- Women's Health
Being Pregnant with Your Adopted Child
Embryo Donation / Embryo Adoption - A Family Building Option
Hi, I'm Erin, and my husband and I are in the adoption process -- for adopting embryos. The only reason I'd heard of embryo donation/adoption was going through infertility treatments before the birth of my biological daughter.
Many people have heard of surrogacy (a woman carrying a pregnancy for another couple and giving the baby to them at birth), domestic adoption (adopting a child from your own country) and In-Vitro Fertilization, A.K.A. IVF (where a woman's egg and a man's sperm are joined together in a petri dish to create embryos; usually one or two of which are transferred into the woman's uterus).
Embryo adoption / embryo donation has elements of each of these more common methods of building a family. In short, it's where a donor couple who has surplus cryopreserved (read: frozen) embryos legally releases the embryos to an adoptive/recipient couple who have the embryos implanted into the female partner's womb. The recipient couple then gives birth to and parents the resulting baby.
Sound a bit complex? Confusing? That's why this website is here. To explain the embryo adoption and embryo donation processes and how they can benefit couples struggling with infertility. It's also how my husband and I are pursuing growing our family after a secondary infertility diagnosis.
It'll certainly be interesting being pregnant with our adopted child. I'm looking forward to it and I can't wait to meet him or her.
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/81112744@N00/2435076479/
Glossary of Terms Related to Embryo Donation / Embryo Adoption - If the whole concept of embryo donation is new to you (you may even be asking 'what IS an embry
- Embryo -- An organism (in this case, a human being) in the very early stages of development. A human embryo is created at the moment of fertilization - when a woman's egg and a man's sperm fuse together to make a genetically complete, albeit very, very tiny baby. The embryonic period then lasts until the end of the eighth week of development, after which the developing baby is called a fetus. All donated embryos available via embryo adoption/donation have been cryogenically frozen, most at between 3-6 days of development.
- In-Vitro Fertilization, A.K.A. IVF -- An involved fertility procedure where a woman's eggs and a man's sperm are united outside of the body (usually in a petri dish) to create embryos. Usually one or two of the resulting embryos are transferred into the woman's uterus to hopefully result in a pregnancy. Any remaining embryos are cryogenically preserved for future attempts at pregnancy.
- Donor Parent(s)/Donor Family/Donor Couple/Embryo Donor -- Each of these terms refers to the couple or individual who donates their embryo(s) to another parent or couple. Donated embryos aren't necessarily related to the couple/individual who donates them. For example, an embryo donor couple may have used the wife's eggs and donor sperm to create their embryos. The donor couple legally relinquishes the rights to their donated embryo(s) to the adoptive/recipient parents via contract. This is handled according to the clinic, individuals or agency handling the transfer of ownership of the embryos. NOTE: embryos are technically considered property according to the law.
- Embryo Recipient or Adoptive Parents -- Each of these terms refer to the couple or individual receiving donor embryos, depending on the philosophical bent of the parties involved in the donation and receiving process.
- Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) -- The procedure of thawing embryos and transferring one or two into the uterus of the recipient woman. Most of the time, the recipient mother is given medication to prepare her body for the reception and implantation of an embryo/embryos.
How Familiar Are You with Embryo Adoption/Donation?
Had you heard about embryo adoption or donation before reading this website?
My husband holding our newborn daughter. Looking forward to moments like these again when our adopted child is born.
photo credit: http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/BunnyFabulous
What's the Difference Between Embryo Donation and Embryo Adoption?
The difference isn't merely semantics. There are some philosophical and procedural differences between the two.
For embryo donation, most any person or couple can receive embryos, provided that the woman to carry the pregnancy has a letter from a reproductive endocrinologist stating that she has 'no contraindications to pregnancy' and they do the paperwork/actions necessary to be accepted by the clinic's program. Consequently, embryo donation is the overwhelming method of choice for gay and/or lesbian couples, unmarried domestic partners and single women in addition to married heterosexual couples. Usually the embryo recipient requests which embryos they'd like to receive from the clinic's database. Usually donors remain anonymous, but recipients are provided with the embryo donor's medical records.
Proponents of embryo donation contend that home studies and the paperwork that goes along with an adoption-like process are unnecessary since legally in the United States embryos are considered property and adoption law does not apply. Embryo donation clinics eliminate the time and money spent jumping through hoops that are not legally required. Donors who prefer less or no contact with any child resulting from their donation may choose this option because it's easier to be anonymous. They also may want their embryos to have a good home but prefer not to have a hand in choosing who that would be. Donors who are open to having or would prefer to have gay, lesbian, unmarried partners and/or singles receive their embryos would choose the option of embryo donation.
