
There are not any additional risks to the growing fetus that began its journey as a frozen embryo, compared to any other pregnancy. When the time comes, the new baby will come into this world like every other one before him or her!
1 The Future
Following the birth, the new family will leave the hospital and head home. Along with a new addition to the family, they will have a unique story about how their child came to be with them, one that celebrates love – from many different people - as well as the amazing capabilities of modern medicine.
Any contact that happens between the donor family and the recipient family will continue based on the agreements written out before the embryo transfer. Some may prefer to have no contact at all. Some may prefer to share pictures occasionally. Sometimes the two families become very involved with each other and share many special memories of their child growing up. Both families will discover together the level of involvement they feel comfortable with.
All in all, embryo donation and adoption can be a wonderful experience for everyone involved. It is a successful process that gives families with remaining embryos the opportunity to allow another family to experience pregnancy and childbirth. How amazing is that?