Special Snowflakes

First, fair warning… this post is just chock full o’ morbid musings. Something that’s been on my mind lately is the question of “What do we do with our other embryos, and when do we do it?” When you use donor eggs, you sign a very long contract (I’m guessing you sign one for any assisted reproduction procedure, really). It gives you an overview of different procedures, risks, and options.

One section covers the disposition of stored embryos. Embryos are legally considered property. If you divorce, you fight over the embryos in court. If you die, the embryos become the property of your partner. And to plan for the possibility that you both die with embryos in storage, the contract allows you to specify how you’d like them to handle this. The options are:

  1. Thaw and discard the embryos,
  2. Donate the embryos for research,
  3. Donate the embryos to another recipient(s)

I ended up letting my husband make the final decision on which boxes to check. Even though they’re my embryos, too, they’re made out of his DNA, which is also part of his other kids… So I figured I’d default to what he’s comfortable with. He chose research and donating to another recipient. I was a little surprised about the latter – was he really comfortable with potentially having random genetic offspring out in the world after he dies? When he had his sperm aspiration procedure, there was a similar contract. He basically willed his frozen sperm to me and was also asked whether he would agree to let me use it to make babies after he dies. He agreed that I could – so I guess he’s generally cool with becoming a father again, postmortem.

The contract also specifies that they will only store your embryos for five years. At that point, you’ll need to use them, discard them, donate to research, donate to recipients, or transfer them to a long-term storage facility. You have to remain in contact with the clinic four times per year to specify your current wishes. If you don’t remain in contact or aren’t able to be reached, though, you must initial an agreement that the clinic can consider the embryos abandoned, and then destroy them. Everyone knows about the never-ending, thought-this-was-settled-already pro-life vs. pro-choice abortion debates. You don’t hear quite as much, though, about the pro-life folks who take it a step further and believe that IVF is immoral because embryos can be discarded or used for research. There are people out there who do what are called “compassionate transfers” with their embryos for this reason. Even though they don’t want any more kids, they keep getting embryo transfers until the embryos run out – they just get the transfers at a time in the cycle when they’re very unlikely to actually get pregnant.

Not to get myself into a debate or anything (and I am unlikely to bother debating you if you try) – is it not ironic that the same people who are bent on forcing fertile women to have unwanted babies are also bent on preventing infertile couples from having wanted babies… somehow, for the same exact reason? It’s hard to wrap my head around.

Anyway! The IVF contract does not, however, ask us to decide what to do with the embryos if we are alive, yet simply don’t want/need them anymore. I am not in the market for more than one child. My husband is not in the market for more than four children, and might actually be inclined to run screaming from said market, knocking over produce stands right and left. Now that our final child is on the way – what do we do with our nine on ice? It feels like there are some major considerations.

  1. Although I am comfortable with my currently low risk of miscarriage, this does not mean that there is NO risk of miscarriage, it doesn’t mean that I won’t have a stillbirth, it doesn’t mean my baby won’t die, or my toddler won’t die, or my child won’t die…. etc. etc. Things happen, and fetuses/children die. So at what point do we decide it’s “safe” to relinquish the embryos to science or other recipients? At what point would I say “I’m comfortable not having the option of having another child if my child passes away.”
  2. Regarding donating the embryos for embryo adoption, since my donor was a proven donor, I already know my kid will have at least one unknown half-sibling out there in the world. And I bet that ain’t the last time that donor will be donating (she did a great job!), so there may be more in the future. I’m not going to keep this a secret from my kid, and I have no idea how the kid will feel about it. Or any of this, really. Most donor-conceived kids are fine, but maybe mine will be angry. How would my kid feel if there might be unknown full siblings out there in the world, too – not because someone else used the same donor (which we can’t control), but because Mom and Dad chose to donate its sibling embryos?
  3. On the other hand, I think that donating the embryos would be a nice pay-it-forward thing to do for another recipient(s) who either have infertility in both partners, are more strapped for cash, or what have you. My husband is comfortable with more of his genes floating around out there in the world. And long-lost siblings can potentially be found. They can definitely be sought.
  4. I don’t see any inherent problem whatsoever in donating them to research, but consideration #1 still arises.
  5. My husband, understandably, wanted to get going on this whole thing ASAP after we got married (we thought about doing it before, but decided we wanted a wedding and honeymoon where I wasn’t pregnant, potentially sick, and unable to booze it up). He wanted to get a move on because he knew his comfort with becoming a dad again would rapidly decline with age. But what age is his hard limit? I just realized I never actually asked him. Maybe I kind of didn’t want to know… but it’s probably time to find out.

Pregnancy update: things are going fine. The nausea isn’t lasting as long (was about 4-5 hours a day), but now it comes on fast, I throw up, it improves pretty quickly and then subsides within an hour or two. In a way, that’s not as unpleasant, and in another way, I threw up at work the other day and am sick of wasting breakfast foods. Today, it was bad enough that even my cat got concerned, so I think on Monday I’ll just accept the offer of diclegis, already. I’m not impressing anyone with my fortitude, here.

Had a nine-week ultrasound last week, and saw the most precious thing… the baby was moving! It was kicking its little legs and waving its little arms, and it stretched its body out a few times. I completely didn’t expect to see something like that. A woman from the embryology lab took a video of it for me and I’ve watched the little guy/gal wiggling several times since then. I get another ultrasound in about a week, and will also get a blood test to screen for chromosomal abnormalities and to find out the baby’s sex. I’m not sure whether my insurance will pay for that, since my risk of chromosomal abnormalities is low (thanks, 23-year-old donor, for making me low-risk for various things!). But it’s less expensive than I expected, so we’ve decided to go for it either way. Plus, then we’ll know which name to call it!


5 thoughts on “Special Snowflakes

  1. I am so with you on the debate thing. It is very hard to understand forcing unwanted babies and preventing babies for the same reason. Makes no sense to me. Then again, I consider myself a rational person… Unlike- well, never mind.
    There are a few fellow bloggers who’s story has really touched me and I’ve had thoughts running through my mind about donating embryos or surrogacy, etc, once we have a child. I’ve wondered if it would be possible, how my husband would feel and how it would work. Especially since we may not live on the same continent. The struggle is real. I guess you just make whichever decision you’re most comfortable with. Good luck!


    • I hereby also consider you a rational person. (I keep considering writing an entire post about abortion, and then chickening out).

      I commend you for having thoughts of surrogacy! Pretty brave. I plan to have this beautiful, magical, very uncomfortable experience once in my life, haha… this baby has already made ME into a huge baby 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Just stumbled upon your blog. My husband and I are in the midst of infertility treatments and also had to make the decision about donating unused embryos. I found out that you can donate them and have an open relationship with the recipients. It’s totally your choice. There is open, semi open, and anonymous donation. I believe this website offers information on it. http://www.snowflakes.org Worth checking out if you are considering. We have one last transfer with our last two embryos coming up and have thought a lot about pursuing embryo adoption if this doesn’t work out because it’s a much cheaper alternative than another full round of IVF. I think it’s a great alternative where you get to adopt and also experience pregnancy.

    Anyway, congrats on your pregnancy!


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