In embryo adoption, the prospective recipient(s) must complete an application for the clinic or agency's program, go through any requested training for adoptive parents and complete a home study or dossier which typically includes background checks. In most cases, it's pretty similar to the process someone would go through for a domestic adoption. Most agencies/clinics who handle embryo adoptions limit applications to married heterosexual couples only or married couples and single women, as this mirrors many states' adoption laws. Typically in embryo adoption, the donor views prospective adoptive parents' family profiles and chooses who they'd like to receive their embryos. The recipients would then accept or decline the match. This isn't always the case, however. Each clinic/agency handles the process slightly differently. There is much more variation in the potential for contact between donor and recipient families; some embryo adoptions are very open with personal contact between parties, and some have contact through the agency...mostly photos and letters.
The rationale behind going through an adoption-like process to receive embryos stems mainly from two things:
First, the fact that however a child comes into a family to whom they are not genetically related, they will deal with many of the issues and situations that face adopted children, i.e. 'why did my genetic parents give me up?' possible desire to meet their genetic parents, 'why do I look so different than my mom and dad?' etc. Might as well give the receiving parents the same type of training that they'd get when traditionally adopting.
Secondly, some genetic parents want to ensure the best they can that any children born would be parented by someone who's been 'checked out' via background checks and a home study by a licensed social worker. Typically, embryo donors who want a choice in the matter of who gets their embryos choose embryo adoption.
Why Do People Donate Embryos?
There are a variety of motivations and circumstances under which a person or couple would donate the embryos they've created either with their own genetic material, donor eggs/sperm and any combination thereof. Here's a list of some of the more common ones. Most donors would cite several of these reasons as to why they are making their embryos available.
- They want to bless another couple going through infertility with a child. Embryo donors know what it's like to go through infertility treatments, and want to help someone else who can't conceive on their own.
- They're finished creating their family. A donor couple may have all the children they want/can afford to parent, and therefore don't want to use their remaining embryos.
- Financial reasons. Donors are NOT compensated for their embryos. That's illegal and unethical. However, frozen embryo storage fees can be very expensive. If a couple has been sitting on the fence as to whether they want to donate their embryos, the financial strain of storage costs can motivate them towards donation.
- A divorce. If the partner who has 'custody' of the embryos doesn't want to have children using their ex-spouse's genetic material, they will often donate the embryos.
- They don't want their embryos to be destroyed or given to science.
Books for Children about Adoption - A highly recommended selection of books to commuicate with children about adoption; either adopted children or their sibling
All of the proceeds I earn from Amazon.com sales from this website wlll be going toward our adoption expenses. Purchases don't have to be of the books below; just use the link to get on the Amazon.com page then navigate to what you want to purchase.
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/delicategenius/234720408/
How the Embryo Adoption/Donation Process Works - Basically, I'm going to use the process that my husband and I have been/will be going through as an example.
- Recipients research and review embryo adoption agencies, and choose one that best fits what they're trying to accomplish and how they want things handled. At this point, they submit the application paperwork. Most agencies/clinics have a non-refundable application fee between $100 to $350.
- The female partner who would carry the pregnancy (or surrogate if the recipients would be using one) gets examined by a doctor (usually a reproductive endocrinologist, or possibly an OBGYN) to confirm that there are no contraindications to pregnancy
- After acceptance into the agency's program, the adoptive parents set up a home study with a local social worker. The home study in and of itself will requires prospective adoptive parents to write quite a bit about themselves and their family, go through a background check, get fingerprinted and have the social worker come to their home for an interview and to take a look at where they live. They won't do a white glove test (at least our social worker didn't), but they do want to get a very good picture of who the adoptive family is and how they'd like to parent.
For embryo donation, this step would be omitted.
NOTE: My husband and I actually did this step first, but usually it comes after being accepted into the program of your choice.
- The prospective adoptive parents write a 'dear genetic parent(s)' letter communicating to the genetic family about themselves and what they're looking for in the adoption. They create a more indepth adoption profile photo book about themselves, their family, their home, etc. for genetic parents to get a better idea of who they are. This can differ from agency to agency, and some embryo adoption agencies don't use this step at all. Ours does.
For embryo donation, this step would be omitted.
- At some point, the recipient parent(s) pay the agency/clinic's fee for processing paperwork and matching them with a donor. Varies as to when. This looked like as good a spot as any to put this info.
Agency/clinic fees for this can vary widely from $3,500 to over $12,000.
- Once all the paperwork required for matching is completed, the agency or clinic goes through its matching process with donors and recipients. Varies widely how this is done. In our case, the donor would pick us. Match is confirmed.
- The donor(s) sign relinquishment of parental rights contract. Typically this can be revoked only up until the point that embryos are thawed for transfer into the recipient.
- The donor would go through any testing required by law and the clinic that will be performing the Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET).
- Arrangements are made for the embryos to be shipped to the clinic where the adoptive mother or adoptive parents' surrogate would be doing the FET. In some cases, though, the FET has to be performed at the clinic where the embryos were created. In this case, the recipients would have to travel to the embryos.
At the time of the FET, the recipient parent(s) would pay the clinic performing the FET for those services, which include storage fees, thawing fees, monitoring of the woman's response to medications preparing her body for the transfer, and transfer fees. This total can vary as well from clinic to clinic; mostly between $3,000 to $5,000. Medications are also an additional cost.
- The adoptive mother or surrogate takes some medications to prepare her body for the FET at a reproductive endocrinology clinic (A.K.A. fertility clinic). At the correct time in her menstrual cycle, embryos are thawed and one or two are transferred into her uterus.
NOTE: not all embryos survive being thawed. In many cases, one or two embryos can be thawed at a time, and if one or both don't survive the thaw, one or two more can be thawed for transfer.
- Approximately two weeks after the FET, the adoptive mother/surrogate takes a blood pregnancy test to see if she is pregnant.
- If pregnancy hasn't occurred, the adoptive couple can go through a FET again if they have embryos remaining from their match. If not, they can request to be re-matched if they so desire. Some agencies/clinics charge a re-matching fee.
Do You Just Adopt/Receive One Embryo?
Short Answer: Usually not. For explanation, see Long Answer below:
An adoptive/recipient couple receives all the embryos that a particular donor has. This could be one embryo, but is usually between 2 and 6. I think the most I've seen on an online donor profile has been 10-12.
This begs the question of "Do they put all of those embryos into the adoptive mother at one time?" (thoughts of Octo-Mom are probably racing through your head right now). The answer, to everyone's relief (including mine) is that according to every agency/clinic that I've encountered, a maximum of only two embryos would be transferred to the recipient mother's uterus at one time. The rest of the adopted embryos, if any, would be reserved for a future pregnancy attempt. If the adoptive family is done having children and there are still adopted embryos remaining, then another adoption/donation plan is made for those embryos.
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/15333658@N00/4180334218/
Why My Husband and I are Pursuing Embryo Adoption
We took some detours along the way, but we know that God's leading us where He wants us to go.
My hubby and I got married when I was 28. After 3 1/2 years of trying to get pregnant the 'regular' way and having many fertility treatments (including several rounds of IVF) we finally, miraculously, became pregnant with our daughter. After she was born, we started trying for a sibling ASAP. A year and a half later we found out that chances of us conceiving again, even with IVF, are very, very remote. I have hardly any eggs left for my age (mid/late 30's) and the ones that I still have are poor quality. We'd started to plan and live our lives around the fact that we were a family of three, when several months later, God opened both of our hearts to adoption.
Actually, embryo adoption wasn't our plan A for adoption. Initially we'd started our home study process heading towards adopting a child from Ethiopia. My brother and his family live in Addis Ababa, the capitol city of Ethiopia, so we've learned a lot about the culture there and have a heart for all the children there who are growing up in orphanages. As the result of some wise counsel and given the turmoil that the adoption-from-Ethiopia process is in, with heavy hearts we hit the pause button on our adoption and investigated other options.
We very seriously considered adopting from another country, and also domestic adoption. Both were great options that we've seen friends and family use to bring their sons and daughters into their homes. What kept pricking our hearts to capture our attention about embryo adoption was that there are an estimated over 400,000 frozen embryos in the United States. Of course, not all are donated and available to receive, but many are. That's a lot of teeny tiny babies who don't have a chance at a life and experiencing the love of a family unless someone is willing and able to have them thawed, be pregnant with them and parent them. Donor parents, by and large, would love for their little embryos to be loved, cuddled and experience life...but they're not in a position to do that.
Most people have no idea that embryo adoption/embryo donation exists. We do, so we'd rather pursue growing our family in this way. Hopefully that moves another loving forever family up a notch in line somewhere to be matched with another child either here in the US or abroad.
Pragmatically, we can't ignore that the total cost of many embryo adoption programs plus the clinic fees for frozen embryo transfers (FET) is almost always lower than domestic US adoption and international adoption. For a middle-class family who's been through so many infertility treatments -- which aren't cheap -- we also have to think about how adoption will affect our finances. (With international adoption, we had planned to do a lot of fundraising to help offset the costs)
Embryo adoption seemed a better fit for us than embryo donation. We already had a home study completed, and personally we appreciate the extra training that helps us prepare for becoming parents to a child with whom we'd have no genetic connection. We plan on telling our child(ren) from embryo adoption the story behind how they came to be, and how they came to be in our family. In that same vein, we'd like them to have the option of knowing their genetic parents and any genetic siblings they may have if that is what they wish to do.
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tigerzeye/231725123/
What are the Benefits of Embryo Donation/Adoption?
Every method bringing a child into your family has benefits. Here are some of the main benefits of embryo adoption:
It gives an infertile couple the chance to experience pregnancy. Given, of course that the female recipient has no contraindications to pregnancy.
The adoptive parents have control over the prenatal care of their child.
Embryo adoption is generally less expensive than conceiving through egg donation (where the male parent's sperm is united with an egg donor's egg), domestic adoption and international adoption. It can be around the same price as conceiving through IVF.
It gives a child who wouldn't otherwise have an opportunity at experiencing life to be cared for, loved, cuddled and parented.
- Further Explanation of IVF
An overview of the IVF process as described by a highly reputable fertility clinic.
- RESOLVE - The National Infertility Association
RESOLVE's website contains a wealth of information for those experiencing infertility as well as their friends and loved ones. You'll find information about common procedures, diagnoses, resources to cope with infertility as well how to find a local
Books About Coping With Infertility - I know the pain of going through infertility for 3 1/2 years before my daughter was conceived. It can be a lonely time.
Agencies, Clinics and Resources for Embryo Adoption/Embryo Donation - In my research of embryo donation and embryo adoption, these were the websites I found mos
- National Infertility Association's Resource Page for Embryo Donation
FAQ's, webinars and information sheets about embryo donation that go into the medical, legal and mental health issues associated with embryo donation. Designed for both donors and recipients, this page also includes personal stories of people who hav
- Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Application and Information | Nightlight
The 'granddaddy' of all the embryo adoption agencies, Snowflakes (a division of Nightlight Christian Adoptions) was the first to offer the option of embryo adoption. It offers comprehensive services for donors and recipients to help ensure a smooth p
- Embryo Adoption Services of Cedar Park
This agency is a ministry of a church near Seattle, Washington, and is headed up by the mother of one of the first 40 children in the US to be born via embryo adoption.
- Embryos Alive
The second oldest embryo adoption agency. They offer a choice for adoptive parents to either put together a dossier or complete a home study. Embryos Alive also lists information about available embryos online.
- National Embryo Donation Center
Unlike with many other agencies/clinics who can ship embryos to a clinic near the recipient parents, the National Embryo Donation Center requires embryo recipients to travel to their headquarters in Knoxville, TN for the embryo transfer.
- Miracles Waiting
Miracles Waiting isn't an agency or a clinic, but rather a non-profit that exists to help donors and recipients find one another and work out the details of the donation/receiving of embryos on their own terms. Donors and recipients can sign up to po
- Embryo Donation International
This South Florida clinic does embryo donation rather than an adoption-like process. Recipient parents can request which embryos with which they'd like to be matched. Most donor couples with this clinic prefer to remain anonymous except for medical r
An Adoption Resource for Relatives and Friends - A wonderful resource for adoptive families and their loved ones
In On It is a helpful, practical and compassionate book written for relatives and friends of adoptive families to help them be 'in on' the world of adoption and understand how they can be a great support in the adoption process. After reading this book, I'd wholeheartedly recommend it to adoptive parents themselves as well as a resource to give to friends and family. I think it's got a great perspective on how many people who interact with adoptive parents and their children are well-meaning, but can be even more helpful in their perspective on adoption and interactions with adoptive parents/adoptees. This book doesn't shame friends and families' unintentional insensitivity, but kindly helps everyone give one another more understanding of where everyone's coming from. It's really practical too.